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.
So there will be no ticket holiday in Denver. But the lock on information has also loosened. This Friday, Cauthen promises, the KPMG audit will finally be released -- almost three months after Mares's audit was leaked to the press (and not by his office, either), almost three months (less two days) after Oglesby officially left the building.
"Thank goodness for my hardworking auditors," says Mares. "Thank God we stepped in and did our audit, because if we hadn't, think about where we might be. Oglesby might still be working."
We might, God forbid, be a "world-class" city like Chicago -- which just announced that it's raising parking rates downtown to 25 cents for five minutes.
No good deed goes unpunished.
On November 18, Mayor Wellington Webb announced that Denver would offer "limited, free meter parking at downtown parking meters during the holidays" in support of the new Shop Denver campaign -- "designed to promote Denver's role as a regional big City."
Webb's announcement, released to both the media and assorted city departments, listed the dates that downtown meters would be free: all day and evening November 29, the day after Thanksgiving; after 6 p.m. every day from November 30 through December 22; all day and evening December 23, December 24 and December 31. It lauded the organizations making Shop Denver possible and offered self-congratulatory quotes.
In fact, there was only one thing the announcement failed to address: Just what, exactly, constitutes downtown Denver?
The booster groups pushing Shop Denver -- including the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau -- certainly tout the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library as part of downtown's draw.
Which is why people exiting the library the day after Thanksgiving were shocked to find tickets on cars they'd parked along Acoma Street. As parking holidays go, this one was a turkey.
As a DPL employee, Debbie Ramer had received a copy of Webb's November 18 announcement. On November 29 she received something else: two parking tickets, written less than four hours apart. And she wasn't alone.
Ramer and others complained to library officials, who went through channels all the way to the mayor's office, which reported that any complaints would have to be taken up with the parking bureau. And that meant the parking ticket referee's office run by Denver County Court, since the parking management division lost its ability to void tickets even before division manager John Oglesby got the boot.
When Ramer dropped by with her tickets, the referee told her that Acoma between 12th and 13th streets was not part of downtown. That wasn't clear on the announcement she'd received as a library employee, Ramer replied. Her response seemed to further irritate the referee, who pointed out that the free parking was intended for shoppers, not workers.
(Nor did it do much for mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson, who's fielded some of the complaint calls about the parking program. "It's for shoppers to come downtown, not for them to park there for eight hours," he says. "It's completely contrary to what we were trying to accomplish."
Responds Ramer: "I shop downtown.")
The ref finally tossed one ticket, but Ramer had to pay the other. She doesn't mind the twenty bucks. "My issue is with the way this was announced and subsequently handled," she says. "In the press release, they use 'downtown meter parking,' and they don't define 'downtown.'"
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And don't mess with a librarian on definitions. Ramer went on the Downtown Denver Web site (downtowndenver.com) and found a map of downtown that included the Golden Triangle. Since some of the early news stories and radio announcements hyping the program were equally vague, that Web site now includes very strict guidelines for the downtown areas offering free holiday parking: downtown and lower downtown, "roughly bordered by 20th Street, Wynkoop, Speer, Colfax and Broadway."
Those without Web access can easily find the same information: It's included on a green flier produced by Downtown Denver -- and now delivered along with every parking ticket handed out by the city downtown.