EDITORIAL: Aurora’s city council is not a club, a place for payola or ditching ethics

1911
Aurora City Council members prepare to discuss a controversial proposed ban on homeless people camping in the city during a Feb. 28, 2022 city council meeting. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Aurora residents should be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to novice city lawmakers clumsily traversing critical ethics, transparency and accountability issues, but the bumbling has to stop. 

Since new city lawmakers were seated in December, after the 2021 city council election, the Aurora City Council has set off numerous alarms indicating some new and previously elected representatives don’t understand the city’s government foundation, structure and ideals.

If offenders can’t stop themselves, however, or be reeled in by other members of council, voters will have to remedy the problem.

Regular quandaries seem to surface because some city council members, including Mayor Mike Coffman, seem unclear that Aurora’s council-manager structure of government was created specifically to preclude what they regularly push for: personal political influence.

Aurora’s council-management government is very much like that of hundreds of large, modern cities across the nation. Voters elect a board of ward and at-large representatives who make and approve policy and spending decisions. The city council delegates day-to-day operation of the city to a manager, who acts much like the chief executive of a large corporation with a board of directors.

The benefit of this kind of government, even among its many variations, is that it precludes a single person from dictating the direction and operations of the city.

Aurora leaders have long toyed with the idea of changing the form of government as the city has grown, pondering full-time city council members and a “strong” mayor who replaces the job of city manager. On numerous occasions, and after considerable review, the city has moved away from making those changes.

Not only is the mayor precluded from directing city operations, individual city lawmakers are, too. It’s for good reason.

The city council hires an expert in operating a massive and complicated enterprise to carry out the will of the majority of voters through their representatives — not the whims of individual lawmakers.

That clearly hasn’t been the case recently.

Newly elected Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky has on more than one occasion made public comments about efforts to bend the police department to her will, including clear attempts to remove the police department’s top two officials from their jobs.

She comes from a position of pandering to Aurora’s two police unions in some sort of bent philosophy that all police should be immune from independent review, transparency and reform.

Given the recent sordid behavior of some Aurora police officers and an insular, ineffective structure of accountability, which has nearly hobbled the department, Jurinsky’s actions are not only uncalled for, they’re treacherous.

The Sentinel, and most rational observers, agree that the vast majority of Aurora law enforcement officers are honest, ethical and diligent in fairly and justly enforcing the law and protecting the public.

Without doubt, there have not only been a rash of outed racist, bullying and incompetent officers bruising the entire department, but multiple analyses and reviews have made it clear the very structure of how the department handles dereliction of duty and discipline is rife with problems.

Current Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and City Manager Jim Twombly have stepped up to embrace critically needed reforms, reaching out to experts, the entire community, and members of the police force.

Jurinsky and fellow city council newcomer, Councilmember Steve Sundberg, were further tripped up by their worrisome defense of police by admitting they’d been offering officers “gift certificates” to restaurants they both own.

Jurinsky has doubled down on the dubious practice by now insisting that she wants to end current city council restraints for providing “gifts” not only to police, but fellow city lawmakers.

Jurinsky was critical about a section of council rules that prohibits council members from accepting “discounted or free services for which citizens must pay an established fee,” as well as similar rules for police officers.

“If a couple of us are out to lunch or whatever, and I want to pick up the tab … I think absolutely that should be allowed,” Jurinsky said. “I pick up a lot of tabs.”

The city council is not a club. It’s not a business. City council members and every government employee, including and especially police, by law and design, are expected to refrain from soliciting or accepting graft in any form.

Allowing for the naivete of these lawmakers, new to civics and government, it appears Jurinsky and others are unaware Colorado has long taken a dim view of such good-old-boy stunts at any level of government.

In 2006, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 41, expressly barring the very behavior Jurinsky and others are trying to promote.

State employees and officials cannot accept a “gift” worth more than $53. Aurora pushed that limit to $75.

It doesn’t matter whether city council members intend for their gifts, received or provided, to be bribes. The law protects government officials and employees, and the public, by virtually banning them to protect everyone from even the appearance of impropriety.

Government employees and elected officials are hardly the only ones guided by wariness of graft. A touchstone for reporters has long been never to accept anything or behave in any way that would cause embarrassment or discomfort if it were disclosed to the public.

