Thursday, March 28, 2013

Former Councilwoman Donohue's open letter to current City Council members before Monday's decisive vote on Hentzell Park

March 29, 2012
Dear Councilmenber,
File photo of Donohue testifying before City Council
On Monday you will be making a decision that could forever diminish the honor bestowed on former Councilmember Paul Hentzell.
History is a great teacher.  When I was elected to the Denver City Council in 1975, two members of the Council became both my mentors as well as my closest friends.  One was Council Bill Roberts and the other was Councilman Paul Hentzell.
Two more different politicians could not be found.  One, Paul Hentzell, was a very conservative Republican; and the other, Bill Roberts, was what at that time was called a "liberal" Democrat.  One always voted with Mayor McNichols; and the other almost never voted with McNichols.
During my first seven years as a member of the Denver City Council, I also never voted for the schemes and "special interest" legislation proposed by Mayor Bill McNichols.
Mr. Roberts and Mr. Hentzell told me about their experiences as elected officials.  Both had colorful and at times very distressing stories.  Mr. Roberts spent his time on Council losing every issue that he believed to be right.  He was often bitter about the way that minorities and women were treated throughout Denver's political history, especially during the McNichols years.
Mr. Hentzell consistently voted with the McNichols majority until my fifth year on Council.  He finally decided to change his voting pattern and joined a four-vote minority consisting of Councilmembers Roberts, Carpio, Sandos and Donohue.  Four votes suddenly became five.  King Trimble won a replacement election in Council District 8, and our five-vote minority grew to six.  Then a small miracle happened,  In the last year of the McNichols reign the vote count was six to seven on every crucial issue that McNichols placed before the Council.  Finally, Councilwoman Reynolds joined the "minority" coalition and our group grew to seven--the  magic number!
During the last year of the McNichols era, that seven vote majority (with the help of Councilman Hentzell) changed the course of politics at City Hall.  We had the votes to change the City Charter so that Council had to approve all contracts over $500,000, and there were no more "sole source" bond deals.  Bonds had to be competitively bid.  We also changed the Charter to require "line items" on all city bond projects.  Historically, whenever a bond issue was presented to the public, there were simply six or seven broadly defined categories, like "Parks", "Public Works", 'Health and Hospitals", etc., without specific costs for any project.  The agencies just received a lump sum of millions of dollars to be used however each agency deemed necessary.  This may sound like nightmare, but it was every administrator's dream come true--no "check" or "balance" at City Hall!
Change was desperately needed, and it came about because of an odd coalition of Democrats and one brave Republican--Paul Hentzell.
When Councilman Hentzell died many of the citizens and those of us who had benefited from Paul's wisdom and generosity wanted to honor him.  With the help of his family, Hentzell Park was named  in his honor.  

William E. Roberts Elementary School stands today as testament to his remarkable service to the citizens of Denver.
When each of us leaves public service, in the corner of our brains is a little place where we dream that someone will honor the years we spent serving the public.  Some of you no doubt will be honored in a way that is as meaningful as what was given to Mr. Roberts and Mr. Hentzell.
Could anyone ever imagine that the School Board would suddenly diminish Mr. Roberts' tribute and take away any part of the school named for him?  Councilman Roberts was devoted to children's education, just as Councilman Hentzell was devoted to parks.  The years Mr. Hentzell spent insuring that Babi Yar Park became a reality are to numerous to count.
When we choose to honor someone for public service, it should be lasting and irreversible.  We should only do unto others that which we would wish done unto us.
Councilman Hentzell's honorarium should remain unchanged.
Yours truly,
Cathy Donohue
Retired City Councilmember


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