By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb's Safe City Summit began last fall with a simple goal: to keep youth violence in check during the summer of 1994 by giving nonprofit agencies a cool $1 million in taxpayer-funded grants. But the summer of 1994 is more than half over. And after a series of thirteen community gatherings, exhaustive work sessions by six subcommittees, even a dramatic June 29 press conference at which the mayor unveiled the names of the grant recipients, the Summit has yet to put a penny on the streets.
The $1 million intended to provide jobs and other activities for Denver youth--and, theoretically, prevent a repeat of 1993's so-called Summer of Violence--was supposed to be allocated by May. It now appears that the cash won't actually go out the door until August at the earliest--just about the time most kids are going back to school. The Denver Citywide Marching Band, which planned to take eight inner-city kids to a band camp in the mountains, will have to front its $7,500 chunk and wait to be reimbursed, says Webb appointee and Safe City coordinator Beth McCann. The reason: The camp took place before the grant came through.
In the meantime, the city already has spent millions to create police "impact" teams, beef up staff for the county jail and county courts, fund after-school recreation programs and provide summer jobs--not to mention to enact its controversial crackdown on juvenile curfew violators. And juvenile crime does appear to be down considerably from last summer--or at least the headlines are. As for the Safe City Summit, "It's been all talk and no action," says Denver city councilman Ted Hackworth. "Then they'll claim they were successful."
Supporters of the program are, in fact, already declaring victory. The mere process of holding community meetings has contributed to a lower level of youth violence, says councilman Tim Sandos. "We've had a very good summer, and I don't think that just happened," he adds. "Over 2,500 people came to those meetings, and they went back to their PTAs, their communities and talked to friends and read newspaper articles and said, `Let's get the kids home before eleven.'"
McCann now argues that the Summit was a "year-round" process that was never intended to focus solely on summer projects. Webb press secretary Briggs Gamblin says the mayor "would have liked to have done it sooner," but "doesn't find fault with the program for not getting up and rolling sooner."
Yet the administration is behaving very much like an organization trying to play catch-up. As of last week four city employees from the budget office, the city attorney's office and the office of risk management had been pressed into service in a frantic effort to "fast track" mounds of additional paperwork that must be processed before money can be handed over. "My job is to grease the skids," says principal financial analyst Marty Flahive, who notes that Safe City recipients have to fill out the same contract documents as firms doing millions of dollars' worth of construction at Denver International Airport. "Our objective is to make this as user-friendly as we can."
However, as the city races to make the money available, critics from both inside and outside Safe City are questioning who'll be helped most by the process: Denver youth or the Denver mayor's office.
The Safe City process carried strong political overtones from the start, in large part because most of the money is being split among minority neighborhoods. "There were people in black areas that said they should have got more money, there were Hispanics who said they should have got more money and there were some Anglo neighborhoods that said, `We didn't get nothing,'" says John McBride, director of the mayor's commission on youth. "Some people call it a horse, some people say it's a jackass."
Though the city council had to approve spending for the project, Webb claimed it as his baby, naming the members of a politically liberal allocation panel and announcing their funding recommendations himself at the June 29 Civic Center Park press conference, during which he pounded on a wooden podium and proclaimed the summer of 1994 safer than its predecessor.
And the administration hasn't hesitated to take credit for the program's perceived benefits. Last week the Mayor's Commission on Arts, Culture and Film sent out a press release proudly proclaiming that more than $150,000 of the Safe City anti-crime money went to arts programs. The arts have been a pet project for First Lady Wilma Webb, who initially headed the commission and last year put a temporary moratorium on city arts spending because she believed black artists weren't getting their share of municipal projects. The third-largest Safe City grant awarded, $55,000, went to the Eulipions Youth Institute, which says it "maintains a treatment environment and atmosphere consistent with the cultural orientations of Black people."
Arts programs may be a good idea in theory, says community activist Pierre Jimenez, former president of Hispanics of Colorado. But their inordinate representation in the mayor's plan--including a $20,000 grant to the Hispanic theater troupe El Centro Su Teatro--appears to have more to do with political posturing than crime-fighting.