Law Enforcement

Councilmembers Push Ending Mayoral Appointment of Independent Monitor

The mayor could lose the power to appoint the Independent Monitor.
The mayor could lose the power to appoint the Independent Monitor. Evan Semon Photography
Three Denver City Council members are pushing a charter-change proposal that would remove the mayor's power to appoint the Independent Monitor, the individual who serves as a law enforcement watchdog in Denver.

"'Parity and independence' is a great way to describe it," says Jamie Torres, one of the co-sponsors of a charter-change proposal that would transfer the authority to appoint the Independent Monitor from the mayor to the Citizen Oversight Board, a group that oversees the effectiveness of the Office of the Independent Monitor and advises the city on policies related to law enforcement and public safety.

The Citizen Oversight Board is composed of nine citizens, four of whom are appointed by the mayor, four by the council, and one jointly appointed by the mayor and the council. Under the new proposal, Denver City Council would have approval power over any board choice for the Independent Monitor position.

Torres is working with council president Stacie Gilmore and Councilwoman Robin Kniech on the proposal. In addition to changing who's in charge of the Independent Monitor appointment, the proposal would make staffers in the Office of the Independent Monitor career-service employees, which would give them greater protections; the Independent Monitor could still appoint two at-will staffers. The change would also allow the Independent Monitor to hire independent counsel for an outside legal opinion. This would not be a full-time position, but the attorney would be able to offer opinions on specific cases when the Independent Monitor wanted legal advice from someone outside of the Denver City Attorney's Office.

"I think it creates parity in how the office is organized, but it also creates the independence that people have been asking for. The monitor wouldn't be appointed by the mayor, and the only legal opinion that they would get would not be the city attorney," says Torres.

A spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock declined to comment on the plan, saying the mayor's office had not yet seen a full proposal.

"They probably don't love it," Torres admits. "I think there's an element of this that pulls some authority from the mayor. But that's the point."

The Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety, an entity that emerged from the racial-justice policing protests in 2020, issued a report in May that recommended increasing the independence of the Office of the Independent Monitor.

Task force coordinator Robert Davis of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance agrees with the councilmembers' recommendations related to career-service status and independent legal counsel. Davis and the task force also agree that it makes sense to remove the appointment authority of the Independent Monitor from the mayor.

"The reason we want to take the OIM from under the mayor's appointment is simply because it's very challenging for the mayor to appoint a sheriff, a chief of police and a director of safety, as well as the person to oversee them. I think that presents a lot of challenges," Davis explains.

However, Davis believes that Denver City Council, rather than the Citizen Advisory Board, should be in charge of appointing the Independent Monitor.

"They answer to the voters," Davis notes, "so that ensures a certain level of accountability, because if I'm an unpaid volunteer who myself is appointed, then there's really no accountability for my vote, and I don't have to answer to my constituents about what the vote is."

Torres, Gilmore and Kniech will present their proposal to a council committee on July 22. Voters would have the final say in approving their suggestions, since charter changes require a vote of the people. In order to land a charter-change proposal on the November ballot, Denver City Council would have to approve adding the measure before the end of August.

In January, Nick Mitchell, Denver's Independent Monitor since 2012, resigned to take a job overseeing a court-ordered agreement related to systemic issues in Los Angeles County jails. Gregg Crittenden, a senior deputy monitor, has been serving as the interim head of the Office of the Independent Monitor since Mitchell left.

A committee that includes Torres and Gilmore was set up in March to select a new Independent Monitor; the committee has contracted with a search firm to find Mitchell's replacement. "I don't think we'll have a monitor in place before the end of the year," Torres says.

And by then, Denver residents may have approved a new system for finding the next replacement for the Independent Monitor.
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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.