Thursday, October 1, 2009

Who Will Control Our Parks?

Original photo from Denver Water, taken down after toxins, including uranium, from Lowry Landfill Superfund Site were added to recycled water in City and Washington Parks (Don't let your dog do this!)
When Cathy Donohue spoke to Denver City Council Public Amenities Committee, it was as if no one was really listening. Council members and the City Attorney apparently did not understand the importance of her statement. Here, in an email, she reiterates:
Honorable Councilmembers, Because the three points that I spoke of on Wednesday at the Public Amenities Committee meeting were so poorly interpreted and the opinions given by the City Attorney were so incorrect, I want to put my words and thoughts in written form for councilmembers as well as others concerned about our parks. The first point is that City administrators should take the time to write clear and understandable rules and regulations for the new Parks Zones. The City family has been able to write hundreds of regulations for all of the zones for private land, so it seems to me that the task of promulgating parks rules is possible as well as necessary. The suggestion to promulgate park zoning rules similar to PUD rules was made in order to give you some idea that a similar process could be used to write parks' rules. The citizens that I have been working with for many years do not trust an appointed official to protect our parks. Elected officials are accountable to their constituents, appointed officials are not. David Broadwell's assurances that the vague terms ("parks uses") mentioned in the Charter are sufficient to give the public comfort about the actions of an appointed official are just not acceptable. The new Zoning Code should not be adopted until specific parks rules are included. Despite the confusing and unprofessional comments made by the City Attorney about the second point that I made (Charter changes), the simple answer to the question should have been if the powers granted in the Charter are changed, the people need to vote on the change. It is not possible to rewrite the powers granted to the Council in the Charter with a simple ordinance revision. The system for amending the Charter has been in place for about 120 years, and it cannot be altered by any ordinance procedure enacted by Council. The third point, to which no one responded, regards the inability of the citizens to vote on any administrative actions of the non-elected Parks Manager. This point is of vital importance. If the Council convinces the public to vote to amend the Charter to give their powers to an administrator, the people will be unable to remedy any grievances in the same way that they can today. They will have no way to use their referendum rights to seek redress. Council and the Parks Manager can write as many political, insider mechanisms (as described in the 15 point list of "check and balances") imaginable. None of these so-called "checks" is an ordinance that people may vote upon. Today, if the citizens do not like land use decisions made by the Council, they may express their objections with a referendum. Whenever a petition drive is started, all ordinance procedures cease. The day after a group of citizens began the petition drive to stop the State History Museum from destroying park land, the State changed its mind about building in Civic Center Park. Once petitions are started, no bonds can be issued and no money can be spent. The loss of referendum rights is the greatest of the losses proposed by the City Administration and the Council in removing Parks land use from the authority of an elected official and giving it to an appointed one. The word of a City Attorney is not law, it is merely an opinion about the law and, in the past, they have made mistakes or interpreted the law in the interests of the Executive Branch for whom they work--that is why we have courts; and, occasionally, dissenting councilmembers. Cathy Donohue


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