Denver Government

Term-Limited Michael Hancock Losing Cabinet Members

Mayor Michael Hancock is heading into his final eighteen months in office.
Mayor Michael Hancock is heading into his final eighteen months in office. Evan Semón
In May, Kim Day announced that she was taking off from her thirteen-year tenure as CEO of Denver International Airport and would retire. Ten days later, Eulois Cleckley, head of the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), submitted his resignation; he'd taken a new gig running the Department of Transportation and Public Works for Miami-Dade County.

In September, Eric Hiraga, the head of the Denver Office of Economic Development, announced that he would be stepping down. Two months later, Ashley Kilroy, the executive director of Excise and Licenses, said that she'd be leaving in January.

Last week, Murphy Robinson, the executive director of Public Safety, revealed that he, too, would be leaving in January.  And on December 17, Don Mares, the head of Human Services, shared that he would be leaving to take a job as CEO of the Colorado Trust.

Although political appointees come and go, the recent acceleration of resignations from Mayor Michael Hancock's cabinet is a sure sign that Hancock, who is term-limited, is moving into his final eighteen months as mayor.

"At the end of a term, you lose folks who are worried about their futures and don’t want to wait until the last minute to make changes. In that sense, it can be a challenge," says Alan Salazar, Hancock's chief of staff. "Very few people in this line of work are wealthy enough to not think about what their next job is."

Some of those stepping down admit that the impending end of Hancock's tenure in City Hall played into their decision.
click to enlarge Murphy Robinson is stepping down as executive director of the Department of Public Safety. - CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER
Murphy Robinson is stepping down as executive director of the Department of Public Safety.
City and County of Denver
"There were many factors that went into director Robinson’s decision to leave, and that was one of the considerations," says Kelly Jacobs, a spokesperson for Public Safety, where Robinson has been the head for just two years.

On the other hand, Kilroy says that she had always thought she'd be with the city through the transition to a new mayor and is "sad to be leaving." But she's going now because she and her husband want to take a year off and spend time catching up with their three daughters, who all live abroad; after that year, Kilroy will return to Denver. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve Mayor Hancock," she adds. "He’s built such an amazing team, and I know they and the mayor will have a very exciting and busy last few years. I hate to miss it!"

According to Salazar, who was on the staffs of Senator Tim Wirth, Senator Gary Hart and Governor Roy Romer until the end of their time in office, some of the resignations that come in the final years of a politician's time in office can have silver linings.

"We lost Kim Day, but we gained Phil Washington, and I think Phil, in that sense, you've got a great leader who is well respected and just as awesome as Kim was," Salazar says, referring to the new CEO of Denver International Airport. "DOTI, too — I think Adam Phipps is phenomenal and every bit as good as his predecessor, and in some ways better," he adds. "These are people that I would expect the next administration maybe to keep."

Britta Fisher, the executive director of the Department of Housing Stability, is certainly open to sticking around for the next mayor, who'll take office in July 2023. "I intend to serve at the pleasure of Mayor Hancock as long as I am able," she says. "I thoroughly enjoy supporting this growing team at the Department of Housing Stability and leading on complex and priority issues for our community. I would welcome consideration for the opportunity to continue in service to Denver and a future mayor."

Phipps's appointment to head DOTI is still subject to Denver City Council approval because of a ballot measure passed in 2020 that gives council the oversight authority on the hiring of most department heads. But even if a new mayor were to nominate a different person to serve as executive director of DOTI, Salazar notes, Phipps would likely still be able to stay with the city, since he came from a position as deputy city engineer, a job with Career Service protections.

This fall, Hancock also made sure that Scott Gilmore and John Martinez, two deputy Parks and Recreation managers, were reclassified as Career Service employees rather than appointees, like current Parks and Recreation director Happy Haynes. That move gave them significant pay increases and added job security, since they'll be able to weather a mayoral administration shift without worrying about getting fired.

"They were managing things and were basically deputy directors," Salazar explains. "Scott and John were unique in that they were appointees who ended up being disadvantaged in terms of the organization because they were appointees."

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, a frequent critic of the Hancock administration, believes there's a "leadership vacuum" with "these agency heads now gone." As a result, she says, "it's chaos trying to get people services that they need."

Adds CdeBaca: "I feel like we've been seeing the effects for a while now, and it's just getting a lot worse, especially with the secrecy. They're trying to cover up the fact that there's a leadership vacuum."

But Salazar pushes back against the idea that Hancock's status as a lame duck has affected how the city is run. "You don’t want to send a message to anybody on the team that it’s time to just skate," Salazar says."If you know anything about our government, you know that there are term limits."

As for his own status, Salazar says that he plans to stay until the end of Hancock's last term. And what's after that? Answers Salazar: "I’m going to be an intern for Patty Calhoun."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.