Adam McCoyAdam McCoyMarch 15, 20184min431

“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.”


Adam McCoyAdam McCoyFebruary 2, 20182min2195

OK, yes, the City of Denver does bus some of its homeless out of town, but don’t jump to conclusions. Westword’s Chris Walker explains what’s really going on in a report this week. Walker follows up on a mention of the Mile High City by the British newspaper the Guardian in a piece it had done on cities busing their homeless elsewhere.

As Walker notes, Denver busing out its homeless sounds like some scheme to ship the whole issue of homelessness to another part of the country. On the contrary, the city is actually helping people reconnect with family out of state:

We reached out to Julie Smith, communications director with Denver Human Services, to find out about Denver’s particular bus program.

It turns out that Denver does have a busing program, but it is neither robust nor conspiratorial. Rather, its goal is to reunite homeless individuals with family members in other states.

The Family Reunification Program provides qualifying applicants with one-way bus tickets out of Denver. According to an email from Smith, “it is a fairly small program with annual expenditures of about $30k or less and serves around 130 people/families.”

Smith tells Walker about the program’s vetting process and success stories. But 9news in January 2017 told the story of 27-year-old Austin Blitzer, who received a one-way bus ticket to San Diego through Denver’s program, but noted days later on social media how we was still homeless.

Since its beginnings in 2011, Denver has purchased approximately 600 one-way tickets through the program, at a cost of $150,000, Westword reports.

Read Walker’s full report here.


Adam McCoyAdam McCoyDecember 21, 20173min641

The former organizer of Denver’s 420 rally is taking his grievances against the city to court, alleging officials mounted a public relations campaign to remove him as host of the event.

The city banned Miguel Lopez from organizing the marijuana event after Denver’s Civic Center Park was left littered with trash following an April rally. Denver said Lopez violated “city requirements,” including noise complaints, untimely trash removal, limited security staff, unlicensed food vendors and street closures at the spring event, the Cannabist reported. Lopez was fined more than $12,000, as a result.

But Lopez, who has been organizing the event since 2008, is now pushing back in a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver, Denver7 reports.

He alleges officials have had a long-simmering hatred of him and attempted to ruin his reputation with misleading images of trash in the park following the rally. Lopez maintains trash was bagged up after the rally, but perhaps someone tore the bags open overnight.

Lopez even argued Mayor Michael Hancock is waging a war on marijuana and targeting him in the process. The lawsuit also claims the media was directed by the city to capture pictures of trash during the clean-up effort, according to Denver7. Lopez’s attorney, Rob Corry, claimed they have obtained emails to journalists through open record requests, Westword reports.

Corry labeled Denver’s reaction after the rally “improper” and said the city manipulated the reaction and created the negative publicity.

The lawsuit is the next step in eventually getting the event permit back, Lopez told Denver7.


Joey BunchJoey BunchDecember 18, 20176min676

As the Colorado legislature and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has tried to stem the addiction to opioid drugs, a major pipeline of painkillers was flowing out of a small drugstore in Brighton for years, the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” report this weekend.

Before top brass at the Justice Department and DEA started cutting deals with the drug giant McKesson Corp., federal investigators in Denver were poised to bring the highest profile criminal distribution case in U.S. history, says the Washington Post story by Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham.

Nine DEA field divisions worked with 12 U.S. attorney’s offices in 11 states who probed distribution practices at about 30 McKesson warehouses, including at least two in Colorado, according to the report published in the newspaper Sunday.

Facing a potential $1 billion fine and the country’s first criminal case against a drug company for its second violation.

“This is the best case we’ve ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration,” David Schiller, who retired as assistant special agent in charge of DEA’s Denver field division recently, told the Washington Post.

Last January the company agreed to a $150 million fine, suspended operations from four of its distribution warehouses and promised, again, to improve its system for detecting and alerting authorities suspicious drug orders. The company paid a $13.25 million fine and promised to do better when it was caught in 2008, as well, three years after it was warned by federal authorities.

McKesson is the fifth-largest publicly traded company in the U.S., the Washington Post noted.

