Denver Municipal Ballot Stacked with Local Measures

While Denver’s ballot looks dauntingly long, many of the items are simply housekeeping measures — but we all know how dirty houses can get.

There was plenty of down-and-dirty fighting over a few of the proposals that Denver City Council referred to the ballot. This year, Denver voters can decide if they want to ante up for a cleaner environment, as well as tax themselves to provide more help for the homeless. They can give councilmembers more power in this strong-mayor town, and allow them to exercise some of that power virtually. And finally, they’ve got the chance to show the city’s three-decade-old pit bull ban the door.

Here are the items you’ll find on Denver’s ballot, as well as who’s for them…and who’ll admit to being against:

Measure 2A: Climate Funding
Denver City Council referred this initiative to the ballot as an alternative to the climate tax-increase proposal pushed by activists with the group Resilient Denver. Approval of 2A would increase the Denver sales tax by .25 percent (2.5 cents on a ten-dollar purchase), with the money earmarked to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and adapt to climate change.” Those programs would include a jobs initiative related to renewable and clean energy technology and management of natural resources; increased investments in alternative energy sources; and upgrading the energy efficiency of homes, offices and other buildings. While the measure’s language includes few additional specifics, it does stipulate that these programs should “maximize investment in communities of color, under resourced communities, and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”

If the measure is adopted, the executive director of the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency would be required to submit a five-year plan to city council within a year, then provide updates every five years thereafter on the planned revenue uses of the Climate Protection Fund.

Who’s for it: Denver City Council referred this initiative to the ballot because the “time to address climate change is now,” according to two people associated with the campaign and a member of the public. “This is a very small price to pay to help Denver reduce air pollution and adapt to climate change, and many staples are exempt from the tax, including food, fuel, and hygiene products,” they wrote to the Denver Elections Division. “The cost of inaction on climate change is far greater.”

Who’s against it: Two members of the public, including Jeanne Faatz (the most recent Republican to serve on Denver City Council) and Doug Windes, submitted comments to the Denver Elections Division in opposition. The city should first look at how it already spends money instead of asking for more money from taxpayers — especially poorer ones, who will be most harmed, they argue. There are also more important services that need to be better funded, such as public safety and infrastructure maintenance, before the city thinks about taxing residents more to fund vaguely defined projects, they say.

One issue on the ballot proposes a new sales tax that would fund increased services for the homeless.EXPAND

One issue on the ballot proposes a new sales tax that would fund increased services for the homeless.

Evan Semón

Measure 2B: Funding to Address Homelessness
Denver City Council also referred this proposed tax increase to the ballot. If approved, it would increase the Denver sales tax by .25 percent (2.5 cents on a ten-dollar purchase) and allot up to an additional $40 million a year (according to proponents) for homeless services, including shelters and affordable housing.

Who’s for it: Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech and Mayor Michael Hancock both were key backers of the proposal, as were the major homeless-service providers in Denver. Homelessness is a major issue facing Denver, they point out, and this money would help expand the scale of services and projects offered by the city that are already helping people move out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Among other things, the funding would be used to build 1,800 homes with supportive services over the next ten years. It would also increase the number of shelter beds, expand on-street outreach, and extend the use of tiny homes.

Who’s against it: Jeanne Faatz and Doug Windes again submitted opposition comments to the Denver Elections Division. While they acknowledge that homelessness is a major challenge in Denver, they argue that a sales tax increase is not the answer. For starters, sales tax increases are regressive, meaning they impact those who can least afford it. The opponents also point out that the city is already spending around $100 million on homeless services and affordable housing a year, and suggest that voters would be better off looking at how effectively this money is being spent rather than paying an additional tax.

Measure 2C: Professional Services for City Council
This measure was referred to the ballot by Denver City Council, with Councilwoman Debbie Ortega leading the charge. If approved by voters, it would make it clear that city council can procure professional services — including independent expertise from engineers, attorneys, financial analysts and other professionals on issues that arise — without the approval of the mayor’s office. City council could also use its own attorneys when considering exercising investigative and subpoena powers.

Who’s for it: Denver City Council, for starters. When Mayor Michael Hancock was facing sexual-harassment allegations in 2018 for racy text messages that he’d sent to a member of his security detail, “it was not clear that council could hire outside legal expertise or enter into a contract with investigators or other professionals to assist in developing its response,” reads a comment submitted by council to the Denver Elections Division. “City Council was put in the position of relying for guidance on the Office of the City Attorney, which reports to the mayor. This places the city attorney in the position of advising entities with conflicting interests.”

