Off Limits

City attorney Cole Finegan -- among those rumored as a possible replacement for departing mayoral chief of staff Michael Bennet, who's heading to the Denver Public Schools superintendent slot -- was unavailable for comment on his candidacy, the dailies reported Monday. And how. Finegan's at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, along with a Who's Who list of Denverites that basically translates to: If their boat sinks, the city's sunk. Helmed by Carrie Besnette, vice-president of the Daniels Fund and quite a sporting enthusiast, the passengers also include Rocky Mountain News business editor Rob Reuteman and city economic development chief John Huggins.

"We have had no reports, and we're assuming everyone's still aboard," says city spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent. "There's been no word of mutiny."

If the trip should wind up in some kind of Survivor scenario, though, we're putting our money on Robin Finegan, wife of Cole, a crisis-management consultant who specializes in assisting victims of violence.

French kiss-off: A painting by Miguel Flores recently deposed from a Diedrich coffeehouse (Off Limits, June 16) isn't the only Saddam Hussein that's gone missing lately. Technically, the giant French foodie who graced the side of Le Central for years wasn't really the former Iraqi leader in a beret. And restaurant owner Robert Tournier assures us that the painting's removal has nothing to do with politics and protest, that it was just time to freshen up the joint. But then again, Tournier's spot suffered through the anti-French backlash in spring 2004, so he understand the ravages of war.

Whatever the reason for the whitewash, not even Tournier knows what the wall's new look will be. He's hosting a design competition and asking residents to submit their ideas for the canvas. "Le Central is in Denver for 25 years, so it can be whatever people can think that Le Central means to Denver," he says. "We want somebody local who cares about the restaurant." Mon dieu! Submit ideas at

Scene and herd: The building at 21st and Stout streets that's hosted some of the town's best theater groups, including the Lida Project, and is now home to Crossroads Theatre, has already gotten its makeover. Last weekend a handful of graffiti artists muraled the walls in an urban facelift. "It was a warehouse you couldn't see," says Kurt Lewis of Crossroads. "Now you can see it from a block away. You're going to go, 'Oh, my God,' but a good 'Oh, my God,' not a bad 'Oh, my God.'"

On the Record

On Tuesday, school was officially out for Jerry Wartgow , who turned over his post as superintendent of Denver Public Schools to Michael Bennet.

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you could give to Michael Bennet?

A: Oh, I don't know, I don't think he needs a lot of advice. I'm just responding to his questions, primarily. He's a very accomplished guy.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of from your tenure?

A: Bringing the community together to rally around DPS. One of the primary goals the board had for me was to raise the image and public confidence of DPS, and I feel we've made good progress on that.

Q: What do you think is the biggest problem facing DPS?

A: That this is long, slow hard work, improving student achievement. We just have to keep at it.

Q: Did you find the CSAPs to be an effective measurement tool?

A: You have to be careful. CSAPs are useful as a point-in-time snapshot of how we are doing compared to other districts. But if we focus too much on teaching to the CSAPs, they could be counterproductive.

Q: Could you call a snow day in May?

A: Well, first it has to be snowing. But actually, we have sophisticated process of how we declare a snow day. We coordinate with city and county, highway patrol and transportation, and early on we're coordinating what street conditions look like. There's a telephone tree and a lot of 4 a.m. calls.

Four years ago when I was interviewing, I visited a class out at Palmer Elementary and one of the kids said to me, "Are you in charge of snow days?" I had to look around, because I didn't know. [DPS spokesman] Mark Stevens nodded, so I said, "Well, I think so." The kid said, "My friend told me you're in charge of snow days, and the way you determine if it's a snow day is if you can drive to work. And my friend says you have an enormous four-wheel drive truck." Of course, I don't.

Q: Was it harder to manage K-12 students or college students?

A: Probably K-12. No, not probably. Definitely K-12.

Q: Is there a grade you would not want to teach?

A: My last choice would be in the middle schools, just because there's so much going on there.

Q: What is the best thing you learned from the students and/or teachers in DPS?

A: One thing I did learn and come to fully appreciate was that teachers really do want to teach. They really do work very hard and want to improve the situation for the kids they teach. Their heart is there, and they are committed and they are very hard workers. It's almost the same thing from the kids, in reverse. They can sense if teachers really like what they are doing. If they do, then they want to learn.

Q: You read to the students quite often. Is there a book you'll be happy to never read again?

A: School-improvement plans and DPS budget documents or legislation.

Q: So you're going to hang out in your cabin for several months. After the frenetic pace, won't you be bored?

A: I retired once before, and I discovered that my wife didn't appreciate the whole of my background and experience that I had to bring to running a more efficient household. Knowing myself, by ninety days, I'll be back in Denver and seeing what's out there.


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