Denver Government

New Mayoral Administration Could Bring Massive Leadership Turnover to Denver

Many appointees may have to wave goodbye to their jobs when Mayor Michael Hancock, shown here during his first term in 2013, says so long to the office in July.
Many appointees may have to wave goodbye to their jobs when Mayor Michael Hancock, shown here during his first term in 2013, says so long to the office in July. Brandon Marshall
Mayor Michael Hancock's administration currently has 52 appointees, ranging from those who lead city departments to mayoral office staffers who report directly to him. But with a new mayor starting in July, the City of Denver could see a massive leadership turnover as the next administration gets settled.

"I don't believe any Hancock appointee expects to be asked to stay on in the next administration, but there is no reason to discount the possibility, either," says Alan Salazar, Hancock's chief of staff. "Every one of the appointees loves the city, and I expect some would consider it an honor to be asked to stay on. But that is for the new mayor and a new city council to ponder."

Thirty-five of Hancock's appointees do not have Career Service Authority protections, and thus no guaranteed job when a new administration takes over. For example, the next mayor could keep on someone like Laura Aldrete, executive director of the Department of Community Planning & Development, as the head of that agency or tap her for a new role. Or that mayor could simply let her go.

The same goes for Happy Haynes, executive director of the Department of Parks & Recreation.

Key staffers for Mayor Hancock, like Salazar and his director of communications, Mike Strott, also have no guarantees of jobs with a new mayor.

But Salazar points out that the mayor's team is already preparing for a changing of the guard.

"There will be an effective and supportive transition; we are already working with executive directors and their Career Service staff to prepare memoranda and other materials to help the incoming mayor and their team," Salazar says, adding, "The majority of appointees running agencies plan to stay [to July], and for those who are moving on — Britta Fisher and potentially Phil Washington — there are experienced leaders and career service staff to support an effective transition."

Fisher recently left as the head of the Department of Housing Stability to take over as president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in March. Washington, who serves as the CEO of Denver International Airport, was nominated by President Joe Biden to run the Federal Aviation Administration. But his confirmation process has remained stalled.

Seventeen of the current mayoral appointees will have the option to (or will automatically) go back into the Career Service positions — which have more protections — than they had before being appointed by Hancock. Police Chief Ron Thomas and Fire Chief Desmond Fulton will simply revert to a lower role within their respective departments if and when they get replaced by new chiefs. And someone like Laura Brudzynski, the newly appointed head of the Department of Housing Stability, who took over for Fisher this month, can revert back to her previous Career Service role within the department.

Ten former Hancock appointees are already insulated from potential turnover, some because of the Hancock administration's switching of appointments to Career Service positions. Two deputy directors for Parks & Recreation — Scott Gilmore and John Martinez — now serve in Career Service roles after the administration converted their positions in 2021.

Hancock also transformed the chief storyteller position, which is held by Rowena Alegría, from an appointment to a Career Service role in 2021.

And Theresa Marchetta, an appointed communications director for Hancock, applied for and was hired for a Career Service position with the Office of Human Resources.

Plenty of past Hancock appointees have already jumped ship, recognizing that their time in appointment roles could end when a new mayor takes office.

For instance, Murphy Robinson, the executive director of the Department of Public Safety, stepped down in January 2022. His LinkedIn profile shows that Robinson now runs his own security services firm. The head of the Department of Excise & Licenses, Ashley Kilroy, left that same month. And Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson left in November.

Fisher's decision to step down was somewhat surprising, given that she had expressed an interest in sticking around as the head of HOST for a future mayoral administration. She's also quite popular among city staff and elected officials. However, she says that when the opportunity arose to succeed John Parvensky as president and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, it was too good to pass up.

And that might have been a wise decision by Fisher anyway, as some new mayoral administrations would definitely clean house.

"We owe it to the voters to bring in people with fresh perspectives, who have the experience and the vision to support a Calderón administration with taking the city in a new direction and not simply recycling some of the same top administrators from a deeply unpopular administration," says Sarah Lake, campaign manager for Lisa Calderón.

Other administrations have left open the flexibility of deciding on appointees if and when they take office.

"My sole focus right now is on the needs and concerns of Denver voters. If I am fortunate enough to win this election, we will build a diverse and highly skilled team during the transition that will be ready on day one to deliver results for Denver residents," says candidate Kelly Brough.

Or as Mike Johnston, another candidate, explains: "I'm running for mayor because I know that Denver's hardest problems are fixable, but in order to fix them, we need to have city officials who can build broad coalitions of support to get it done. Because of that, I will look for the best talent in the city and around the country to run these agencies and implement the solutions we know will work to address Denver's challenges, and will consider existing agency heads as open applicants for those positions.”
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.

Latest Stories