Proposal to Create City Attorney Nominating Commission Goes Back to Committee

After a debate with high emotions just below a boil, the Denver City Council on Monday night voted 7-6 to re-refer to committee a proposal for creating a nominating commission to appoint the city attorney, which originally would have been put to voters in the Nov. 3 general election.

According to the bill, the seven-person commission would have two members appointed by the Independent Monitor, two by City Council and one appointment each by the auditor, clerk and recorder and the mayor.

Even supporters of the bill’s concept said they believe the bill needs more deliberation before City Council decides whether to refer it for a public vote. The council voted to send the bill back to committee with the understanding it will not be ready for voting to send to the Nov. 3 election, and would need to go to a later election.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, representing District 2, was the evening’s most vocal opponent of the bill. He said the authority to choose Denver’s city attorney should lie with City Council, the mayor’s administration, the auditor and clerk.

“It introduces frankly a rather goofy and ill-advised process for selecting the city attorney,” Flynn said. “When I go to select a lawyer for my personal interests or the city selects a lawyer to represent its corporate interests, there’s no reason to go to an outside group to say, who should we hire?” He added a better solution would be a city charter amendment allowing City Council to hire its own separate legal counsel. Flynn voted against the motion to send the bill back to committee.

But the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca of District 9, bristled at the characterization of the nominating commission as an “outside body.”

“It’s clear that many of you have not actually read this,” CdeBaca said. “It’s designed to have those independently elected, also represented by the city attorney bodies at the table.” She said that the city attorney represents the mayor, police, Independent Monitor and City Council, and current investigations of police brutality have spotlighted the need for changing how the government bodies are representing.

“We have no neutrality in the way that we’re being represented as independently elected bodies and separate but equal branches of government,” she said.

Flynn pushed back, saying the city attorney is not a neutral party because the government bodies rely on them for legal advice for their interests.

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5, who referred the bill for City Council’s approval of mayoral appointments and said she strongly supports the concept of the nominating commission bill but believes its process needs more deliberation. She said some other cities have nominating committees for certain leadership positions and wants to find out more about what works well in their processes and what unintended consequences there might be.

“Those are the kinds of questions that I have,” she said. “I am the most supportive person of this of any council member out there. I think 100% this is something we need to discuss further.”

At Monday evening’s meeting, City Council approved an amendment requiring the selection of nominees “within a reasonable time” instead of 30 days of the city attorney vacancy, as the original bill required. CdeBaca said the amendment brings the bill in line with language of a previously approved voter question allowing City Council approval of more than a dozen mayoral-appointed leadership positions, including the city attorney, Director of Public Safety and the fire, sheriff and police departments.

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