The DEA turned its investigation to Colorado in 2012, joining state and local law agencies looking into why Platte Valley Family Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Jeffrey Clawson was filling orders for up to 2,000 pain pills a day.

Most of the drugs were supplied by a McKesson warehouse in Aurora, and the company wasn’t asking questions, despite its earlier requirement to notify the DEA of such unusual activity.

“But McKesson filled 1.6 million orders from the Aurora warehouse and reported only 16 as suspicious between June 2008 and May 2013,” the Post reported. “None of the 16 involved Platte Valley, and the company reported them only after the DEA began its investigation.”

Helen Kaupang, a DEA investigator who worked on the Colorado sales, told the Washington Post the small pharmacy was getting enough pills to supply a pharmacy next to a medical center in Denver, and McKeeson wasn’t asking the store why it needed so many.

“There was no legitimate reason for that pharmacy in that little town in remote Colorado to be getting hundreds of thousands of pills over a several-year period. None,” she told the Washington Post. “There was no justifiable reason. And yet, the pills kept coming.”

When Clawson ordered so much oxycodone than the McKeeson allowed, the company raised his limit, according to the Post report.

“The company would raise thresholds so pharmacies could order more pills without setting off suspicious monitoring alarms inside the company,” Kaupang said. “Did they think we wouldn’t look at them again? I don’t know. But they almost acted that way.”

A lawyer for McKesson denied the company raised thresholds simply to avoid scrutiny. The company said the DEA nor the Justice Department ever threatened criminal charges or the $1 billion fine cited in the Washington Post Sunday.

Platte Valley Family Pharmacy changed owners in 2012.

Read the entire Washington Post story by clicking here.

Clawson was indicted in 2013.

Michael Roberts of Westword wrote at the time:

Jeffrey Clawson looks like exactly what he was — a pharmacist. But Colorado Attorney General John Suthers believes he was also something more. Fifteen people have been charged in a three-state oxycodone ring … Clawson was a key player because of his willingness to fill fake oxycodone prescriptions — sometimes for kickbacks, other times not.”

Clawson was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy under the Colorado Organized Control Act, a check of public records by Colorado Politics showed. In 1999 he was arrested by Aurora police and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession charge after it was reduced from a felony. He received two years of probation.


Gabrielle BryantGabrielle BryantNovember 28, 20176min794

Sexual misconduct, inappropriate behavior and even assault are, of course, not new experiences for women or men. Reports show that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused by age 12, and it’s usually by someone they know well. These stats are incomplete and inaccurate as they represent the number of incidents that are actually reported. The concept of covering up these behaviors, both as the victim and perpetrator, are learned in our youth.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 24, 20174min1255

It’s not that much of a stretch to say the history of Colorado fiscal policy over the past quarter-century is synonymous with the biography of Douglas Bruce. That’s by and large because of the one groundbreaking policy Bruce authored and relentlessly championed into law in 1992, the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution.

For all of the legendary Colorado Springs tax reformer’s exploits since then — from his repeated attempts to enact other laws through the ballot box, to his time in elective office, to his stints behind bars for tax evasion — it is that one milestone that has seemingly tied the state’s fiscal fate to Bruce’s persona.

Hence, Colorado Public Radio’s three-part series this month chronicling Bruce’s role in Colorado politics and policy, “THE TAXMAN: How Douglas Bruce And The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights Conquered Colorado.” To say the podcast/text rendering is both ambitious and compelling is to say the least; it arguably amounts to a new must-listen/must-read for any student of Colorado public policy. That includes not only aspiring officeholders but also many of those already elected to office who are still in need of a tutorial.

It’s such a significant undertaking by CPR — including the feat of nailing an extensive studio interview with the alternately media-craving, media-baiting and media-hating Bruce — that Westword’s Chris Walker took note of the epic effort this week in a story about the story. Walker interviews Bruce’s interviewers, CPR’s Rachel Estabrook, Nathaniel Minor and Ben Markus:

Westword: TABOR seems like such a difficult and technical subject for a podcast. What was your motivation to start this project, and why did you think it would work?

