On Monday, September 30, Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca will introduce a proposed change to the city and county's charter to make the Denver sheriff an elected position rather than a mayoral appointee.
CdeBaca "believes that independently elected officials that are directly accountable to Denver taxpayers are necessary for a fair, inclusive and functional democracy, and will be an equalizer to a strong mayoral form of government where the Sheriff is appointed," Lisa Calderón, the councilwoman's chief of staff, said in a statement to Westword.
CdeBaca will submit the proposal during a city council committee meeting. Even if it's supported by council, the charter change would need approval from voters.
The initiative won't be on this November's ballot, since ballots have to be certified sixty days prior to an election, according to Alton Dillard of the Denver Elections Division. The earliest the initiative could appear on the ballot is November 2020.
Denver County is one of only two in Colorado that doesn't elect its sheriff, who is appointed by the mayor and can serve for an indefinite amount of time.
Mayor Michael Hancock recently named Frances Gomez as interim sheriff, the first woman to head the department. The career law enforcement officer, who has served in Denver and surrounding cities, will be sworn in as sheriff on October 14, replacing Patrick Firman, a Hancock appointee who had served since 2015 before resigning earlier this month.
Firman's tenure as head of jails was fraught with controversy, beginning with the death of Michael Lee Marshall, a mentally ill homeless man who died in custody after deputies tried to restrain him. In March 2018, the Office of the Independent Monitor penned a scathing report about how the sheriff's department mishandled the situation.
This past August, a former inmate named Diana Sanchez sued Denver after giving birth unassisted in one of the city's jails in 2018. And in early September, city council approved a $1.55 million settlement for fifteen female sheriff's deputies who alleged that they had experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Hancock spokesperson Theresa Marchetta declined to comment on CdeBaca's proposal. "We don't comment on proposals we haven't seen — and if it is a charter change, it's all council," she wrote Westword.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.