Mayor delivers optimistic State of the City message

But fiscal reality requires lifting of TABOR
The Colorado Statesman

Proclaiming Denver a “vibrant, world-class city,” Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday unveiled a host of programs aimed at delivering services more effectively and said the city plans to ask voters for a permanent repeal of revenue limits this fall in order to “remove the fiscal handcuffs of TABOR.”

“What lies before us is an opportunity to reshape what it means to be a 21st century city. In short, a smart city,” Hancock told a crowd estimated at 400 gathered in a sun-drenched atrium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to hear his first State of the City address, delivered almost a year to the day since he took office.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock reflects after delivering his first State of the City address on July 16 as Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman, Councilman Charlie Brown and Judge John Marcucci applaud.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“By listening to our residents, our businesses and our city workers, hearing concerns and addressing them head on, over the past year we’ve begun to deliver that city,” he said, pointing to “safer streets, improved housing, parks, libraries and a multi-modal transit system that connects them all.”

Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon, Greenwood Village Mayor Ron Rakowsky and Nicholas Brown, an intern with the Denver Mayor’s office, talk about the south side of town after hearing Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s State of the City address on July 16.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In a wide-ranging, 30-minute speech, Hancock listed numerous accomplishments logged over the past year, including securing nonstop Denver International Airport flights to Tokyo and Iceland, recruiting a new police chief tasked with reforming the force’s much-criticized culture, and helping land a U.S. Patent Office, which he said will “keep us on the cutting edge of technology and help build an economy for the future.”

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan sits with former state Rep. Wilma Webb and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb prior to Denver’s State of the City address on July 16 at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Among the initiatives announced was a one-stop website launched on Monday called “e-Denver,” where city residents and businesses will be able to secure permits, pay taxes and monitor city spending.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock delivers the State of the City address on July 16 in an atrium inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In an effort to aid small businesses — and boost employment in a city still recovering from the recession — Hancock described a new “toolkit” resulting from the public-private Peak Enterprise collaboration, which will provide easier access to start-up capital and establish “an A-to-Z guide to help businesses navigate city paperwork and approvals, provide more workforce programs to our small businesses and improve customer service at our Business Assistance Center.”

Denver’s First Lady Mary Louise Lee, and the mayor’s mother, Scharlyne Hancock, sit in the front row for the State of the City address.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Along the same lines, Hancock, whose sister Karen was killed in a domestic violence incident a decade ago, announced the establishment of the Rose Andom Domestic Violence Center, named after the entrepreneur whose $1 million grant initially funds the center. The operation, he said, will consolidate legal and counseling services along with protection, shelter and medical care for domestic violence victims, their children and pets.

Former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, his wife, Gabriela, and Denver Public Schools Board Vice President Allegra “Happy” Haynes visit following Mayor Michael Hancock’s State of the City address on July 16.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Drawing attention to the family of slain police officer Celena Hollis — who was gunned down while intervening in a fight at a jazz concert outside the museum late last month — Hancock asked her daughter Amyre to stand as the crowd burst forth in sustained applause.

“While we continue to mourn the loss of Officer Hollis, we cannot and will not allow the actions of a few to intimidate the citizens of this great city, to keep us from enjoying our parks and our public events, to tarnish our image as a world-class city,” Hancock said, addressing Amyre. “We will not surrender to violence in Denver, Colorado.”

Councilwoman Robin Kniech and Roxane White, chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper, talk after hearing the State of the City address on July 16.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Then, his voice breaking and tears welling up in his eyes, Hancock continued: “Denver stands united with you and your family Amyre. We will stand united against violence. And we will hold true to safeguarding our streets, neighborhoods and residents. And maintain the highest level of safety throughout this city. We will never, ever forget your mom and that sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, she paid for us. We love you.”

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, past mayoral candidate James Mejia and former state Rep. Wilma Webb catch up following Mayor Michael Hancock’s first State of the City address.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Repeatedly, the mayor — who grew up in Denver, which he recalled was known as “a cow town with never-ending blizzards and a punishing Orange Crush defense” — said his administration is focusing on children, with an eye toward the city’s future.

Denver’s Deputy Mayor and Chief Financial Officer Cary Kennedy and Morris Price, district director for U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, approach an ice cream social following Mayor Michael Hancock’s first State of the City address on July 16.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“There is nothing smarter than investing in our children from the day they are born to the day they are employed,” he said. “And there is nothing smarter than delivering a world-class city filled with abundant opportunities so that all our children, all our children, can live up to their God-given potential.”

One innovation that will soon be available to Denver Public Schools students, he said, is a new student ID card that will double as a library card and grant free admission to the city’s recreation centers. In addition, he announced the creation of the Denver Children’s Cabinet, designed to gather officials from across city departments to address services aimed at children.

Key to providing these expanded city services, Hancock said, was a planned ballot proposal to lift Taxpayers Bill of Rights restrictions and allow the city to keep an estimated $68 million in property tax revenue it currently refunds under the state constitution. Noting that the city has cut some $450 million in spending since the recession hit four years ago, he said that trimming costs and achieving efficiencies isn’t enough.
“With another nearly $100 million shortfall looming next year, we must face reality.

The time has come to deliver for our citizens a long-term, sustainable and smart solution,” he said, adding that, “It’s not smart to rebate money while cutting basic services.”

If the measure passes, Hancock said, the city plans to revoke a four-year hiring freeze in the police department, repave streets that have been left alone for decades and restore hours that have been slashed at neighborhood libraries.

Denver voters approved a temporary TABOR time-out for sales tax revenue in 2005, but that measure expires in 2014. Under the new proposal, the city plans to ask voters to approve a permanent exemption for both sales and property tax revenues collected beyond TABOR restrictions.

Denver’s two at-large council members agreed that the proposal — known as de-Brucing, after TABOR sponsor Douglas Bruce -— was an essential step toward fixing the city’s persistent budget woes.

Calling the tax measure “a very modest proposal,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said that numerous town halls and neighborhood conversations across the city have convinced her that Denver residents are ready to lift the revenue restrictions.

“The mayor nailed it right on the head,” Kniech said after the speech. “Folks have told me, we want the city to continue to be great. We can do more. His proposal absolutely reflected the feedback I have heard, and I’ve been in every district in every corner of the city.”

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said she’s been hearing the same sentiment from constituents.

“People know we need to do something with the budget deficit and the structural gap we have in the budget,” Ortega told The Colorado Statesman. “People all across Denver think it’s important, particularly because people care about our libraries, and a chunk of that money will keep our library hours steady and consistent. I’m hopeful that people recognize how important it is to move forward.”

The TABOR proposal was among several revealed by Hancock that drew hearty applause from a cadre of metro-area mayors who sat in the front row, alongside former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife, former state Rep. Wilma Webb.

Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon gave her fellow mayor high marks for his first year in office and for a rousing address.

“Michael’s a great partner for the entire metro region, and if Denver has exciting initiatives going on, that brings excitement to the entire Front Range,” she said. “It’s good for all the neighboring cities — certainly we are excited for the initiatives for the children, for domestic violence. Those cross boundaries, those cross all economic ranges, and we want to make sure everyone is successful in this community, and Michael’s going to help that happen.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com