Rachel Estabrook: I got interested because I produce a lot of the interviews that we do with Governor Hickenlooper, and TABOR comes up all the time. I didn’t feel like a lot of people — even some people in the CPR newsroom — really understood what it was about. It felt right for a sort of explanatory piece, but then I started learning more about Douglas Bruce. He’s such a fascinating character with so many twists and turns and complex motivations.

Twists and turns and complex motivations; yup. Walker even delves into the extent to which Bruce himself may view his own identity as being intertwined with Colorado policy; some of his critics would might put it more bluntly — that he has no other life:

… did he understand that your project was as much about him as it was about TABOR? Did he get defensive when you asked him about his personal life, or did he understand why that was something you’d be interested in?

Minor: We talked about policy a lot. And he would say, “Oh, I really don’t want to talk about more private parts of my life.” But then he would go on and tell us about private parts of his life.

Walker’s profile of the piece is enlightening in its own right. The CPR series, even more so. Both truly worth your time.


Adam McCoyAdam McCoyNovember 6, 20173min623

It’s art week in Denver, so naturally Mayor Michael Hancock cut a rug in front of the media during a hip-hop lesson last week.

Westword’s Kyle Harris detailed the awkward start (his words, not ours) to the nine-day celebration of Denver arts and culture on Thursday.

Then came the event that all of us suckers in the media had come for: the mayor learning hip-hop dance moves from internationally renowned French artist Salah. “We’re gonna pop it,” quipped (CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Janice) Sinden, as the dancer came to the front of the crowd.

Then Salah, who said he was enthusiastic that he was teaching a mayor how to dance for the first time, gave both Hancock and Sinden a few moves to try out. They struggled with their jackets and chortled as their bodies tried to keep up.

Denver Arts Week kicked off Friday and runs through Nov. 11. The week includes a slew of events you can find here, but also includes Imagine 2020 where the City Council is challenged to “infuse arts and culture” into council districts.

“At its core, IMAGINE 2020 is about creating arts and cultural opportunities for all Denver residents and visitors to enjoy right in their communities.” Hancock said in a statement.

Denver Arts & Venues has provided the council members with $2,020 to find artists, organizations or programs and bring arts and culture to the city. Community Zumba, a live performance by Latin Sol and a cross-cultural dance celebration at two elementary schools are among the events scheduled.

Click here for a list of events in Denver council districts.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 10, 20174min1780

When Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis thinks outside the box, he’s unsurpassed for original ideas. Even when holding forth on ideas that fall short of original, the verbiage he uses to convey them is typically of a higher order than stale political rhetoric.

Then, there’s talking-points-as-usual Jared Polis. Like when he lapses into campaign mode.  The public is likely to get plenty of both Polises now that he’s campaigning for governor.

And Westword Readers were treated to both iterations last week in a comprehensive Q&A with the five-term Boulder congressman and self-made Internet multimillionaire by Westword’s longtime eyes and ears, Michael Roberts.

Some of Jared the innovator:

Prior to getting into politics, you were an extremely successful businessman. How do you think that will translate when it comes to boosting Colorado’s economy and luring businesses to the state?

Unlike many of the other candidates, I’ve created jobs and balanced budgets, and I know what it takes to help companies grow. And in the companies I’ve started, we’ve always used stock options, which are common in the technology industry. There are also other businesses in our state that have employee ownership as part of their models. In the craft-brewery industry, it’s relatively common. I kicked off my campaign at a Save-A-Lot in Colorado Springs that’s employee-owned. It’s owned by the butcher, it’s owned by the cashier. And as I learned from my business experience, not only is employee ownership good for aligning the incentives of workers with managers, but it makes sure that everybody can share in the success of the company, and we have an economy that works not just for executives and investors, but also for workers.

And the politicker:

… it is disappointing to see not only the radical right-wing agenda to throw people off of health care and privatize public education, but also this year, the incompetence that we’ve seen, and the bungling and coverups of ongoing investigations that I feel are important to give a full accounting to the American people.

To be fair, every pol worth his/her salt has to take some shots across the aisle; otherwise, the media would get bored. But would the rest of the public miss it if partisan rhetoric were to vanish?

In any event, read the whole Roberts interview for a telling overview of the Jared Polis of the moment.