We would like to think well of Denver. It is a big, modern city that used to have brewpubs and at least the simulacra of culture, as well as shopping, and still has about 2.8 million of the state’s 5.8 million inhabitants.
Denver also has a strong-mayor form of government unlike, say, Durango, which rotates the mayoralty, largely ceremonial, among City Council members and tries instead to hire a strong city manager who is supposed to answer to council. Think of the federal government without the presidency, writ small.
Most bigger cities have a strong mayor, but there seems to be an accelerating counter-current in which city councils and even state legislatures seek to strip the powers of the executive and make government answerable in theory to the many.
In 2016, North Carolina Republicans in the state Legislature neutered incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. They changed the state elections board to favor Republicans, granted job protection to Republican political appointees in state government, slashed the number of appointments Cooper could make to the workforce, took away the governor’s power to appoint leaders to the University of North Carolina system and granted themselves approval power of the governor’s Cabinet members.
Last year, in a hearing about a lawsuit to reverse the power grab, a judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals asked the plaintiff, “Is there really anything extraordinary that happened here?”
What we see more of lately is the tug of war at the municipal level, between Democratic mayors such as Minneapolis’ Jacob Frey and Seattle’s Jenny Durkan and left-leaning councils that want to see more action, more direct action, more dismantling and building; and the way they think that can be done is by taking executive powers for themselves.
On Monday, the 13-member Denver City Council unanimously moved to ask voters in November to give council approval authority over key mayoral appointees such as the police chief. This came after the council referring to the ballot another measure that would give the council the power to hire its own attorneys, separate from the city attorney’s office. It is expected to vote soon to possibly refer to the November ballot a third measure, Westword reports, that will let council initiate new spending proposals rather than voting up or down on the mayor’s budget.
Denver’s City Council is technically nonpartisan, like Durango’s, although it is assumed, as Wikipedia puts it, that councilors “are almost always members of the Democratic Party, making a virtual monopoly on city politics favoring the party.” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is a Democrat, too, as was his predecessor, and every other Denver mayor going back to 1983. The newest member of the council, Candi CdeBaca, is a slight departure: an anarchist. CdeBaca is trying to get a fourth measure on the ballot that “would create nominating committees for the positions of city attorney and independent monitor, the official in charge of investigating law enforcement misconduct,” which the council is due to take up July 21.
“All of these proposed charter changes have one thing in common: They appear to be a list of solutions in search of problems at a time when our residents need clear-headed leadership, not power-grab politics,” Hancock’s spokesperson, Theresa Marchetta, said in an email to The Denver Post.
In Denver, the mayor speaks to the daily paper on issues of import, such as council power grabs, through a spokesperson by email. But then, the same story quotes, not CdeBaca on her moves, but that councilor’s ... chief of staff.
No one ever said you can’t have too much government.