By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Webb press secretary Briggs Gamblin says that in many ways, Simmons is an "ideal person" for his Neighborhood Watch assignment, which involves organizing blocks in crime-ridden parts of northeast Denver, where suspicion and distrust of police run high. When Simmons talks to at-risk youth in that part of the city, "he knows the choices they're facing," Gamblin says. In fact, says Gamblin, Simmons's past encounters with the criminal justice system "give him some credibility."
Borom agrees. "Are you talking about a criminal here? No," Borom says. "I think he [Simmons] has made a lot of progress. When he's had his problems in the past, he's learned from them."
Carlos Guerra, whom Borom picked to administer Denver's $2.7 million Weed & Seed grant from the feds, also has had brushes with the law. Colorado Bureau of Investigation records show that Guerra, 42, was charged with drug possession in 1973 and arrested for violating probation twice in the following two years.
And Guerra's had other, more recent difficulties. In 1992, he and his wife, Judith, filed for bankruptcy after a school Carlos was running called the Colorado Training Institute went out of business. Records at U.S. Bankruptcy Court show the school had debts of more than $200,000, including more than $2,500 in taxes to the state and federal governments. Its assets totaled less than $43,000.
Guerra says the idea behind the school was sound: He was training homeless people for careers in the removal and transport of asbestos and other hazardous materials, a field where jobs pay as much as $17 an hour. But, he explains, like many small businesses, the institute was "undercapitalized" and couldn't keep afloat financially.
Guerra says his experience in bankruptcy court has no bearing on his performance as the city's Weed & Seed coordinator. "I think it's irrelevant," he says. Borom acknowledges that he knew of Guerra's financial difficulties when he hired him, but that he picked Guerra to run Weed & Seed anyway, because he had worked with him in the past and was confident he would do a good job. "Not only was I impressed, but everyone around him was impressed," Borom says of Guerra. "He's a high-caliber guy."
But residents of neighborhoods served by the Weed & Seed program have repeatedly complained about Guerra to Borom and other city officials, claiming he has mismanaged the program and has been difficult to work with. "None of us wanted Carlos," says one Baker neighborhood activist involved in the Weed & Seed program, "and we continue to have him shoved down our throat."
As a partial concession, Webb last year took Weed & Seed away from Borom's agency and transferred responsibility for it to Public Safety Manager Fidel "Butch" Montoya. Guerra, however, has remained on board.
Though HRCR has been around a long time, its budget has ballooned under the Webb administration. Agency spending has grown by more than 50 percent under Webb, from about $1 million when the mayor took office in 1991 to more than $1.5 million today.
Borom attributes the bulk of the increase to an expansion of the agency's workload: In the past few years HRCR has been given responsibility for the Public Safety Review Commission and the Neighborhood Watch program, which used to be run by the Denver Police Department. Other than those additions, he says, the agency's spending has remained fairly flat. "It hasn't been a big growth," Borom says.
But records show that HRCR spends thousands of dollars on services that might be viewed as less than essential.
In 1993, for instance, HRCR spent $391 on decorative African "kente strips" for "graduates" of a controversial group called Operation Reconstruction. The group, founded by convict-turned-businessman Barry Frye, professed to help steer at-risk teenagers away from gangs and into jobs. Last year, however, an Operation Reconstruction member was jailed after police busted him for having $300 worth of crack cocaine. And just last month, Orlando Domena, a former leader of the group, was arrested and charged in a drive-by shooting that left a rival gang member dead and another seriously wounded.
Last May, Francie Miran's Commission on Aging bought 469 T-shirts to hand out at its "Spring Into Health '94" conference for Denver seniors. The cost: $2,345. Denver taxpayers even footed the bill for a $24 membership for Borom in the Alliance Francaise, a group dedicated to "fostering friendly relations between the French and American peoples." Borom defends the expenditure, pointing out that Denver is home to a number of French-owned businesses. "We try to involve all the various ethnic and national communities in our work," Borom says.
HRCR staffers also have piled up expenses attending conferences and seminars. Denver taxpayers shelled out $150 so Martha Daley, head of the Office of Child Care Initiatives, could attend a conference at the Denver Tech Center organized by White Bison Inc., a nonprofit Native American organization based in Colorado Springs. The conference, according to city records, included an "Elders Talking Circle" on violence and racism and a panel discussion entitled "What Is a Man/ Woman?--Diverse Perspectives."
In May 1993 a Denver Weed & Seed neighborhood representative flew to Washington, at a cost to taxpayers of $963, to attend a conference sponsored by the National Forum on Preventing Crime and Violence. According to city records, conference guests sat in on forums titled "Looking at Violence as a Public Health Issue" and "Creating a Climate of Hope for All." The same year, Larry Borom flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend a five-day gathering of the National Association of Human Rights Workers. On his travel request form, Borom claimed the $1,400 trip would enhance Denver's ability to "interface with administrative civil-rights enforcement agencies."