Explaining why numerous cops were offered free food and booze at the restaurants of two city lawmakers sounds bad, looks bad and makes for bad government.

Police, as much as city lawmakers, must remain above suspicion of any kind of collusion, especially those who work for a police department trying to repair its battered image.

Even the city’s attorney, Dan Brotzman, who strategically stays out of the frequent Aurora political frays, made clear graft for cops is problematic on several levels.

“The reason lots of these (rules) are in place is we also don’t want that to be expected,” he said, according to a Sentinel story last week. “We don’t want an officer going to dinner and not paying because they’re an officer.”

Jurinsky said she’s determined to do the wrong thing.

“I would like to do away with any rule that takes away an (police) officer receiving a discount,” Jurinsky said, calling the ban on officers receiving gifts “disgusting.”

It’s disturbing that Jurinsky and others do not understand that generations of Colorado voters determined to improve government ethics, transparency and accountability say “no,” and that she is unable to understand, “no means no.”

If she and other city lawmakers are curious as to how voters in Aurora feel about police and city lawmakers offering and receiving graft, put the question on a ballot. Aurora lawmakers can’t usurp the state’s solid anti-graft law, but they can find out for themselves how popular anti-graft sentiment is among a wide range of residents here, and across the state.

New lawmakers are moving out of their fledgling period and no longer can plead ignorance to how the government in Colorado and Aurora operates or continue to try and usurp it.

The Aurora City Council is not a place designed to make friends, conduct personal business or provide favors. It’s a government, and voters expect professionalism, honesty, diligence and above all, propriety.

 

 

4.1 10 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

21 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Publius
Publius
6 months ago

Perhaps Ms. Jurinsky never heard of the danger of allowing the camel to get its nose in the tent.

Don Black
Don Black
6 months ago

Not too bad, except the author still believes the racist rant that isn’t justified with flawed statistics that they will not debate. He still does not understand that the City Manager went the good old boy way by using the same retired police chief company to pick another politician like the former politician chiefs who have damaged the police department so much. Aurora has had a long history of the favored politician chiefs who demonstrate no ethical values to their officers, lie about training, show favoritism to officers they like, use no imagination in crime fighting, and who care little about the pain felt in the neighborhoods. The buy in by the City Manager to the popular flawed racist rant statistics put forward by the media and the Attorney General have led to a no win situation for the police department. Every arrest or fight with a black suspect now is a ripe opportunity for the suspect to yell racism and to fight. Every such arrest is now an opportunity to get large amounts of money from the City. No one has the courage to talk about the badly flawed police reform bill that has paralyzed the police. Not the Chief. Not the City Manager. The City manager can ignore how much money he is costing the citizens. He can ignore that his selected chief has a vote of no confidence from the very people who have known her for many years. The editor says that the average officer is fine. Yet he too, ignores that they realize that their chief is incompetent. The crowd control decisions alone made by their chief will cost a lot of money. It always amazed us in the department that it made no difference how much money the City had to pay for the incompetence of their chiefs. A good City Manager would be looking at what the chief is doing and fixing it. There was much talk within the department about how the chief is interfering in police matters that involve her new love interest. I agree with the editor when it comes to graft and gifts to police officers. Interestingly, our former politician chiefs were mostly silent on the matter or turned a blind eye. Anyway, although I don’t want to see too much political influence in the department, I can see why the City Manager’s work is in question. When supervisors were obviously wrong or dishonest in the department in the past, the politician chiefs would simply say that they had to support their supervisors and command officers. I would always ask them if they would find it acceptable if I, as a supervisor or lieutenant, took the same approach. If a citizen had a justified complaint against a supervisor, would they accept that I just told the citizen that I had to support my officers and simply let it go? That always made them mad and they never would answer. Weak and incompetent, but supported by the City Manager. I would guess that has much to do with the push to change the structure.

GeneD
6 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

Don, please learn how to use paragraphs. They and some judicious editing will make your rants much easier to read and understand. Please supply examples of flawed racist statistics.

doug
doug
4 months ago
Reply to  GeneD

There are no flawed racist statistics for him to supply.

Steve
Steve
6 months ago

Suspect practices in the Aurora City Council ramped up with the election of Mike Coffman and the right wingers on the council sho share his view of the world. The solution seems obvious.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
6 months ago

Let’s be honest. The City of Aurora and the State of Colorado are not of the democratic form of government and haven’t been for a very long time. Ethics and acting in the public interest don’t mean squat.

