That's the Ticket

Open mouth, insert boot.

Last January, Denver considered itself such a "world-class" city that John Oglesby, director of the parking management division, announced an ambitious scheme to boost revenues by adding parking meters, raising rates and extending meter hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week -- in keeping with Denver's international status.

Never mind that Denver is best known in such undeniably "world-class" capitals as Paris and London as the originator of the "Denver boot," a homegrown invention that over the past fifty years has spread around the globe, immobilizing vehicles in the most sophisticated cities on earth.

In fact, Denver's most notable trait may be clamping down -- not just on cars, but on information.

Oglesby displayed that tendency himself when he threatened division staffers with disciplinary action for leaks -- not to the scurrilous press, but to the mayor's office. That leaked report, along with more leaked accusations that Oglesby had fixed five of his own parking tickets and had continued working for a former employer while being paid full-time by the city, surfaced shortly after he went public with his "world-class" parking plan on January 30.

In February, Mayor Wellington Webb put the brakes on that plan. And Stephanie Foote, manager of the Denver Department of Public Works (which has the misfortune to include the parking management division), called for an outside, independent audit ("Boot Hill," March 7).

In May, the city finally signed up KPMG, which had already conducted audits of the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation and the Civil Service Commission, to conduct an audit of parking management.

In June, Denver officially scrapped Oglesby's plan to expand downtown meter hours, but it did raise rates from $1 to $1.50 an hour. Denver's city attorney requested that the Denver district attorney's office investigate alleged improprieties within parking management. And Public Works restructured that division, establishing its deputy manager as Oglesby's supervisor -- "an important first step," according to Foote's office, "in rebuilding trust and confidence following a series of public criticisms relating to its operation."

In a far more important second step, Oglesby was put on paid investigative leave for thirty days.

But thirty days later -- and thirty days after that -- Oglesby was still collecting a paycheck. He remained on the public dole until late September -- exactly two days after City Auditor Don Mares delivered to Foote's office his own parking management audit. Foote hadn't asked for that audit, and Webb certainly hadn't, but Mares had gone ahead anyway, in the time-honored tradition of Denver auditors watchdogging -- and hotdogging -- Denver mayors through the decades.

"We issued the confidential draft audit on a Monday," Mares remembers. "Gave it to the agency. Oglesby resigned on Wednesday."

The 35-page audit report included four specific instances in which Oglesby had failed to comply with city rules and regulations. It also offered instances in which Public Works had failed to comply with city rules and regulations. "This office is concerned about the lack of management oversight executed by the Public Works department's top administrators over their parking management division," the auditor reported.

As thanks for his efforts, Mares was blasted for political grandstanding by Webb's office.

Three weeks later, on October 11, Denver DA Bill Ritter released his own report, part of a "joint investigation" with the auditor's office. "Most of the problems identified by the auditor's report involve breaches of City of Denver policies and procedures," he noted. "There is also a reference to violations of the principles of prudent operations for a government agency." But since those concerns did not involve potential violations of the criminal statutes, "my investigation focuses on issues that arguably raised questions of criminal conduct."

The issue of Oglesby's outside employment, for example. Ritter determined that since city officials supervising Oglesby had known of that work, criminal prosecution on that charge was "not only inappropriate, but impossible." For that matter, he said, "no criminal charges will be filed against Mr. Oglesby."

Two investigations down -- and one very much in limbo. I started asking for a status report on the $38,000 KPMG audit before Thanksgiving and learned that it had been finished but not released. Why? Perhaps because Public Works hadn't had a chance to respond. (According to department spokeswoman Patty Weiss, as of Tuesday, they had "not received the final audit here in Public Works.") Or was it that the mayor's office was trying to decide what, exactly, to do with it?

At one point, Denver considered prettying up the audit's ugly contents by releasing it at the same time the city announced a parking amnesty program. Financially strapped Chicago raised $8.2 million this fall during a six-week amnesty. But the Windy City had a particularly dire threat to inspire parkers to pay up: Once amnesty was over, the number of tickets required before cars would be eligible for the dreaded "Denver boot" -- yep, that's what the papers there call it -- would drop from five to three.

Three tickets, of course, are already enough to get you a boot in Denver. The prospect of finding your car immobilized is a very effective threat. "It's also quite embarrassing," says Wayne Cauthen, Webb's chief of staff.

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