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.