Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dear Mayor Hickenlooper (You're Kidding, Right?)


It's reported that you are raiding the city's contingency (reserve) funds to the tune of between $8 million to $10 million to dig yourself out of the rut you and your manager of Public Works, Bill Vidal, have gotten yourselves into by fumbling the essential city service of snow removal during the past several snow storms. You're kidding, right?

It's also reported that, last year, you raided the city's contingency (reserve) funds to the tune of $15.8 million for a "...variety of areas." I'm not certain what "areas" you pumped funds into in 2006, but it has been my experience that former mayors have raided these funds (certainly, not to the extent you have), for their own pet projects, most of which enhanced their standing with a particular constituency. I have no doubt your discretionary spending of these contingency (reserve) monies mirrors the political haymaking of past mayors.

Taking up to two-thirds of the city's contingency (reserve) funds--now that the snow storms have abated and we're likely to have near sixty-degree weather today and probably tomorrow, as well--to do what could have been avoided had you and Mister Vidal conducted the said essential city service properly in the first place, is lunacy. It's stupid. It doesn't make sense.

One wonders, of course, if--in spite of your almost certain reelection to a second term (God, knows why they still love you!), this too much, too late response to ice and snow removal is a cute little gambit that--political genius that you are!--provides the foundation for something dark and dangerous in the future.

I say "dark and dangerous" because I'm a home owner and do pay property taxes and, ahem, do not want to pay more property taxes. But, sir, do I see the beginning of some very dire writing on the wall that you and your minions are most likely discussing behind closed doors (without, one assumes, wafts of hot cigar smoke hanging palpable in that oval office on the third floor of the City and County Building. Perhaps the sweet smell of lattes permeate the room now.)

It is, sir, no secret that the cost to just touch the surface of remediating the obscene neglect of Denver's parks is--most likely on the low end--over $100 million. Remediating the disgusting policy of deferring repairs and maintenance to/of the city's infrastructure will cost, according to some city councilpersons, close to $1 billion. In spite of that, you championed a pre-school initiative to raise the city's sales tax (which passed by slightly over 1%. And, boy howdy, didn't you luck out by the DEC effectively disenfranchising about 18,000 well-intentioned citizens, many of whom, I suspect, would have said no, um, hell no to a sales tax increase...a regressive tax for, yes, one of your pet projects). What about the rest of us, sir? Do we matter in your perception of what really matters in the whole scheme of what is called the public weal?

So, back to your closed door machinations. Let's spend down the city's contingency (reserve) funds to next to nothing; let's get out there and melt that damnable ice; let's make the people happy and then--heh! heh! heh!--let's hit 'em in May with the absolute necessity to raise property taxes to take care of all that other baloney (read: essential city services), that , well, we just can't seem to fund 'cause we're busy housing the homeless, sledding down those great ice mountains and sipping hot cocoa, and taking care of all those kewl feel-good pet initiatives that the "business mayor"--you, sir--find so engaging.

You know, it's been my understanding that the city's bond rating depends, in part, on the health of the city's reserve funds; that those who rate city bonds take a wee look at a municipality's reserve pot in determining what rating that municipality's bonds will receive. Does this worry you, sir? If it doesn't, it should.

I used to chuckle every time you'd appear before some group and say, "Well, you know, I've only been here for three months, or six months, or two years;" a kind of ah shucks, folks, give me a chance to figure out what the hell I'm supposed to be doing up there on the third floor of the C & C Building. I don't chuckle any more. After all this time in office, sir, you still seem to be flying by seat of your skinny-assed pants. Your nerdy personae doesn't play any more...with me, at least.

Well, anyway, sir, I've got to tell you that your snake oil approach to calming and pacifying the masses does not--and never did--play well with me. See, you were gonna--By golly! By gee!--turn the city around. You were gonna purge the city of those incompetent slugs (read bureaucracy), and bring a hot-damn business approach to the administration of this city. When is that going to happen, sir? It clearly hasn't happened yet. Still waiting. Perhaps you've discoverd that the sitting bureaucracy knows what the hell it's doing much better than you, sir.

Poor old Mel Thompson--the city's Budget Director--reflecting on your plan to spend down the contingency (reserve) funds by two-thirds--was quoted in the News the other day as saying, "It's a pretty big task right now. I do not know the magnitude right now because it's ongoing. But it is my sense that we will have to look at '07 pretty hard. We will have to sharpen our pencils and look at those areas where we may be able to reallocate existing budget items in order to do this."

"...reallocate existing budget items..." Do you know, sir, what that means? Do you know, Mister Mayor what Mel is telling us? Let me inform: Mel is telling you and all of us that unfilled positions in agencies will probably have to remain unfilled. Mel is telling us that vehicle replacement, computer replacement, hell, maintenance and repairs of the city's infrastructure are going to have to be sharp-penciled out of the budget because of your skewed, fairytale perception of what it is you're supposed to do as mayor of this great city.

How sad. How very, very sad.

