Nonprofit recommends new consideration in Denver city council race

From The Examiner April 14, 2015

By Caryl Buckstein

Buckstein

Denver Non-Profit Business Examiner

Original article can be found here

Denver Public Schools clears land adjacent to Cherry Creek considered park land by nonprofit Friends of Denver Parks. The nonprofit recommends voters consider the courtesy voting issue in this municipal election. Friends of Denver Parks

 

Denver voters participating in Ballot Trace received emails Monday that their ballots had been printed. Some were emailed Tuesday that the ballots in the municipal election had reached their local post office. They will soon be asked to decide.

A local nonprofit, Friends of Denver Parks, recommends voters consider a new factor: a commitment to avoid courtesy voting.

Courtesy voting reportedly leads to “courtesy zoning” — where the Denver City Council approves site-specific zoning matters according to the wishes of that particular district’s councilperson.

The informal practice is unethical but not illegal in Denver city government, said the nonprofit’s website. “But under the Colorado Constitution, courtesy voting in the state legislature constitutes the crime of bribery,” it said.

The nonprofit alleges that courtesy voting was behind a secretive land swap between the city and Denver Public Schools that resulted in construction of an elementary school on park land in southeast Denver. The matter is currently before the Colorado Court of Appeals. The group had attempted to present petitions with nearly 8,000 signatures to bring the matter to a vote in 2013. City Clerk Debra Johnson refused to accept the petitions.

By April 14, many of the city council candidates had signed a pledge to avoid courtesy voting. “I envision a city council that is transparent to its citizens, works cooperatively to acquire and preserve open space, and is collegial but independent from the mayor,” the pledge says. Three had refused.

Of the candidates for the two at-large city council seats, one of the five refused to sign — Robin Kniech. The four who signed were incumbent Deborah “Debbie” Ortega, Jose Silva, Jeffery Washington and Kayvan Khalatbari.

Signing in district races were candidates in:

  • District One: Rafael Espinoza and Susan Shepherd.
  • District Two: Fran Coleman Kevin Flynn, Jeanne Labuda and Danny Lopez.
  • District Four: Kendra Black, Carolina Klein and Halisi Vinson.
  • District Six: Liz Adams and Paul Kashmann.
  • District Seven: Luchia Brown, Jolon Clark, Aaron Greco, Ian Harwick, Mickki Langston and Jake Viano.
  • District Nine: Michael “Borch” Borcherding, Albus Brooks and Ean Thomas Tafoya.
  • District 10: Chris Chiardi, Anna Jones, Travis Leiker, Wayne New and Chris Cornell Weder.
  • District 11: Sean Bradley, Shelli Brown, Tim Camarillo and Tea Schook.

Along with Kniech, refusing to sign were Anne McGihon, District Seven and Stacie Gilmore,

Denver nonprofit Friends of Denver Parks continues its court fight for park land

From the Examiner.com  April 1, 2015

By: Caryl Buckstein

Buckstein
Denver Non-Profit Business Examiner

Original article is found here

A 2014 photo of contested park land shows Cherry Creek dam on the horizon in 2014. Denver Public Schools has since neared completion of an elementary school on the land. It recently announced the name of the school as Joe Shoemaker School. Friends of Denver Parks

The nonprofit Friends of Denver Parks filed a reply brief with the Colorado Court of Appeals this week, supporters announced on the organization’s web site on Tuesday, March 31. “The issue before the court is bigger than one park,” they wrote.

The organization asks the appellate court to declare that Hampden Heights North Park land is city park land, which cannot be sold to Denver Public Schools without the approval of Denver voters. The transfer of park land without a vote violates Denver Charter Section 2.4.5, the group alleges.

DPS began construction March 3, 2014 on the new elementary school. It recently announced the name as Joe Shoemaker School. The nonprofit alleges the school is located on floodplain declared unsafe by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2014.

“At stake is the right of Denver citizens to participate in their city government as the Charter requires,” nonprofit supporters said. They are requesting a jury trial to judge the merits of their claims.

Friends of Denver Parks contends Mayor Michael Hancock took 10.77 acres, the majority of Hampden Heights North Park. Nonprofit supporters held petition drives to take the issue to vote, but were turned away each time by City Clerk Debra Johnson. The park land was exchanged for office property owned by DPS.

Shoemaker School is one of 12 new charter schools and two district-run schools DPS will open in 2015. Another school, Rocky Mountain Prep, will open in southeast Denver. Rocky Mountain Prep had initially planned to open its school in the new building, the Chalkbeat Colorado news site reported last June. Shoemaker will have an expeditionary learning focus and will be district-run.

FRIENDS OF DENVER PARKS FILES REPLY BRIEF

On March 30, 2015, Friends of Denver Parks filed its Reply Brief in the Colorado Court of Appeals.  Friends is asking the appellate Court to declare that Hampden Heights North Park is city park land, which cannot  be sold to DPS without a vote of the people that is required by Charter Section 2.4.5.  The issue before the court is bigger than one park.  At stake is the right of Denver citizens to participate in their city government, as the Charter requires, and whether the court will permit a public trial in which Denver citizens can present their case to a jury.  Here is a quote from the conclusion of the Reply Brief:

“Will the Court of Appeals enforce the peoples’ right of constitutional self-governance embodied in Charter § 2.4.5? Mayor Hancock took 10.77 acres from a park that, by Charter, belonged to the people of Denver. City officials denied citizens their right to vote on the taking. The Denver District Court entered a summary judgment that prevented citizens from presenting evidence to a neutral factfinder in a public trial. DPS used the land to build an elementary school in a flood plain below a dam that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared unsafe in 2014.  Appellants respectfully submit that placing 800 school children in the path of a future flood – without the voter approval the Charter requires – so the Mayor can claim the political benefits associated with opening a domestic violence center is the opposite of constitutional self-government.”

To read the entire brief, click here:  Other filed documents can be found here. The full report from the U.S Army Corp of Engineers can be found here