Last night, Denver's future Independent Monitor and two other candidates spoke at their first community forum before the selection is whittled down. While Eddie Aubrey hails from Washington, Stephen Connolly and Julie Ruhlin live in Califonia, and all three boast experience from the Golden State. Within the next month, one candidate will be asked to fill the shoes Denver's first watchdog, Richard Rosenthal, who left in December.
But before that comes additional debate. Tonight, all three will interact with residents at a second open forum at the Hiawatha Davis Recreation Center, 3334 Holly Street, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. They will also be interviewed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who will make the final decision soon. The process is currently on track and is expected to conclude around the end of April.
But last night marked the first round: Led by moderators Larry Trujillo, leader of the Denver Latino Commission, and Ernest Mackey, co-chair of the Denver African-American Commission, all three candidates responded to more than twenty combined questions posed by the audience. Topics demanded them to elaborate on leadership style, tough decisions and experiences within the Latino and African-American communities.
If you ask the candidates, any of them could take on the responsibility well. While Ruhlin and Connolly are work friends, both have wide knowledge of Aubrey's experience. The arena of citizen oversight is a small one, professionally.
Ruhlin, who lived in Long Beach for eighteen years, encountered an on-the-job crisis when the ACLU outlined 78 responses to abuse in the jails of Los Angeles County, where she works in oversight. She spoke of skills as a communicator and a willingess for both Denver's Independent Monitor and police department to maintain open relationships with the community. Judging by last night's turnout -- around forty citizens and several city officials -- she said that had already begun.
"I don't think we'd get this same kind of crowd in L.A.," Ruhlin says. "When you get an incident, you get a lot of people engaged for a short period of time. I just think so often it's a police agency's instincts in those moments of difficulty to close that door, to wall themselves off," but she intends to keep communication open if selected.
Aubrey, a Washington resident with 32 years of exprience in law and justice, worked as an officer in L.A. during the fallout from the Rodney King incident. Aubrey volunteered to visit town hall meetings to debate the topic with the public, and he spoke of direct accountability to the people of Denver.
"Everything that happens in that office is the monitor's job," Aubrey says. During his time working oversight in Fresno, scores from a public confidence survey regarding police behavior rose from 68 percent to 80 percent. "I take full responsibility for everything that happens in my office.... My responsibility is to the truth."
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When asked about working along racial divides, Connolly stressed a willingness to form early relationships with the local community. "I work in Orange County, which if you've ever seen that show The OC is not a tremendous bastion of diversity," he joked. "It's the relationships and trust that you build before a situation that are going to help develop success subsequently."
Aside from their collective suitability for the position, all three candidates agreed on another point: Denver is uniquely primed for a strong relationship. All three have tracked the appointments of Manager of Safety Alex Martinez and Police Chief Robert White, in addition to a handful of other structural changes intended to improve and expedite the review of alleged police misconduct.
"You have new administration and new leadership, and that's definitely a new direction," Aubrey says. "This could be a national model with the leaders involved and the community involved."
More from our Politics archive: "Meet the three California candidates for Denver's new Independent Monitor."