How To Fight Denver City Hall

editorial-11-16The intrepid and resourceful everyday citizens from Humboldt Street Neighborhood Association and Curtis Park Neighbors (some of which are pictured below) were, of course, greatly disappointed when the Denver Board of Adjustment for Zoning turned down their appeal of the decision from the Denver Planning Department by a 4-1 margin. The project will help destroy their neighborhoods by permitting high density micro apartments without any parking.

The vote was 4 to 1 rather than unanimous because the Board did not want to appear to be what they are — lackeys for the mayor and the real estate developers who control him. It is known in the trade as the “gentleman’s dissenting vote.”

What’s next? Well, they can exercise their rights as Americans and Coloradans and appeal the decision to the Denver District Court for the State of Colorado. The only problem is, of course, that the average Denver citizen never wins in the Denver District Court when suing the City and County of Denver when it relates to the destruction of their neighborhoods. Never, ever.

Just to review a few of the more egregious recent cases:

  • Friends of Denver Parks v. the City and County of Denver et al. In September of 2013 Denver District Court Judge Herbert L. Stern III dismissed each and every claim of the citizens concerning the sale for development of a portion Hentzell Park in Denver.
  • Residents of West Highland v. The Denver City Council et al. In September of 2013 Denver District Court Judge Robert C. McGahey dismissed each and every claim of the citizens regarding the rezoning of property in the Highlands area of Denver.
  • Sloans Lake Neighborhood Association v. Denver City Council et al. In March of 2016 Judge J. Eric Eliff dismissed each and every claim on the rezoning of the former St. Anthony’s Central Hospital site.
  • Residents of Crestmoor Park v. Denver City Council et al. In May of 2016 Denver District Court Judge Shelly I. Gilman not only dismissed each and every claim of the citizens over the rezoning of the Mt. Gilead Church property but she appeared to mock and taunt the citizens for even bothering to bring claims in her courtroom and made it abundantly clear that she would never rule in their favor.

Then there was the infamous case of Ballpark Neighborhood Association, Inc. v. City and County of Denver et al in September of 2015. There Denver District Court Judge R. Michael Mullins actually ruled, in a six page opinion, in favor of the citizens declaring that the City and County of Denver and the Board of Adjustment for Zoning had “abused their discretion and exceeded their jurisdiction in agreeing to allow the Denver Rescue Mission to expand.

Never accused of being the “brightest crayon in the box” Judge Mullins apparently had not been informed that the citizens of Denver are never allowed to win such cases. Calls were apparently made and Mullins was given, directly or indirectly, a talking to. Several weeks later Judge Mullins reversed himself and ruled in favor of the City and County of Denver on all claims. Judge Mullins, in disgrace, announced his retirement several months later.

There is a time honored idiom in American politics — “You Can’t Fight City Hall.” The saying is not “You Can’t Sue City Hall” because you clearly can. It means, inter alia, simply that you won’t win your lawsuit. Why? Because the concept of an “independent judiciary” is a myth, or more accurately, something of a cruel hoax as it pertains the Denver District Courts.

It is not that Denver judges are bribed. Why bother? Bribery would be so gauche and totally unnecessary. The 23 Denver District Court judges are, in reality, state government employees in black robes who plan to retire as state government employees on state government pension plans. They roam the hallways and eat in the cafeteria at the City and County Building with other government employees whether they are elected officials or government bureaucrats in the form of city attorneys and district attorneys, etc. They go to the same American Bar Association and Colorado Bar Association meetings. They attend the same parties and events. They were able to become judges in part because of their political connections and they do not intend to upset the applecart.

It is an unwritten rule in Denver whereby the unelected judges agree they will not play in the elected officials’ sandbox so long as elected officials don’t interfere with their spoils. Everybody in state and municipal government gets their healthy serving of the taxpayer funded pie all in the name of old fashioned “public service.”

So is all lost for Denver’s brave and intrepid neighborhood groups like the Humboldt Street Neighborhood Association and Curtis Park Neighbors? The answer is surprisingly, no, at least for the future. Of course the Mayor, the City Council, the Denver Planning Department, the Board of Adjustment, Barry Hirschfeld and the Denver District Court system will have raped and partially destroyed their neighborhoods for fun and profit, but things can and will continue to get worse and worse unless citizens start fighting for the future of their city.

The election system in Denver is, in fact, not rigged unlike some large cities in the United States. There is no Daley machine or a modern day Tammany Hall in Denver. Regular citizens can and have won elections if they are willing to fight hard enough, as demonstrated by the victories of City Auditor O’Brien and Councilmen New, Kashmann and Espinoza. You can even beat incumbents like Councilwoman Susan K. Shepherd.

Do citizens need to wait until the next municipal election finally rolls around? Of course not. Progressives in the early 20th century knew the only way to hold elected officials actually accountable was for citizens to be able to recall them, and provided for such in the Colorado Constitution and the Denver City Charter. Progressives in the 21st century are somehow extremely squeamish about holding elected officials, and therefore the entire system, accountable by filing recall petitions. Fill one petition against one of the numerous real estate developer owned City Council persons and suddenly — win, lose or draw — the whole political landscape changes and the citizens of Denver can now in fact “fight Denver City Hall.”

The time is a-wasting. Let us begin the fight to take back the City and County of Denver from real estate developers like Pat Hamill and his crony capitalist enablers at the loathsome Colorado Concern organization. You owe it to your children and grandchildren.

— Editorial Board

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