The Denver City Charter is silent on the issue of whether city council can seek independent legal counsel; this would ensure that it has that option, and can also hire other professionals.

Who’s against it: There is no active opposition.

Measure 2D: DOTI Advisory Board
Denver City Council referred this measure to the ballot; it would create an advisory board for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) that can review and offer input on policy issues and the department’s budget.

Who’s for it: In 2019, Denver voters approved a charter change allowing for the establishment of DOTI, which subsumed the Department of Public Works and emphasized the importance of transportation issues in the city.
The board is needed because DOTI “makes major decisions on public works programs and projects that impact and benefit Denver neighborhoods,” according to Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, who led the charge on this measure, too. The suggested advisory board would be composed of nineteen individuals — thirteen appointed by council, six by the mayor — and would be similar in size and makeup to the Department of Parks and Recreation advisory board.

Who’s against it: There is no active opposition.

Denver has a strong-mayor system, as Michael Hancock knows.

Denver has a strong-mayor system, as Michael Hancock knows.

Measure 2E: Council Approval for Mayoral Appointments
Referred to the ballot by Denver City Council, this measure would create a mechanism for council to approve major mayoral appointments, including the head of Public Safety, Denver’s chief of police and the city attorney.

Who’s for it: Denver has a strong-mayor form of government, and Denver City Council has been attempting to pull some power away from the mayor’s office, including gaining the right to approve important mayoral appointments; Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer spearheaded this particular proposal. “Instituting a process that brings more balance, transparency and accountability to our strong-mayor form of government makes sense. It is good governance. It is a policy that many other strong-mayor cities follow successfully,” council submitted in its statement of support to the Denver Elections Division. It would also ensure that the mayor consult more with councilmembers before making an appointment, in order to know that there’s enough buy-in to get a candidate through the approval process.

Who’s against it: Jeanne Faatz weighed in for the opposition on this proposal, too. “Finding the right person to apply for a cabinet position can be difficult under normal circumstances. Members of this council have launched public personal attacks on applicants for volunteer boards. Does this behavior lend itself to attracting highly professional applicants for jobs within the city?” the former councilwoman asked. Faatz also points out that in the event of an administration turnover, department heads would need to be approved by council — which could create major issues in the event of a mayor abdicating his seat and an interim mayor filling the role. Mayor Michael Hancock’s office has also questioned the merit of this proposal.

Measure 2F: Removing Outdated Language From Charter
The coronavirus pandemic created unprecedented quandaries around the world. The big one here? Language in the Denver City Charter contained language that seemingly made it impossible to hold weekly all-council meetings virtually during emergencies. And so Denver City Council referred this measure to the ballot, which would remove outdated language and allow city business to enter the 21st century.

Who’s for it: Just about everyone. In the early days of the pandemic, Denver City Council leadership struggled over whether the all-council meetings on Mondays could be held virtually; among other things, citizens had to be guaranteed access. Eventually, the city tech team figured out how to make such meetings accessible, and council created emergency rules allowing virtual meetings. The change to the charter simply ensures that city council can meet virtually in the case of future emergencies.

Who’s against it: No one in their right mind, though some of the glitches in those early virtual meetings were enough to drive us nuts.

Measure 2G: Expand Council Budgeting Authority
Denver City Council referred this measure to the ballot; it would give council the power to initiate a supplemental appropriation or transfer of unexpected or excess funds outside of the standard budget process.

Who’s for it: As it currently stands, Denver City Council can only make budget amendments when the mayor’s budget is being finalized in the fall, as it is right now. This measure would give council the power to make adjustments mid-year, in the process grabbing some power from the mayor’s office. Or, as Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech wrote in her statement to the Denver Elections Division: “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.”

Who’s against it: Jeanne Faatz again delivered an opposition statement, arguing that 2G is a “solution in search of a problem” and that council already has enough power to initiate expenditures during budget season. “Having council members introduce supplemental appropriations or transfers at any time for their pet projects could be highly disruptive to funding of basic services,” she wrote.

Measure 2H: Municipal Broadband
Denver City Council also referred this measure to the ballot; if approved, it would allow Denver to explore the possibility of investing in municipal broadband partnerships or services.

Who’s for it: Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann pushed this proposal after hearing from a handful of Denver residents who are strong proponents of the initiative. In 2005, the Colorado Legislature mandated that no municipality could enter into the municipal broadband business without first getting approval from voters. Since then, numerous municipalities around the state have done so; while some have gone on to create their own Internet entities, most have simply opted out in order to create more choice going forward. By joining that group, Kashmann says, Denver would be gaining the freedom to get a better deal from existing broadband companies or even explore a municipal broadband option.

