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Denver council repeals top government watchdog’s subpoena powers amid spat

Council members planning new bill to restore subpoena in wage investigations, hope to work with auditor Tim O’Brien on other issues
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Posted at 10:04 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 00:04:59-04

The Denver City Council on Monday repealed a bill that granted the city auditor’s office subpoena authority after the auditor, Tim O’Brien, sued the council earlier this month over an amendment in the bill that put limits on that power.

The repeal vote was not about retaliation or a power struggle, proponents on the council said in recent weeks. Instead, they said the purpose of the move is to circumvent a lawsuit that would only cost taxpayers money while clearing the way for new, more narrowly tailored legislation that would still give the auditor authority to conduct thorough investigations.

“I am not willing to waste taxpayer money on fruitless litigation,” Councilman Kevin Flynn said Monday night before voting with the majority in an 11-1 repeal of the ordinance. “It really is unfortunate that we have to do this, that we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

The council first passed a bill granting the auditor’s office authority to subpoena city contractors — that is to legally compel them to provide records, documents and testimony — in May.

O’Brien took issue with a last-minute amendment added to the bill that granted contractors the power to require O’Brien and his staff to review confidential and proprietary data on-site at their places of business instead of allowing the auditor’s office staff to take that data with them for review. O’Brien described the addition as the council “getting into the auditor’s business.” After months of back and forth over the amendment, O’Brien sued in Denver District Court this month.

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