In closing, sir, I've never had much confidence in you, albeit I'm apparently in that pathetic little minority who hasn't assumed you walk on water. But, then, that doesn't bother me. I know what I know. I believe my instincts about things political are pretty right-on. I've never bought your snake oil salve-for-the-masses.

Sir, you've got a problem. And, believe me, it ain't gonna be solved by paring down the city's contingency (reserve) funds to next to nothing. That's dangerous. And--Good Lord have mercy!--you really ought to know that by now.



P.S. If it's not too much trouble, sir, would you kindly take my share of the $8 to $10 million and use it to put that pedestrian crosswalk in on Central Avenue; you know, the place where the Highland Bridge abuts the Highland neighborhood. Or, maybe better yet, could you just pave the decrepit, neglected, sorry-assed trail through Highland Park that is now not so much a trail as an obstacle course. Yes, that would work for me. But, then, I don't represent one of your constituencies, do I. Guess I'm shit outa luck, huh?

P.P.S. In the interest of accuracy:

The City and County of Denver's contingency fund is 2% of the total General Fund. The General Fund totals approximately $800 Million. So, the so-called contingency fund equals about $16 Million. The city's "reserve" fund amounts to about 15% of the General Fund. Therefore, the reserve fund amounts to about $120 Million. There is a distinction between the "contingency" fund and the "reserve" fund. The reserve fund is what, generally, bond raters will take a peek at in setting the bond rating for the city. The contingency fund is what is raided for projects or supplementals to agencies when no other source of funding can be identified.

Denver mayors (and I have no reason to believe this one is different than any other) will--to fund pet projects--grab unspent agency funds for that purpose. Those agencies that are targeted (via the Budget Office) for "contributions" to non-budgeted mayoral initiatives, will invariably find themselves, toward the end of the year, seeking supplementals in order to make up for what was taken from them earlier: a kind of rob Peter to pay Paul kind of cooking of the books.

The reserve fund is sacrosanct except, of course, if the city depletes it's contingency fund. Now, it's only February, and Hizzoner (with, most likely, the support of the city council) is positioning to dip into the contingency fund for up to $10 Million for the above explained snow/ice removal lunacy. Doing the simple math, then, leaves about $6 Million in the contingency fund for the remaining ten and one-half months of the year. Seems problematic to me. You are left to your own conclusions.


Anonymous said...

Excellently declaimed, Georgeindenver. Spot on. Our teflon mayor. And our teflon manager of public works--gore vidal, or whatever his name is. A dream team.

It's now Mel's problem, Ms. Brown having departed stage left.

But at least the precious pre-schoolers will be tended to!

The Mayor has, as you know, a huge committee looking at these issues of infrastructure catch-up. Things like your beloved Highlands Park. Not to mention the million new trees Hick mentioned in his last State of the City. Get ready for mil levy increases. Sales tax rates are probably effectively off the table.

But, George, Hick's only been in office for three and a half years. Let's not be TOO harsh on our esteemed restaurant host. And, really, what difference does it make that some key City agencies are making do with computer monitors dating back to the iron age? It's a small sacrifice, all things taken into account.

But, at least, the precious little preschoolers will have a chance to overcome the holes their crack mothers placed them in at birth.

Keep up the noble, loyal and excellently declaimed opposition.

Jeffrey Beall said...

It's becoming clear that Hickenlooper sees city government as a kind of income redistribution program. His goal is to take as much money from the middle class and re-distribute it to his friends and the homeless. He gives his pals city jobs and city contracts, and he funnels millions of dollars into homeless programs, programs that serve mainly to attract more homeless to the city and to appease his tax-and-spend friends who run the homeless programs.

Stephen said...

I must admit that I, too, was brought under the spell of that bizarrely-charismatic mayor of ours, but this blustering climate that seems to have encouraged naught but vocal blustering has convinced me to question my allegiance.

He's not a bad man, but as a man who must govern a city as marvelous as this one, he's a poor substitute for Webb. A poor, poor substitute.

Ted said...


Can you imagine Hick as mayor in New Orleans just after Katrina: Organizing regattas. Telling citizens to enjoy this unique opportunity to row down your street rather than driving or walking. And look to the bright side: This will give us an opportunity to rebuild the Superdome and inspire the Saints to a great season.

Da Momster said...

Ahhh George - You said it all. I will only add that HIZZONER'S CHOICES ARE charging for the Essential City Services "snow removal, trash collection, etc." as fee based programs, raiding the City's enterprise funds for infrastructure repair OR just raising taxes, forcing employess to take unpaid leave. I believe he will take the path of least resistance, blame the employees, and raise property taxes, raid the enterprise funds and start a "homebased" e-mail campaign to be the BEST MAYOR IN THE WORLD.

But, what will we really gain with increased property taxes? More appointees, another blue ribbon task force to study..., more upper level management that spends time gladhanding, a lower workplace morale (if it can get any lower) and lower bond ratings.