What we suffer is an oligarchical duopoly that’s been optimized to serve the wealthy donors and special interests first, the political industrial complex of lobbyists, consultants and media outlets second and the fragile egos of our elected puppets third. Acting in the public interest does not factor in. Rather, the duopoly often punishes those who try.

Case in point: In November 2020, 43 victims submitted a well-documented criminal complaint to then DA George Brauchler asserting reckless endangerment, undue influence and racketeering by five engineers within the Public Works department. A key piece of evidence was a memo prepared for two council members in which Public Works cited compliance with a NON-EXISTENT federal agency.At issue is a building-code loophole which explicitly allows builders to deliver new homes where snowmelt is intentionally channeled to the surface of the public sidewalk on which it routinely freezes at sundown five months out of the year. After only interviewing one of the 43 victims by phone and after NOT examining any of the medical records, Brauchler’s investigator stated that he didn’t “see” sufficient evidence to proceed with an actual investigation. At this point, the key evidence is beyond the two-year statute of limitations, Section 4.03.6 (Chase Drains) still contains the bone-breaking loophole, and hundreds of future homeowners can look forward to broken bones and expensive drainage repairs due to this blatant corruption. Now consider that public safety is allegedly priority #1 in the professional ethics of civil engineers. As I said above, ethics don’t mean squat.

Breaking the duopoly’s iron-fisted command won’t come easy but its not impossible. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is one effective tactic to mitigate the vote-buying power of the wealthy donor’s dollar. Neither the GOP or the Democratic Party or the political industrial complex are thrilled with it, but Aurora could adopt it in 2026 thanks to House Bill 2021-1071. RCV, also known as Instant Runoff, leads to true majorities and eliminates the “spoiler,” the “lesser of two evils” and the “good vs. evil” problems we see today. It’s also far more aligned with the market-based principal of full competition. Acting in the public interest would again matter.

For state and federal elections, RCV plus non-partisan “Top Five” primaries would tame the duopoly without infringing on anyone’s First Amendment rights. This would include one primary ballot with the top five finishers moving on to the general election where RCV would then be applied. For more in-depth information, see Katherine Gehl and Professor Michael Porter’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XlfKkmjqSo

doug
doug
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Brown

Almost scary isn’t it?

Aurora
6 months ago

Corruption comes so naturally to some folks that they apparently get indignant when asked to try some ethics for a change.

Stephen W Conner
Stephen W Conner
6 months ago

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on one’s perspective), Jurinsky reflects the growing majority opinion of both the police department as well as the city politics itself. Something needs to change.

DICK MOORE
6 months ago

Aurora citizens, Just imagine the sin of a restaurant owner, a private citizen, a city manager, a City Council member to buy a lunch or dinner for a policeman on the beat or just as a simple act of kindness to say, thank you.

Then think there needs to be a law for or against this simple act.

Let it go, Sentinel. Or is this your next “fake” scandal to report on? I hope not.

Max
Max
4 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

My thoughts exactly. This place is such an echo chamber… These people need to get a life.

Roberta Johnson
Roberta Johnson
6 months ago

Very well said and written! The new City Council members are the laughing stock of our great city. Jurinsky can’t get out of her own way and knows nothing about politics, laws, proper etiquette and has about as much class as the folks who drink at her bar. Classless and clueless!!

DICK MOORE
6 months ago

Well Roberta, let me see if I have your classless and clueless remarks correct. People who drink at Danielle’s bars have no class nor clue about politics, laws, and proper etiquette. Is it only at her bars? Are all folks that go to bars in this classless situation? Seems by inference you suggest that but maybe I’m taking your comments too literal. I believe even socialists go to bars. Does your classless and clueless remark take in our local socialists?

Maybe you should read a couple of chapters from the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Or, maybe, not be so clueless with your generalities.

Publius
Publius
6 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

I have never read that book, does it espouse excoriating those you are trying to bring around to your point of view? Does it advocate influencing people by meeting anger with anger? Would it encourage tit for tat?

doug
doug
4 months ago

You’ve been missing my posts haven’t you! 😉

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
6 months ago

I am ashamed of current Council. I’ve always been flabbergasted at how awful, incompetent, uninformed and inarticulate, and CORRUPT, that Mike Coffman is and has been through his entire time in public office. We can do so much better.