Who’s against it: Local Internet companies say it doesn’t make sense for Denver to invest in municipal broadband, but they are not actively opposing the measure.

Measure 2I: Clerk and Recorder Appointments
This measure would increase the number of high-level staffers that can be appointed by the Denver Clerk and Recorder from three to five. Denver City Council referred it to the ballot at the request of Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez, who is also a former council rep.

Who’s for it: Lopez wants to clarify what he characterizes as ambiguous language in the Denver City Charter regarding how many high-level positions the clerk and recorder can appoint; this measure would bring the number of appointments in line with those of the city’s auditor, who runs a similarly sized independent agency. By increasing the number of high-level staffers who are appointed, as opposed to being Career Service employees, the clerk and recorder could ensure more accountability from the agency, Lopez says.

Who’s against it: One constituent has argued that this proposal could jeopardize the position of director of elections by striking its specific mention from the charter. Lopez, however, rejects that assertion:“The director of elections position is a position that is existing before, it is existing now, and it will exist in the future.”

Measure 2J: Pit Bulls
And finally, a ballot measure with some teeth. If approved by voters, this measure would overturn Denver’s decades-old pit bull breed ban and create a permit system for pit bull ownership. Earlier this year, Denver City Council voted to repeal the circa 1989 ban; Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed the measure, and there weren’t enough votes on council to override that veto. After that, Councilman Chris Herndon persuaded council to refer the issue to the November ballot.

Who’s for it: Most dog lovers, and definitely pit bull lovers. The original ban was introduced after pit bulls got bad press — some of it deserved. But proponents argue that specific dog breeds aren’t the problem, irresponsible owners are. “Breed-specific bans do not work, they don’t make Denver safer and they don’t encourage responsible dog ownership,” Herndon writes in a comment in support of the initiative. Other municipalities have gotten rid of similar bans…though some remain. And as backup for bad owners, this measure would call for pit bulls to be microchipped and spayed or neutered.

Who’s against it: Pit bull haters, and people worried about potential liability issues. “The pit bull ban has worked in Denver,” note Faatz and Windes in another opposition comment. “No pit bull fatalities have been reported since the ban’s enactment.”

Then again, pit bulls haven’t been allowed in Denver for more than thirty years.

Measure 4A: Denver Public Schools Taxes
Measure 4A would increase property taxes in the city by up to $32 million in 2021 so that Denver Public Schools can add more school nurses to deal with COVID-related issues, as well as more mental health personnel, paraprofessionals for special education and alternate learning, and speech language pathologists. The new funds would also go toward early childhood education and higher wages for educators. If approved, the property tax increase is estimated to cost the average household $51 per year.

Who’s for it: The Denver Public Schools Board of Education referred the measure to the ballot after receiving a recommendation from the 2020 Community Planning and Advisory Committee (CPAC), which was composed of community members, parents, educators and other DPS stakeholders. If 4A passes, Denver voters “will make public education a priority this year, ensure every student receives a high-quality education, increase graduation rates, reduce class sizes and help Denver’s kids get the education they deserve in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a statement written by Denver Commits to Kids, the campaign formed to support both 4A and 4B.

Who’s against it: There is no organized opposition to 4A, but some Denver residents have expressed concern that there’s no real guarantee where the money will go.

Measure 4B: Denver Public Schools Bond
If approved by voters, 4B would allow Denver Public Schools to issue bonds worth up to $795 million, then spend that money on capital improvements, such as maintenance and renovation of existing school buildings, air conditioners in schools without air conditioning, new schools and classrooms, and either rebuilding or renovating the Montbello campus, which comprises multiple schools. The money could also be used to help pay off outstanding bond payments.

Who’s for it: The Denver Public Schools Board of Education referred the measure to the ballot after receiving a recommendation from CPAC. Over the last decade, Denver’s population has grown by more than 20 percent, leading to a 15,000-student increase at DPS, where the average age of district-owned buildings is over fifty years. “Denver’s voters have an opportunity to modernize and provide public schools with the resources needed to succeed in the current education environment, all without raising taxes, by voting Yes on 4B,” reads a supportive statement sent to the Denver Elections Division by Denver Commits to Kids.

Who’s against it: There is no organized opposition to 4B, but some Denver residents wonder: Wasn’t legal pot supposed to pay for school construction projects?

Next week, we tackle the statewide ballot measures and other election issues.

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