City Council is considering an initiative that would ask voters to give them power to approve key mayoral appointments.
City Council is considering an initiative that would ask voters to give them power to approve key mayoral appointments.
Denver City Council

City Council May Ask Voters for More Authority for Mayoral Appointments

Denver City Council is considering an initiative that would ask voters if they'd give council approval power for significant mayoral appointments. It's the latest initiative brought by a member of the new-look council that would chip away at the mayor's significant power.

"Our strong mayoral system would continue. It would just require a little more thought about what appointments would make sense for these [eleven] largest positions and [eleven] most powerful positions in our system," said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer as she introduced the bill at an October 28 council committee hearing.

Denver's mayor is one of the strongest in Colorado. Colorado Springs, which also has a strong mayoral system, gives its city council approval authority over mayoral appointments. Denver council has approval power over unpaid mayoral appointments, such as for those serving on commissions, but can't vote on city department leadership.

Sawyer's initiative would mandate that mayoral appointments of those who lead eleven key departments, such as the Department of Safety and the City Attorney's Office, receive council approval. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who supports Sawyer's initiative, recently introduced a proposal that could ask voters as early as next year to change the sheriff from a mayoral-appointed position to an elected one.

The mayor's office has expressed reservations about both proposals. "There are certainly some concerns about the chilling effect it might have on the process for finding qualified applicants," Skye Stuart, the mayor's legislative director, said during the October 28 committee hearing.

Councilwoman Kendra Black, who said that she found Sawyer's proposal compelling, also echoed that concern. "It’s just one more added hassle that makes it that much more complicated. To go before thirteen more people is not always fun," Black explained.

Sawyer responded that those being considered for the top positions in these departments are political appointees and "shouldn’t have that level of expectation of privacy."

"This is a relatively straightforward process," she continued in reference to her proposal. "There don't seem to be a lot of issues."

If voters were to pass the initiative, which could be on the November 2020 ballot, council would be given the opportunity to interview appointees during committee hearings. If a majority of council were to oppose an appointee, the mayor would have to search for another appointee. If an appointee gathers unanimous support, council could approve him or her without debate or a committee hearing.

The mayor would still retain sole authority over dismissing department heads. But positions would need to be filled in a "timely manner," meaning that a mayor could not keep an interim department head in place for an extended period of time.

Sawyer's initiative will move to another council committee in the coming months before heading to a vote of the full council. Sawyer says it will be packaged with a series of other proposals, including CdeBaca's elected-sheriff initiative, aimed at pulling some power away from the mayor's office.

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