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A woman on Mayor Wellington Webb's Black Advisory Council has received more than $47,000 in no-bid city contracts over the past fifteen months--including a controversial $16,500 award to provide "outreach" to minority artists that the city is paying for with money from the 23rd Street Viaduct project.
The contracts signed with independent consultant Barbara F. Cox are all professional-services agreements that do not require competitive bidding. They include a "cultural sensitivity" seminar for the members of the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film, for which Cox billed the city $125 per hour. She received that contract even though the city itself provides free sensitivity seminars through its Career Service Administration.
The money for Cox's outreach project will come out of the $175,000 public art budget set aside for the 23rd Street Viaduct--an accounting move that draws fire from Denver City Councilwoman Mary DeGroot.
Last month DeGroot questioned the city's public works department about the expenditure. She says using viaduct money to pay an outreach consultant is improper. "I'm supportive of the 1 percent for arts program, but I assumed that would be for actual art," says DeGroot.
Cox, a former vice president of human resources for US West who serves on the Colorado Black Roundtable and Colorado Black Women for Political Action, says she has no background in art. "My background is in facilitation and outreach," she adds. Cox says she received city work because of her skills and abilities, not because of her ties to the mayor. "I'm not going to answer if I know him, or don't know him, or if he's a friend or not a friend," says Cox. "That's not relevant to the conversation." Cox, who contributed $60 to Webb's mayoral campaign in 1991 and has served on his Black Advisory Council since 1992, rejects the notion that political cronyism landed her the contracts. A self-described expert in "facilitation, public events and human relations," Cox lists a 1987 "achievement award" from then-auditor Webb on her resume. That award was for "community work," she says. And her recent city business has consisted mostly of liaison work with the minority community.
Cox's first city contract came in February 1993, shortly after First Lady Wilma J. Webb publicly declared that local and black artists were being underrepresented in the city's Percent for Art program. That program sets aside 1 percent of the capital cost of city construction projects to buy public art. At the time, Wilma Webb was chairing the Mayor's Commission on Art, Culture and Film, which runs the Percent for Art program through its administrative arm, the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film.
On February 22, Cox performed a cultural diversity seminar for the seven employees of the art and film office. She was paid $312 for the two-and-a-half-hour session.
Employees received training from Cox on "how we approach our work, how we tend to stereotype people, areas where we need to be sensitive to people of other cultures," says Joyce Oberfeld, the Webb appointee who heads the office. Oberfeld says she hired Cox, rather than scheduling a free seminar through Career Service, because "I just chose to go that route."
In March 1993, Wilma Webb's arts commission decided a "Public Art Master Plan" was necessary to help reassess the city's "vision of public art." Shortly afterward, Cox received a $500-per-day contract from the Mayor's Office of Economic Development to "co-facilitate" public meetings about the plan. Cox's co-facilitator was Marshall Kaplan, dean of the University of Colorado at Denver's school of public affairs. He and Cox "led the sessions, brought the group to consensus, raised questions," and then wrote a 51-page plan, says Oberfeld. Cox received $3,500; Kaplan billed the city $3,200.
One of the key recommendations in the master plan written by Cox and Kaplan was that the city develop a "Public Art Outreach Program" to help minority artists get more city work. Last December Oberfeld's office created such a program; in March, the city hired Cox to run it. Cox says she sees no conflict in the arrangement.
While Oberfeld says the public art program is "definitely low in artists of color," she insists that the $16,500 outreach contract isn't limited to minority artists. "It's an outreach to all artists in the city," she says. "There are a lot of artists in this city who might know about the program, but for some reason there are barriers. They might feel it's too difficult, or they don't know how to apply."
The outreach effort also requires Cox to meet with arts commissioners "regarding sensitivity to issues of cultural diversity" and other topics. The first such meeting, a day-long affair, took place late last month. In response to DeGroot's criticism, Oberfeld says the city ordinance establishing the public-art program allows her office to pay Cox from the viaduct art budget.
But the outreach project isn't the only Cox contract questioned by city officials. Last September, the Webb administration hired Cox for $27,500 to do community liaison work as part of a project to pressure banks that do business with the city to make more loans to minorities and small businesses. But city auditor Bob Crider returned the contract unsigned. Crider's chief concern: Why couldn't the city do its own liaison work?
City treasurer Steve Hutt responded with a memo dated September 29, 1993, explaining that he and his staff lacked the expertise. Crider signed the contract. "We're in the tax collection, banking and bond business here," Hutt tells Westword. "We're not in the community liaison sphere."
Hutt acknowledges that because of delays in getting the program started, Cox was stuck doing "a lot of hurry up and wait." She detailed her work product in status reports filed with the city; those reports list numerous meetings with community groups--including appearances before the Mayor's Black Advisory Council, the Colorado Black Roundtable and Colorado Black Women for Political Action. Cox also helped put together a program brochure for the city to hand out, says Hutt.
Cox's contract expired March 1, before she could complete one provision: monitoring the banks' progress toward meeting lending goals. But Hutt says he expects her to receive a new contract--for more money, yet to be negotiated--so she can take part in that process.
The work Cox has performed for the city, adds Hutt, was "definitely necessary and appropriate.