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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyMarch 15, 20184min370

“To remove the cloud” forming over the city’s top office, a Denver councilman is calling for an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Mayor Michael Hancock.

In a pointed letter sent to the mayor’s office earlier this week and obtained by Westword, Councilman Rafael Espinoza asked the city attorney to commission an independent investigation by an outside party “to delve into the matter and provide a full accounting.”

“This should be done with all due speed to ensure that voters have clarity about the conduct of the person occupying the most powerful office in Denver, before they are asked to consider who should occupy that seat,” Espinoza continued.

Two week ago, the two-term Denver mayor admitted to sending inappropriate text messages to Denver Police Detective Leslie Branch-Wise when she was an officer serving on his security detail in 2011 and 2012.

Denver7’s Tony Kovaleski first broke the story, airing out the slew of text messages from Hancock to Branch-Wise, about six years ago.

“You look sexy in all that black,” he texted after seeing Branch-Wise on TV at a Denver Nuggets game.

Hancock quickly apologized in a video and written statement. “During Detective Branch-Wise’s time on the security team, we became friends, but my text messages in 2012 blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss,” Hancock said in part.

Espinoza’s strongly-worded letter questions whether city officials were presented all the details before a 2016 settlement related to sexual harassment allegations was finalized. The $75,000 settlement stemmed from seperate allegations by Branch-Wise against then mayoral aide Wayne McDonald, and stipulated she wouldn’t file claims against anyone else in the city, Denver7 reports. But it was revealed two weeks ago that Branch-Wise was receiving inappropriate messages from Hancock around the same time the other allegations surfaced.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace – or anywhere else – is unacceptable and it is clear to me that your behavior related to Ms. Branch-Wise was indeed sexual harassment coming from the most powerful individual in the city,” Espinoza wrote. “The citizens of Denver deserve no less than answers to these questions and a full and complete accounting of your behavior and the true context of the settlement agreements in relation to your actions.”

Meanwhile, other Denver City Council members argue further investigation is unnecessary. Following a closed-door discussion on the matter on Tuesday morning, the council released a joint statement stating since Hancock and Branch-Wise agree on what happened, there is no need for a probe, the Denver Post reports.

The Post report also notes 12 of 13 council members attended the closed meeting and signed “nondisclosure agreements because of restrictions in a past city settlement that’s at issue.”


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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyDecember 18, 20173min2239

Is Denver Mayor Michael Hancock too cozy with the development community? A Denver councilman questioned the mayor’s philosophy toward developers following a recent news story on the topic.

In an interview earlier this month, the Denver Post asked Mayor Michael Hancock what he thought of the perception that he is too friendly with developers. Hancock defended himself, arguing in reality he would never falter in his integrity to the office — and his family and he’s not even part of the the city’s permitting process.

“…If people understood the process, they would realize that the mayor does not decide where development goes and does not engage in the permitting process,” Hancock told the Post, in part. “Someone may bring a design to me and I may offer an idea to them, but this is their project, and we stay out of that.”

But it was one statement in particular that Denver Councilman Rafael Espinoza leaped on in a Facebook post over the weekend.

“What’s wrong with these two statements in the same response,” Espinoza asks, quoting Hancock’s response in the Denver Post article in the following paragraph:

“Because what that (debrucing) [debrucing referring to reducing the restrictions associated with Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights authored by Douglas Bruce] did was that it showed the people who would develop that we were willing to invest in the infrastructure and were willing to invest in our city to get it moving again…So it is off-base — and actually, it lacks academic sense — to say the mayor is influencing this development or is too development-friendly, when in reality it’s the market that’s driving the development,” Espinoza wrote.

“I’m not sure what ‘academic sense’ is, but I know that ‘common sense’ makes these two statements incompatible, even in context of the full response,” Espinoza said.

The Post noted the criticism centering on Hancock’s relationship with the development community could factor into the mayor’s probable re-election bid in 2019.


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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyAugust 2, 20175min334

In a letter Tuesday, two City Council members asked that a vote on a $1.8 billion, 34-year private-public partnership with Denver International Airport be postponed for 120 days to give officials, airlines and city voters more time to review the proposed pact.

Council members Deborah Ortega and Rafael Espinoza wrote the letter on Tuesday arguing there are components of the complex, 15,000-page agreement that require a more thoughtful review.