NIck Campbell
NIck Campbell
6 months ago

Honest, Ethical, serving the citizens. Pick two only. Don’t think for a minute that corruption only goes back as far as this article would lead you to believe.

Publius
Publius
6 months ago

I like my council members to be like Ceasar’s wife, beyond reproach.

Omen Cross
Omen Cross
6 months ago

Another fine point of contention. The current roles of the Council are supposed to be as policy makers, and to all elected City Managers to enforce those policies.

Sadly, it has become much more than that. Policies are made now in many cases without the proper language to be enforceable. Many Council members seem to be pushing certain ordinances only to decrease the potential for opposition to them.

Whether the position of Mayor should become stronger or not is a moot point right now. For as long as there is a “vote stranglehold” on any controversial bill, meaning in almost all cases the majority of the Council votes against the rights and benefit of the actual community, no, it should not be increased. 5 times in the last 2 Council Meetings the vote was split on major issues. 5 times the Mayor broke that tie, voting against people. Count them. 2 times in 2 hearings on the camping ban, plus the votes on reducing public to be heard(non agenda), the move to silence any Coucil opposition(they call it decorum), denying a need for honesty during Council debate, and constantly as needed to protect the Council majority.

As such, increasing the Power of the current Mayor is fallacy. It would just be another excuse to legally allow their side to do as they please in the City, and hold down anyone who differs in opinion. You want the Council influencing the police by giving them free food and drinks while homeless people starve and those same Council members are allowed to argue the cost of caring for them? Cause you have that now. Increasing the Power of one of those protecting that will only make it continue.

Before the discussion on increasing Power can even be had, first we’d need a Mayor that will not bow to party politics. We’d need a Mayor that values the people of Aurora over the dollars of political donation. We’d need a Mayor that wants to help his City, not find ways to blame the people for systemic problems. So for as long as Mike Coffman remains mayor, be glad his Power cannot increase. It would only mean more rights stolen from more regular citizens faster. If you wanted to give a Mayor the Power to stop the political shuffling of the Council as it is now, first you would need a Mayor that believed such was necessary.

This is why I threw down the gauntlet. I am by no means perfect. But I do remember what LDRSHIP means militarily. Most of which is not being shown by the current Council as a whole. I meant what I said. If I am the only one not presently trapped by one political party or another, then I shall challenge for the seat myself. I have spent more time in the last month doing things for the sake of the most desperate of Aurora’s citizens than the Council has even agreed to policies surrounding it.

They lie(oops I mean spoof untruth, don’t wanna violate the new decorum rules, lol). I shine a Light on those fallacies and force them to respond to the Truth of the situation. I have done all this unpaid, and with no party support. Yet I have still accomplished this. I will continue to fight for the rights of the citizens of Aurora, elected official or not. Because it seems, I am capable of getting them to get off their @sses and actually do what they were elected to do. Not just bribe and protect bad cops, not just pass laws to protrect their own influence and attempt to increase it.

I didn’t challenge for Mayor just to get them to help me. I did it because I presented them 3 options publicly. One where they listened, and used their political clout to aid people as they are supposed to. They chose not to take this option. Option two results in a war between the most desperate and in-need in Aurora and those more well to-do. They know they don’t want that, most of the Council couldn’t survive a single hit in that scenario. They chose Option 3, where they keep refusing to listen, yet pretending they are serving as they were elected to do. This scenario requires that they be challenged by someone who refuses to accept their answer for what Aurora is, or can be. Someone who they cannot control, someone neither party has in their back pocket.

Yes, I gotta wait until 2023 to pick up the Petition for Election. Yes, I need 100 signatures from registered voters in Aurora to make it legal. But finding 100 people in Aurora who know the current Council setup is flawed, and needs changed? That will be easy. Someone has to stand up against political corruption in this City before there is nothing left to stand up for. So I shall, be I Loved or Hated for it. Because Aurora deserves a better class of criminal….I mean politican. And I’m gonna give it to them.

doug
doug
4 months ago
Reply to  Omen Cross

I say go for it. Just know the city charter, codes, ordinances and such unlike the present vrop of newbies.

doug
doug
4 months ago

I missed this article but it is SO “right on” target!!!