Hancock relents, lets press use recorders

The Colorado Statesman

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock didn’t make any “crazy news” at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at city hall, but by then the arrangements for the press conference itself already had.

Following an outcry from reporters and ridicule by bloggers, the new mayor — in office just 23 days — conducted a half-hour, formal event for about a dozen reporters and a couple of television cameras instead of the casual “pen and paper” briefing originally set by press secretary Amber Miller.

“Pen and paper only. No recorders, cameras or video cameras allowed,” Miller wrote in an advisory sent to local media announcing the briefing. The intent, she said, was to encourage a more open conversation with the mayor, away from the usual glare, rather than break the kind of news that emerges from more formal interviews or announcements.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock answers questions from local media at a press conference on Aug. 10. Originally slated as a more informal discussion, the event instead turned into a standard press conference after complaints arose over restrictions on cameras and recording devices.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The briefing was intended to be like those held by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver’s previous elected mayor, who regularly gathers Capitol reporters for off-the-cuff chats, though without banning any devices.

But that’s not how the local media saw it, as some poked fun at the retro rules and others wagged fingers more seriously. The Denver Post even devoted an editorial to the topic, questioning whether the stated goal of open communication was stymied by restricting the tools reporters could use.

Westword editor Patty Calhoun asked whether she could bring cartoonist Kenny Be to draw the proceedings, and The Colorado Statesman inquired whether a courtroom sketch artist would be allowed. Both would have been fine, Miller said before the briefing, joking that she had expected some reporters to bring typewriters.

It’s not the first time the news about Hancock has been mostly about how the news covers Hancock.

In the closing days of the runoff election in June, newspapers and TV stations reported more about whether or not they were going to report on allegations Hancock’s name appeared on a handwritten list of clients of a high-end prostitution service than they did on the allegations themselves.

Following Hancock’s win, the story stayed alive with detailed reports about attempts to determine whether Hancock’s voluminous cell phone records included any calls to the escort service. They didn’t, as far as an army of reporters operating under a set of strict rules could determine, though that conclusion might have been lost in numerous accounts of how, exactly, reporters were allowed to review the records, including monitored bathroom breaks and confiscation of the reporters’ own cell phones during the marathon review.

Denver Post city hall reporter Jeremy Meyer displays a plastic recorder — the kind schoolchildren play in music class — following a press conference by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Aug. 10 at the City and County Building. Meyer brought the instrument in jest after Hancock’s press secretary backtracked and said recorders would be allowed at the briefing.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Just last week, The Denver Post reported that the new administration’s communications director, Wil Alston, intends to pursue a national platform for Hancock, hoping to garner the young mayor — and his compelling personal story — coverage by the same national media that fawned on Hickenlooper when he ran the city. It’s part of a strategy to attract businesses and tourist dollars to Denver.

In the end, Hancock stood and took questions at a lectern in front of a seated array of reporters. But the jibing didn’t abate under the revised ground rules. “Recorders, cameras and video cameras will be allowed,” Miller underlined in red type in an advisory issued hours before the press conference, and Denver Post reporter Jeremy Meyer obliged, showing up with a plastic musical instrument known as a recorder Hancock dismissed the controversy near the beginning of his remarks.

“This was meant to be more of a casual conversation with you all, so I apologize for the misunderstanding that you got from the request not to bring cameras or recorders,” he said. “There was no hidden intention there other than to say let’s have conversation where you get to know me better and I get to know you better.” He added, “So if you want to bring cameras, you want to bring recorders, bring ‘em.”

Getting down to business, Hancock announced a pair of cabinet appointments: Adrienne Benavidez, previously director of Finance and Procurement for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration, will be the new manager of General Services. And Scott Field, who has held the job on an interim basis, will be the permanent director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. They bring to eight the number of cabinet positions filled by Hancock, who added that he has hired 39 mayoral staff positions since taking office.

In October, Hancock said, he plans a trip to Tokyo to discuss bringing a non-stop flight to Denver International Airport, a goal he said during the campaign was paramount to kick-starting the local economy. He might plan a stop in China as well, he said.

The mayor plans to institute office hours where city employees can schedule 15-minute blocs to talk about city operations, as well as start unannounced visits to various city departments. And in coming months, Hancock said, he plans to take members of his cabinet out into neighborhoods so constituents can have unstructured conversations with city officials, as well as get the brass out of city hall.

Along the same theme — opening up lines of communication — Hancock said he plans to distribute suggestion boxes to police substations throughout the city to solicit advice from rank-and-file police officers about what they want in the next police chief. Hancock announced last week he has engaged a national firm to help find candidates to replace retiring Chief Gerry Whitman.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com