In 2013, nearly five years before police detective Leslie Branch-Wise unveiled inappropriate texts sent to her by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, she received a $75,000 settlement from the city after making similar complaints about Wayne McDonald, a Hancock friend and employee fired over the matter. Now, a spokeswoman for Cary Kennedy says the former Colorado state treasurer, who's running for governor and handily won the recent Colorado Democratic caucus, didn't know anything about the payout, even though she was serving as Hancock's deputy mayor and the city's chief financial officer at the time.
"Cary had no knowledge of this settlement" or Hancock's texts to Branch-Wise, notes the Kennedy campaign's Serena Woods. She adds, "There is a separate fund for settlements administered by the city attorney. It does not go through the Department of Finance. Technically, the money in the fund is allocated in a lump sum at the beginning of the year and the Department of Finance and the Budget Office are not involved in, and have no knowledge of, the individual settlements."
Among those concerned by this disclosure is Denver City Councilman Rafael Espinoza, whose call for an investigation into Branch-Wise's revelations about Hancock was initially rebuffed by the panel but is now under consideration after the detective advocated for such a probe.
"This causes me to raise some additional questions," Espinoza says. "One of the things we as council have asked for as a result of this is some accounting of how many settlements are out there — the quantity and value of settlements made by agencies that we never know about. But it's one thing for council, which is so far removed from these departments, not to know about it. But the CFO? My thought would be [that] the CFO would be cognizant of all these things."
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Kennedy served as treasurer from 2007 to 2011. Shortly thereafter, Hancock appointed her Denver's chief financial officer and then, in August 2011, deputy mayor. She stepped down from these posts in February 2016, six months before the city gave McDonald $200,000 to settle a lawsuit over his dismissal, which took place in 2012. In early 2017, Kennedy entered the race for Colorado governor.
Does Kennedy think Hancock is guilty of sexual harassment? This is another point of contention between the central figures in this drama: Branch-Wise thinks this label fits the mayor's actions, while Hancock feels he was guilty of blurring the line between colleague and friend.
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In a statement intended to answer this question, Woods writes, "Cary has said she believes Detective Branch-Wise and that we should not tolerate behavior of this kind in any workplace." Woods confirms that because Branch-Wise feels the mayor was guilty of sexual harassment, Kennedy does, too. And Woods goes on to quote the candidate as encouraging Hancock to take part in a new sexual harassment training program that the city insists was in the works prior to news about the mayor's texting troubles.
"Cary recognizes the Mayor for his apology but knows that is not enough," Woods maintains. "She hopes he joins the rest of city employees at upcoming sexual harassment trainings, and she's reserving her judgment until more facts are known. But regardless, she urges the city — and all workplaces — to take steps to make sure there are processes in place to respond to and prevent incidents like this."
Espinoza sees Kennedy's lack of knowledge about the settlement as a potential systemic issue.
"How could it come to be that we simply don't know how agencies are spending tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars?" he asks. "Right now, I have no idea of the magnitude of this, because that information has yet to be compiled and reported to us. And without knowing how much additional money is going to settle claims, we have no way of knowing how good or not good we are at avoiding them."