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Much of that "empowerment," however, comes in the form of referral services and discussion groups. And many of the services HRCR provides are targeted for public employees rather than Denver residents as a whole. The Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office, for instance, exists primarily to help ward off and mediate disputes between City of Denver workers and their managers, Borom says. (Glen Legowik, an employment law analyst for the city's Career Service Authority, says the CSA has provided a nearly identical service "for years.")
Women's Commission director Chaer Robert says she spends a significant portion of her time running the "City Women Partnership Project," an employees' group that holds monthly seminars examining the city's role as an employer of women.
"It's good for morale," Robert says. "It's good for a sense of team spirit and community service."
Martha Daley, director of the Office of Child Care Initiatives, says one of her primary responsibilities is to provide child-care referral services for city workers--even though the Work and Family Resource Center, a Denver nonprofit agency, already provides a similar service for free. "Every single [major] employer in the country does something in terms of child care," Daley says. "Every single one. It's not anything odd."
Not every HRCR client raves about the agency, however. Eva Jean Ford--whom Daley actually recommended that Westword call as a reference--says the office did little to help her get out of her own child-care quandary.
Ford, a divorced Denver General Hospital nurse, is raising her two granddaughters, ages six and nine, on her own. Deciding that she needed help with her substantial child-care costs, she contacted Daley this year after reading a letter the director had written to the Denver Post urging the federal government to increase public support of child-care services. "They weren't able to help me with anything," Ford says. "I got all excited [after seeing Daley's letter], but then I got a letdown."
Daley remembers her encounter with Ford in a more positive light. Her agency, she says, helped Ford by referring her to the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program and another program run by the Mile High United Way. "In essence, we could sympathize with this woman, whose situation is not unusual," Daley says.
But Ford says she didn't get anywhere with the agencies Daley sent her to, and she never was able to locate help. "I just got lost in the system after I left her," Ford says. "It wasn't nothing positive, really."
Critics question more than just the efficiency of HRCR. They also charge that the agency is packed from top to bottom with political supporters of Mayor Webb--from its commissioners and directors all the way to outside consultants and low-level staff. "All [HRCR] is is a nice little place to put Webb's pals," says Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas, a supporter of DeGroot.
Francie Miran, for instance, whom Webb appointed to a $50,000-a-year job as director of HRCR's Commission on Aging, doubles as the chair of the Denver County Democratic Party. Last fall Miran raised eyebrows when she helped engineer an unorthodox scheme to funnel money from Webb campaign contributors to state legislative candidates. She also was accused of using the local party machinery to boost Webb, despite being sworn to support all Democrats (including DeGroot) equally. Miran insisted that she bends over backward to be fair to all candidates from the party ("Us vs. Dem," February 8).
Chet Whye, whom Webb appointed to an unpaid post on the Public Safety Review Commission, is a strident Webb booster. Whye, who writes an op-ed column for the Denver Post, has used it to cheer the mayor's campaign. "This man has earned re-election," Whye wrote recently. (Whye stepped down from the PSRC in April, citing conflicts of interest between that post and his work as a civil-rights activist.)
Last fall, HRCR hired Webb supporter Ramon Del Castillo as a $100-an-hour consultant to perform "Cultural Competency Training" at an agency staff retreat. Del Castillo, a poet and civil-rights activist, says the purpose of the seminar was to help the HRCR staff "move from diversity to competency" and "build some awareness and sensitivity" about cultural differences that divide people. He says he used an "interactive model," getting staff members to "share an ethnic part of themselves" with the rest of the group. "We also covered a variety of different `isms'--racism, sexism, ageism," Del Castillo says.
Another outside contractor for HRCR has been NEWSED, a nonprofit community-development agency that is one of Webb's most important bases of support in the Hispanic community. NEWSED received almost $3,400 from the city in 1993 to perform a "job-readiness and training program for ex-offenders" under an HRCR anti-crime program.
Carlos Guerra, a former NEWSED employee whom Borom named head of the Weed & Seed program in 1993, spends much of his spare time working for the Webb campaign. Alvertis Simmons, one of several Neighborhood Watch coordinators working under Commission on Youth director John McBride, is a Webb campaign operative who regularly shows up at parades, debates and other political events to cheer for the mayor and razz the opposition. (Last week Simmons made news when he charged that blacks weren't allowed to ask questions at a Webb-DeGroot debate.)