More Issues For Denver Voters?

Statewide, Colorado voters will face eighteen ballot issues this November.  In Denver, there will be more, as one issues has already been placed on the ballot.  Denver’s City Council could decide tonight to put up to three more issues before voters in November.The City Council has already decided to place on the ballot Mayor Hickenlooper’s proposal to raise sales taxes by 12 cents per $100 purchased to provide pre-school programs in the City through tuition credits, outreach and quality control.

Tonight, the council considers administrative reforms for the Denver Election Commission while retaining its basic structure, the creation of a Chief Financial Officer for Denver as part of an overhaul of the City’s financial operations, and a change in how at-large city council members are elected.  The Council must approve ballot measures by August 28, 2006 to be included on the November 7, 2006 general election ballot.

The Election Commission Proposal

The Denver Election Commission reforms, which would place election commission employees under the city’s civil service system and impose higher qualifications on the elections director, is a retreat from an earlier proposal to replace the Denver Election Commission with an elected clerk and recorder.  The proposal would also move Election Commission elections from the date of city elections in May, to the date of the odd year general elections in November, starting in 2009.  The measure is C.B. 552.

It is being proposed as a reaction to bungled election management from the 2004 election to the present — most recently with incidents involving mismanagement of voter records and concerns about the implementation of new electronic voting machines and the voter center concept, in which voters may vote at any location in the city, rather than only in their precinct, but the number of voting locations is reduced.

The Financial Reforms

After Denver’s outside accounting firm, KPMG proposed a major overhaul of the city’s accounting practices, the initial impact was to set off a major kurfuffle between Auditor Dennis Gallagher and John Hickenlooper, both of whom are elected by the voters at large in Denver.  Gallagher had seen the proposals as a power grab by the Mayor’s office from his responsibilities.

A deal ending the fight was reached last Thursday

The deal will consolidate all financial functions within the administration under a new Chief Financial Officer, in the interest of efficiency, easier access to financial information, and improved internal controls (i.e. fraud prevention).

The Auditor’s office will give up a role in routine “pre-audits” in exchange for an enhanced ability to look at transactions pro-actively, including (1) increased access to information about transactions, (2) greatly expanded “performance auditing” powers to suggest improvements in city operations which are not financial in nature, and (3) the ability to look at issues involving inefficiency rather than merely mistakes, violations of ordinance or fraud.  Existing powers of the auditor to reveiew contracts with be only slightly modified, and prevailing wage enforcement will remain unchanged.

The proposal will also create a new advisory Audit Committee for Denver involving the City Council’s office, the Mayor, and the Auditor’s office.

In the wake of a deal on the matter, the proposal is almost certain to be placed on the ballot this evening.  The measure is C.B. 562.

At Large City Council Elections

Currently, the two at large seats on Denver’s City Council are awarded to the top two vote getting from the pool of candidates seeking the office.  Under a proposed change that the City Council could sent to voters this evening, candidates would run separately for a Seat A and Seat B starting in May 2011, each election would be conducted in the same manner as existing Mayoral and Auditor’s elections.  The measure is C.B. 553

It is unclear why someone thinks this change is necessary and it has not been the focus of much publicity.

This bill and the bill including election commission reforms appear to have overlapping provisions, as the election commission bill apparently also contains a Seat A and Seat B measure.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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