Denver Government

Returns Show Voters Giving Denver City Council More Power

Denver City Council looks to be pulling power away from the mayor.
Denver City Council looks to be pulling power away from the mayor. Denver City Council
In what could be a rebuke of Denver's strong-mayor form of government, voters appear to have passed three ballot measures that will give Denver City Council more power.

By the time ballot-counting stopped at 11:30 p.m. — with 239,000 votes tallied, and approximately 100,000 still to go, according to the Denver Elections Division staff — three proposals that would give council more authority were on their way to victory.

Measure 2C, with nearly 55 percent of the vote, would allow allow Denver City Council to hire professionals, including an outside attorney, without the approval of the mayor.

Measure 2E, which was championed by Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, would give council approval power over key mayoral appointments, including the police chief, sheriff and executive director of Public Safety. As of late November 3, 58.99 percent of Denver's voters had approved the concept.

Mayor Michael Hancock doesn't have any current vacancies that would require council approval. However, if this measure does pass and a key appointee ends up leaving — not impossible in a term-limited administration — Hancock will need to work with council to get enough support for a new appointment. And the next mayor, who will take office in 2023, would need to get council approval for each key position.

Measure 2G would give Denver City Council the power to initiate a supplemental appropriation or transfer of excess or unexpected funds separate from the standard budget process. At last count, that proposal had 54.64 percent approval.

Previously, city council could only make budget amendments when the mayor's budget was being finalized in the fall (council voted on the next budget at its November 2 meeting). If this measure passes, council will have the authority to make adjustments mid-year, giving it more power in Denver.

In pushing for this, Councilwoman Robin Kniech wrote: "This charter change would allow City Council to play a more proactive role in addressing pressing city needs that might not have been known or possible to address during the prior budget process, rather than having to wait up to a year for the next budget cycle to initiate any spending changes."

Hancock had voiced his opposition to the measures in recent weeks, tweeting on October 27 that they were "solutions in search of problems that Denver does not have," and "they invite a level of political dysfunction we should not encourage."

Hancock has encountered some pushback from the current council, but he noted that former mayor Wellington Webb as well as a range of former councilmembers also opposed the measures. "The proponents say it’s about transparency and accountability," Hancock added, "but it’s really about creating a platform for political grandstanding and obstruction."

Looks like Denver voters just helped build that platform.
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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.