Denver deserves none but the best. Such was the message of Mayor Michael Hancock when he announced a national search to find a new manager for the department of parks and recreation. The effort resulted in the appointment of a veteran lobbyist/political hack, Allegra “Happy” Haynes, to the post—she was originally part of the search committee. Amazingly, those loving Denver parks were surprised by the result.
Talent searches are among the endless charades of the government and academia. The efforts are often nothing but ways to tab a previously selected person. In many instances, they are a means of rewarding consultants who spend lavishly on the effort. Particularly when they involve highly charged and controversial positions, the reviews are a way by which one institution dumps an unwanted administrator off on another community. The national searches additionally assume that outstanding talent is extremely rare. Mile High insecurity endlessly believes that locals are not good enough to fill leading positions. On the contrary, boosters eagerly drool over carpetbaggers to reshape the city’s skyline and direct its educational and cultural endeavors.
The sham talent search was an insult to the populace. Voters elect the mayor to run the city. Members of his cabinet are not faceless bureaucratic administrators, but political choices who reflect the values of and reward various constituencies. Hancock, following in the steps of ex-Mayor John Hickenlooper, has clearly shown a thorough contempt for parks as quiet open spaces. On the contrary, he demands they become commercial ventures. Where possible, he has been ready to trade or sell them off.
Haynes fits in well with the mayor’s agenda. Since the 1980s, she has been an available woman. Besides serving on city council and the school board, she has been part of CRL Associates, a lobbying firm which puts Brownstein Hyatt to shame in terms of directing city council and assuring the adoption of very bad policies. Never in her career has she stood up as a bold dissenter, challenging the mayor or 17th Street. At the most, she well fills the bill for those who love tokenism: they endlessly her as a black woman who has done well within the system.
Haynes has always been quick to play the race card, claiming any opposition to her unquestioning devotion to the status quo is primarily a reflection of people uncomfortable with a black woman having a position of power. The prime difference between Haynes becoming manager of parks compared to an outsider is that she will eagerly plunge into the job, doing Hancock’s bidding with a vengeance. In contrast, it would take a outsider months to get fully in with the mayor’s anti-park agenda.
Hancock’s naming Haynes to lead parks and recreation also shows the thorough waste of talent searches. Given the revolving door between , 17th Street, consultants, lobbyists, and nonprofits, powerbrokers could simply rent out such functionaries as Haynes to the mayor. But this would be too blunt: it would reveal the dictatorship of big money over the citizenry. Hence the need for the sham search finding that Haynes is the best of all possible executives to lead the department of parks and recreation. Her tenure might well spawn nostalgia remembering the first term of Hancock as a golden age of the city’s parks.