Changing the relationship between Denver City Council and Mayor Hancock

Denver voters approved two measures this week that effectively check Mayor Michael Hancock’s powers, shifting more authority to City Council.

Hancock pushed back strongly against 2E and 2G, tapping past council members to voice their opposition, as well. But his effort — the only substantial opposition campaign for local measures — came up short. Election officials continue to count ballots but results indicate both will pass with comfortable margins.

Hancock and council members expect little to change in the short term. However, those following the term-limited mayor may notice a change in the relationship between Denver’s executive and legislative branches.

Measure 2E requires council’s approval for mayoral appointees, and 2G allows council to change the city’s budget mid-year with some restrictions.

Council’s approval over mayoral appointees will not apply retroactively to those already serving in Hancock’s administration. And once confirmed, new appointees will still report to the mayor and council cannot remove them.

The change in budget authority also won’t come into play this year. Council will vote whether to approve Denver’s 2021 budget Monday, having changed little from Hancock’s proposed budget.

Throughout the year, council members have sought more checks on Hancock’s strong mayor authority and these two measures are meant to boost transparency and accountability for the office, they have said.

But it’s difficult to legislate good behavior, said Councilman Chris Herndon. Rather, both the mayor’s administration and council must have a desire to work well together to create substantive change.

“The friction and fighting, I think people are tired of it,” Herndon said. “There may be times where we disagree, but let’s try not to be disagreeable.”

Hancock said in a statement he also expects little to change for him but predicted the measures could harm later administrations’ ability to manage the city and attract talented staff. He said he was disappointed but not surprised to see both measures passing.

“The budget measure is concerning,” Hancock said. “As we saw with the budget this year, it was a challenge getting pragmatic and collaborative decisions through council.”

But Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who sponsored 2E, held that many — if not most — other major American cities grant the legislative branch some form of approval over mayoral appointees without impeding executive authority.

Hancock also voiced concern that 2G would make an already difficult budget process harder.

Denverite Chris Nicholson said he supported both measures because they do seem to spread authority in the city more evenly.

“I voted for Hancock, I trust him, but checks and balances are a good thing and I trust this council to use these new powers judiciously,” Nicholson said.

Azria Arroyo — who has protested Hancock’s handling of the George Floyd protests this year — also was glad of the result.

“I’m hoping these kind of ballot measures really get people thinking, and encourage constituents to look deeper into Hancock’s behavior and decisions,” Arroyo said.

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