Denver Direct: Mayor Requested to Reschedule Meeting

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mayor Requested to Reschedule Meeting

As received by email:

March 22, 2010

Hon. John W. Hickenlooper, Mayor City and County of Denver
1437 Bannock Street Denver, Colorado 80202

Re: City’s Failure to Give Public Notice of Admission Based Task Force Meeting on March 23, 2010

Dear Mayor Hickenlooper:

Your appointees to the senior management of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). Manager Kevin Patterson and Senior Advisor Chantal Unfug, have actively subverted public knowledge of, and participation in, a major DPR policy initiative that is of vital interest to the citizens of this City, including myself.

Patterson and Unfug are holding a meeting of the Admission Based Special Events Policy (ABSEP) Task Force tomorrow, March 23, from 3-5 pm, in the Webb Building. No notice of this meeting has been given to the general public, to the city’s Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs), or even to those of us who have requested notice of meetings relating to the controversial issue of allowing commercial businesses to hold paid-admission-only events in Denver’s public parks.

I request that you direct DPR to postpone the March 23 meeting, and reschedule that meeting for a date, time and place that have been widely publicly announced.
This is part of a continuing pattern by which Patterson and Unfug have limited meaningful public involvement in this issue, and have actively misled citizens concerning the terms of the draft ABSEP. These are only the most recent occurrences:

• DPR circulated a draft of the ABSEP at a public meeting on December 10, 2009. At that meeting, Unfug stated the following to the public:

“The three parameters that I wanted to outline for you that we heard loud and clear from the community, uh, was to ensure that the Department always prioritizes free and open to the public events in our parks.”

“To do that, we have drafted in the policy a section that says that no more, uh, there shall not be admissions based events more than thirty, more than one every thirty days.”

[Verbatim excerpt from video recording of December 10,2009 Parks and Recreation Advisory Board public hearing.]

This statement was false when made, because the draft circulated at that meeting stated that an Admission Based Event could be held every 15 days in a particular park, i.e., two paid~ admission events every 30 days.

• The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) was scheduled to consider adoption of the ABSEP at its meeting on February 11,2010. Nine days before that meeting, on February 2,2010, Unfug sent a revised draft of the ABSEP to the PRAB. She gave no notice of the revised draft to the genera1 public, to RNOs, or even to City Council members. (As a result, when Council President Jeanne Robb sent the February 2010 issue of her “E-Talk in 1 0” newsletter to her constituents in early February, she attached the old version of the draft ABSEP. She was required to issue a revised version when she became aware of the revised draft several days later.)

• The revised draft of the ABSEP, that had been concealed from the public and the Council, increased the number of paid~admission events in a particular park to five events every 30 days. Since the policy did not specify the length of such events, a park could be besieged with paid~admission events every day of the month, and every month of the year.

• Dozens of angry citizens descended on the February 11,2010 meeting of the PRAB. PRAB voted unanimously to reject Unfug’s revised draft and send it back for major revisions covering many issues. The PRAB told Patterson, Unfug and other OPR staff at that meeting to reconvene the ABSEP Task Force and to make sure there that there was ample outreach to and engagement of the public in connection with further revisions to the draft ABSEP.

• On February 26, 2010, Unfug sent an e-mail announcement that the ABSEP Task Force would convene on March 23, 2010 in the Webb Building from 3-5 pm to consider a furtherrevised draft of the ABSEP. This email was sent only to City Council members and staff, and the members of the PRAB. No notice was sent to the general public, to RNOs, or to those of us who had requested notice of further meetings regarding the ABSEP.

• DPR’s public relations staff issued the March 2010 issue of their e~mail newsletter, “News from Denver Parks and Recreation,” on February 28, 20 I O. Under “March Public Meetings,” the newsletter states: “There are no public meetings currently scheduled for March.” As of today, March 22, the DPR web page that lists “Public Meetings and Notices,” has no listing for the March 23 ABSEP Task Force meeting.

• At the PRAB’s meeting on March 11, 2010, during the public comment section of the agenda, I addressed the issue of the draft ABSEP, and urged that there needed to be “an open, transparent public process . . . to reach out to the wider community and engage the public in discussion of the proposed policy.” I also expressed concern about “the staff’s past secrecy about drafts of the policy,” and requested that the public receive the draft “well in advance of the Task Force meeting.” As of today, March 22, no revised draft has been made publicly available.

The conduct of DPR. Patterson. and Unfug in actively undermining public awareness of and attendance at what should be a public meeting of the ABSEP Task Force. violates, at the very least, the spirit of both the Colorado Open Meetings Law, C.R.S. § 24-6-401 et seq., and the City’s own Open Meetings Law, Denver Code § 2-3 1 et seq. As stated in the Denver Code, it is “declared to be the public policy of the city that the formation of public policy is public business and should be conducted in public, and that the public should be entitled to the fullest possible access to the deliberations and proceedings of public bodies.” (Section 2-31.) (The PRAB is one of the enumerated “public bodies” to which the Open Meetings Law applies; members of PRAB serve on the ABSEP Task Force.)

Please exercise your authority as Mayor to direct senior management of DPR to postpone the ABSEP Task Force meeting currently scheduled for tomorrow, March 23, and to reschedule that meeting for a date, time, and place that have been widely announced to the public.

Sincerely yours,

cc (by email): David R. Fine, Esq., City Attorney City Council Kevin Patterson Chantal Unfug Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Other Interested Parties