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Michael Hancock: I care about family of Wayne McDonald, ex-employee suing Denver

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In June, Mayor Michael Hancock fired his aide and close friend Wayne McDonald amid "serious allegations of misconduct" -- which became a major distraction at a press conference on the city's structural budget gap. Now, McDonald intends to sue the city and has filed a complaint with the city's Board of Ethics.

Questioned about these developments at an event today, Hancock didn't have much to say -- except that the situation has been difficult for him.

After he made a speech at an event called Project Homeless Connect at the Colorado Convention Center this morning, we asked him if he had any response to the lawsuit and complaint, originally reported by the Denver Post.

"I don't have any comment on that, no," he says.

When asked if he was surprised by the lawsuit, Hancock responds: "You know what, I'll let the legal team handle it. We'll go from there."

He also says he has not spoken to McDonald in a while.

And has this been hard for him personally?

"Of course it is," the mayor responds. "This is someone I've known most of my life and I care about he and his family, so it is very difficult."

He didn't comment further.

The Post first reported in June that McDonald, a longtime friend of the mayor who was appointed as a "special projects coordinator," was fired after allegedly making inappropriate comments in front of a female Denver police officer. McDonald was Hancock's driver during his campaign, attended college with the mayor and also worked at the Denver Urban League when Hancock was president.

Yesterday, the Post reported that McDonald has filed notice that he intends to sue the city, seeking more than $362,000. In addition, his attorney, Anne Sulton, has also filed a complaint with the city's Board of Ethics -- against the mayor, the police officer and Hancock's spokeswoman, Amber Miller. Sulton says he "categorically denies" the allegations of sexual harassment and that he has been unable to find a job or receive unemployment because of the case.

Continue for official comments from the city attorney's office and McDonald's attorney. Attorney Sulton argues that Hancock, the police officer and Miller broke city rules when they released "confidential information" to the media about McDonald, who had an $85,000-per-year salary.

Miller sent us this statement from Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash this afternoon: "Mr. McDonald's allegations have no merit. He was an employee at-will and the city's actions were reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances."

According to Sulton, she filed a notice of claim in August and plans to officially file the lawsuit in the next month or so.

She adds, "It's important to keep in mind what Mr. McDonald requested before he was fired was an investigation, and the notice of claim is really a document that requests an investigation."

The Ethics Board complaint constitutes a third request for an investigation.

She says, "No investigation was conducted.... They simply fired Mr. McDonald."

In response to the mayor's comments this morning, she adds, "Why did you deny his application for unemployment compensation benefits if you care so much about his family?"

We asked Miller for any response about unemployment benefits and will update if we hear back. (Update, September 27: See our latest post for the city's response about unemployment benefits for McDonald).

When pressed on the matter back in June, Hancock said, "When you have people that you care about involved, it's tougher. So absolutely. But I will tell you that...my responsibility, my office makes the decisions in the best interest of the city, and we are judged by how we respond to those challenges as they present themselves, and we acted responsibly in the best interest of the city."

After that official news conference ended, reporters continued to throw questions at Hancock, asking about his relationship with McDonald. The mayor responded: "We're still friends, yes," before his press team ended questions and led Hancock away.

More from our Politics archive: "Video: Mitt Romney supporter handcuffed, cited at rally blasts Jeffco Sheriff's office"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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