Friday, January 10, 2014

Denver’s Neighborhood Voice in the Wilderness

by Larry Ambrose - Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation "INConnection" Newsletter

Cynicism runs deep in American politics these days. It wouldn’t be so bad that politicians mislead, misjudge, misconstrue and misstep, but, the problem is, they run our government! Although most of our elected City government representatives have come to office through the highest calling of civic service, many seem to fall prey to a dominant political culture, whereby citizens are patronized rather than respected. Somehow we are often made to feel like the teenager asking to borrow the car on Saturday night, rather than the taxpayers who put them in office. 
Assuming that term limits were supposed to reduce the probability that bad elected representatives would continue on in office, they have had the opposite effect. In many cases, they have assured that mediocre representation will be perpetuated through a guarantee of 12 years of incumbent election funding. Investigative journalism at the local, state and national level which informs most voters, has gone the way of the trolley cars. At the local level where citizens have the best chance of effecting outcomes and change in government so much money is needed for Council and Mayor races that lobbyists and, developers have joined forces to run their own candidates who answer first to them.
Denver government presents a perfect example of where the public processes for citizen involvement have become a sham. Agency bureaucrats, often consider themselves to be experts and know best what citizens want and need. Most of the time planning is done with predetermined outcomes. Committees in which the public is allowed to participate, shadow “internal” work groups where policies are developed and are then presented for consideration as limited options. Requests for cost-benefit analyses go unheeded. Final plans are submitted to the public only for “tweaking”. Stakeholder committees, have now become confidential in nature with citizen participants being asked to pledge to keep proceedings and the discussions to themselves and from members of the press and public. Even a former Councilperson, was recently ordered to leave a stakeholder Special Events and Planning meeting as “ it was deemed a “private” not “public” meeting and she was not on the  invitation” list.
When there is a valid public process the published outcomes are often subverted, altered by the agency experts or even totally ignored at a later date. Outcomes, written vaguely or with the addition of ambiguous terms, makes possible almost any interpretation that is needed to support questionable government decisions. City Council committees hear from City agency experts and lobbyists and make decisions without the benefit of public comment. “Courtesy Zoning”, whereby City Council follows an unspoken rule that approves site specific zoning matters according to the District Councilperson’s wishes, has morphed into “Courtesy Parks” and actually, “Courtesy Anything”. 
City Attorneys mold interpretations of the law to satisfy the Mayor’s whims. City Council, the legislative branch of municipal government has no legal counsel of its own and has blindly followed the legal opinions of the Mayor’s appointee. Only since the Mayor and Council became “term limited” has the legislative branch of City government so eagerly followed the Mayor’s wishes. Historically, Councils have often hired their own outside legal counsel. Denver now, at least in theory, has only two branches of government--Executive and Judicial. The legislative branch has abandoned its oversight role as the legitimate third branch of our government. One big, happy family rules the city. 
Trees are falling in the forest. We hear them fall. Be it resolved that we must work to stop this madness in 2014.


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