DENVER - Moving quickly to assuage an angry City Council, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock agreed to add two council members to a panel tasked with reforming the scandal-plagued Sheriff Department.
At a Tuesday morning meeting, City Council members were incensed to learn that the mayor had excluded the council from the Sheriff Department Reform Executive Steering Committee.
They were also irked that Hancock was a no-show during their first update on the process of revamping the agency, which has been hammered by a string of allegations of deputies brutalizing city jail inmates -- often accompanied by shocking videos. The scandal led Sheriff Gary Wilson to step down from his post last month.
Earlier this month, the city agreed to pay $3.25 million to a former inmate who sued over abuse in the jail. As part of that settlement, the city must select a third party to investigate the sheriff's department, including its hiring practices and the way it disciplines deputies.
"What were you thinking?" city councilwoman Jeanne Robb asked Stephanie O'Malley, head of the city Department of Safety, at the morning meeting. "I am astounded. You've set up council to be inclined to question every move. The public's upset and I'm very upset."
"This is unacceptable," Council Member Debbie Ortega said.
"What are you trying to hide?" another council member asked.
By Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Hancock and Council President Chris Herndon released a joint statement saying that council members Paul Lopez and Jeanne Robb had been added to the reform committee.
"After the concerns expressed from City Council members during our first Mayor-Council report out today, I had a good conversation with Council President Herndon, and I have asked him to identify two council members who will serve on the Sheriff Department executive steering committee," the mayor said in the statement. "This committee is working every day, and I appreciate any council member who will step up and make that kind of commitment to turning around this department."
"I have heard not only City Council, but the community, and we will be adding law enforcement, corrections and community expertise to the steering committee as well," the mayor added.
Said Herndon: "We applaud the mayor for establishing the task force and appointing members of City Council. We look forward to working with his Administration to create a Sheriff Department that our city can be proud of.
"The mayor made a reversal. What does that say to you?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart. "He heard us. He heard us," said councilwoman Jeanne Robb. "I'd like the Mayor to know that we're in this with him, that we're responsible as he is, we're going to work make the best decisions possible for the whole city and address the citizen's concerns," she said.
"Transparency is a big issue and so is accountablity. We feel we need to be at the table," said councilman Paul Lopez.
At the morning meeting, O'Malley and Dave Edinger, a Denver performance officer, briefed the council on the plans to investigate operations at the sheriff's department.
They explained that there are five task forces plus an executive committee that will oversee the review process. In addition, a paid consultant who is a former Special Agent in Charge of the Denver FBI Office, James Davis, will help provide his expertise to help the city choose an independent third party investigator.
Edinger notified the council that the review process will take a long time and they will make no major changes until the new sheriff is hired. But the process for hiring a new sheriff won't get rolling until the end of September. Edinger said they first wanted to define the organization they want from the sheriff department before taking applications for someone to lead it.
When council members complained about being left off the panel, O'Malley and Edinger said they didn't include the council because they wanted separation between the executive review committee and the legislative body because, ultimately, that legislative group might be asked to make changes in city ordinance and city charters.
Council members were also upset that Hancock was not present during Tuesday's discussion. It's not clear why Hancock did not attend. Some members also said they felt like they didn't get enough notice about the meeting. They also think that what staffers are doing now to prepare for the independent review will be duplicated when that investigator is hired.
There will be at least four community forums in September to talk about this review process.
The new makeup of the Sheriff Department Reform Executive Steering Committee: