Denver Direct: Denver City Council’s “disgraceful vote” on Hentzell Park

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Denver City Council’s “disgraceful vote” on Hentzell Park

Opinion by Cathy Donohue
Ed. Note: Cathy Donohue is a former Denver City Council member and the first female City Council President.

In their disgraceful vote on allowing the Hentzell Park trade scheme to go forward, several council members “deferred” to Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann, in whose district the park land is located. The suggestion is that as long a Councilwoman Lehmann approves, nobody else should object.

Although there has been a system called “Courtesy Zoning” operating within the Denver City Council, for many years that “courtesy” vote was limited to re-zoning of private land. The rationale for this practice was that zone changes were often made after unrecorded contributions were given to certain council members in order to influence their vote. This “Courtesy” system has now morphed into decisions on Parks land. I can see some rationale for “Courtesy Zoning” on a parcel of privately owned land; after all, the owner requests a change, but I fail to see how this system fits into our parks. The Parks are owned by all of the citizens of Denver. It is not private land! Does Councilwoman Lehmann have the right or duty to represent just her constituents? Or should she and the rest of the members of Council represent each and every citizen of the city–who do own the all of the parkland in the city?

Re-zoning at the request of the landowner at least embodies the wishes of the person who owns the land. I do not accept that Councilwoman Lehmann possesses some kind of personal power over any piece of publicly owned land. Councilman Lopez stated that he supported her wishes to remove this land from free public access because she “speaks for a lot more people than this room could ever hold”. Maybe she does, but the rest of the Council had a duty to represent all of the citizens, also. Simply, stated; “Courtesy Zoning” should not be used for publicly owned land. I also question whether it is still necessary to continue the practice of “Courtesy Zoning”. I doubt that any member of Council has ever been offered or taken unrecorded contributions.

Council also made a serious mistake with continued comments about the exact address of the “consolidated” shelter for abused people. I worked with a number of shelters for abused women and children, and no address for these facilities was ever published. This is one rule that is always applied when shelters are established. The people who spoke in support of a new consolidated facility seemed unaware that they were insuring that everyone in the greater Denver area will now be able to locate the major center for abused citizens. Their abusers will know for certain where to find their prey. The most common trait of an abuser is to stalk their prey in order to force them to “come home” or to even kill them. Let us hope that this new super center will be able to hire a competent and large number of guards in order to protect the clients. No one that spoke in support of a shelter displayed any awareness of just how important it is to keep addresses of shelters a secret.

The 10-to-3 vote shows serious errors in judgement. Council should not participate in “Courtesy” voting when it involves land that is owned by the citizens. Both Councilman Paul Lopez and Councilwoman Susan Shepard spoke with passion about their use of Hentzell Park. They expressed clearly how they used a piece of land that was not in their Council District. Unfortunately, Lopez did not have the courage of his conviction and voted to transfer the land.

Now, everyone knows for certain where abused people must go to get services. The cat is out of the bag. Too bad. The abused are in great danger.