Park Place

An ambitious plan to expand Denver's parks may take root if the political climate is fertile.

Robertson, who'd been earning $90,000 per year, was sentenced to a month in jail and two years' probation for embezzlement, and ordered to reimburse the city for the equipment he stole. The three employees who assisted him in defrauding the city lost their jobs.

Instead of firing Brooks, in May 2001 Webb transferred her to a planning position with the Community Development and Planning Agency. That same month, he appointed Mejia, a former economic-development official, to replace her.

In a sharp rebuke delivered last week by a grand jury appointed to investigate the department more than a year ago, jurors found evidence of "multiple instances of abuse" of the purchasing rules for items costing less than $500 -- which is how Robertson stole from the department.

Anthony Camera
Susan Baird (left) and Tina Scardina are planning ahead for better Denver parks.
Anthony Camera
Susan Baird (left) and Tina Scardina are planning ahead for better Denver parks.

The grand jury said it believes abuse of small-ticket purchases is still going on in the parks department. In response, Mejia said he has cut the number of employees authorized to make such purchases in half, to about 75 people. He also said a management staffer has to approve each requested purchase, and the city would "provide ample documentation and accountability for every purchase."

Still, the tarnish remains for Webb, who appointed Robertson to the deputy manager's post on the basis of a recommendation from a friend.

The use of the parks department for personal gain or as a way to repay political allies has been a problem throughout Denver's history. Mayor Speer directed contracts for work on Denver parks to political supporters. George Cranmer, the father of Red Rocks Amphitheatre who ran the parks system in the 1930s and '40s, was widely criticized when he built Mountain View Park across the street from his home in Hilltop.

Scardina says the department was hurt by Robertson, but it's making a fast recovery: "We took zings over that, but that was temporary. We have good leadership and management now. People have seen a change in the last year."

The challenge, according to supporters of the Game Plan, is for Denver is to turn a good parks system into an extraordinary one. Because of the legacy left by visionaries such as Schuetze and DeBoer, Denver has the opportunity to become a true urban Garden of Eden at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

Huggins says the first thing the advisory committee did was spend several weeks reviewing the history of comprehensive plans for Denver parks. They were amazed by the foresight of the people who created the parks system.

"They gave us our civic identity with parks and parkways and tree lawns," he says. "We felt a strong need to get back to that history of great, ambitious plans."

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