“Mayor (Michael) Hancock and DIA should pursue a 120-day extension to provide Council time to fully review a contract it took three years to develop,” Ortega and Espinoza wrote.

The deal known as the DIA Great Hall project includes an overhaul of DIA’s terminal and details oversight of airport concessions over the course of three decades. DIA’s need for more space and improved security were cited as the impetus for the deal, the Denver Business Journal reports.

In their bid for a postponement, Ortega and Espinoza argue they haven’t been afforded enough time to fully study important components of the agreement.

Important elements of this lengthy and very complex contract, including financial modeling, were not made available until a few days prior to the hearing. A third-party evaluation of the financials was made available only one day prior to the hearing.  Both could only be reviewed in the presence of DIA staff; committee members could not retain copies for thoughtful review.

Additionally, the two council members said in the interest of protecting the city, there are a lot of questions that have gone unanswered.

To protect the interests of the City, a clear understanding of the major risks in the event of a failure of execution by the developer and how the contract protects the City from these risks is necessary. Questions posed in three letters to DIA staff were not answered. Nor have answers been received to questions about how the standards of performance required of the developer are organized and executed over the term of the contract including the city’s recourse if the developer does not meet the standards. It appears the City is relying on surety bonds in lieu of guarantees. Questions concerning how they arrived at the value of the bonds, which appear low, are unanswered.

Ortega and Espinoza also expressed concern about the project design remaining at 30 percent complete and the City Council relinquishing its authority to consider concession contracts to a private entity for the next 34 years.

“I share the goal of assuring a secure, quality experience for the traveling public. One of the biggest benefits to government (and the citizens of the City) of a public private partnership — risk transfer — is absent or certainly minimized. Instead we have high transaction costs and loss of operational control with unexplained oversight or remedies.”

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the DIA Great Hall project at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 14.

Read Ortega and Espinoza’s full letter here.


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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyJuly 31, 20175min325

File this one away in the “residents bucking rapid growth, boundless development and the vanishing character of some Denver neighborhoods” folder.

This week, the City Council approved on a 9-3 vote the rezoning of a 3-acre, vacant parcel in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood, paving the way for a residential mixed-use, five-story development. The zoning allows for a wide range of building forms including houses, duplexes, townhouses, apartments and restaurants, offices and retail spaces on the first story. There is no current development plans for the site at the intersection of E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and N. Central Park Blvd., across from Central Park. The property owner was seeking rezoning before marketing the site to developers.

About a dozen Stapleton neighbors lobbied the City Council during a two-hour public hearing to decline the rezoning proposal, citing the awkward juxtaposition of a possible five-story development abutting dozens of single family homes, increasingly congested neighborhood streets and safety issues.

Sharing that sentiment, John Venhoff, who lives just south of the property, said “a five-story structure is totally incompatible with the neighborhood.”

Another Stapleton resident said, “If you allow a five-story monstrosity to be built on that lot, it will destroy the fabric of our neighborhood.”

Neighbor Donna Davis said she has supported the growth in Stapleton since she moved into the area in 2003, but the many cars that will be added to the area with high-density growth is concerning.

In response to neighborhood concerns, Bruce O’Donnell, a spokesperson for property owner Forest City Stapleton, said the landowner has made an informal, verbal commitment to limit building height to three stories on the east and south portions of the property, where development currently exists.

Though she voted no on the rezoning, Councilwoman Deborah Ortega said the agreement on the reduction in stories on two sides is important and could go a long way in finding common ground over resident’s concerns. Even if the property is sold, the covenant remains with the property.

Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents the district containing the property, shared Ortega sentiment, arguing the property owner’s effort to address height concerns is worth noting.

“In this conversation, we have come to a point where the applicant has heard the community and said OK we are going to try to accommodate as best as we can,” Herndon said.

Herndon dismissed resident concerns over traffic, noting the city’s has a department devoted to addressing traffic issues. On parking issues, Herndon said there will be parking requirements attached to new development.

“I believe traffic will increase but I also believe we have a great traffic and engineering department,” he said.

Herndon also disagreed with concerns over safety with new development.

“You lost me on safety,” Herndon said. “I don’t understand how simply adding apartments makes the community less safe.”

Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who cast one of the three nay votes, said his district has been fighting rezoning efforts like this one for the past two years.  

“I represent northwest Denver and a lot of that area got rezoned like this in 2010,” he said. “We get really objectionable new construction using the new zoning code and there is not a damn thing we can do about it.”