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'Shady... Cronyism' At Denver Parks And Rec Says City Council Member

DENVER (CBS4) - Denver's two deputy managers in the Parks and Recreation Department, who were appointees of Mayor Michael Hancock, saw their job classifications changed last month to a status that provides hefty protections from removal and received pay increases of nearly $40,000 more per year each. Denver City Councilmember Amanda Sawyer described the process as "shady... favoritism... (and) cronyism."

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"That's what it looks like and that's what people see," Sawyer said in an interview with CBS4.

The CBS4 investigation focused on the process that saw job classifications changed for Deputy Parks and Recreation Managers Scott Gilmore and John Martinez.

Both were appointees of Hancock, meaning they served at the will of the mayor and could be fired at any time by Hancock, or whoever is elected Denver's next mayor. Gilmore had been a Hancock appointee for 10 years and Martinez had been a mayoral appointee since 2017.

But last month, Parks and Recreation Manager Happy Haynes had the two jobs re-classified as career service authority positions. CSA jobs carry much more job security than appointee positions and terminating a career service employee can be a time-consuming and difficult proposition.

The newly created career service jobs were then posted for applications on Sept. 7 and were only open to city employees, according to city records obtained by CBS4.

Six city employees applied and the two permanent career service jobs were awarded to Gilmore and Martinez. The new job classification means it will be extremely difficult for Denver's next mayor to replace the two deputy managers.

In selecting Gilmore and Martinez for the newly created positions, each was offered a raise from $132,000 per year to $170,000 per year, or a nearly 29% increase.

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"I think that's an extraordinary amount of money," Sawyer said.

Neither Gilmore nor Martinez responded to emails from CBS4.

The beneficial shift in job classifications for Gilmore and Martinez is commonly known in political circles as "burrowing in," doling out permanent career positions to political appointees near the end of a mayor's term.

Hancock is term-limited and will leave office in 2023.

The process is legal, but means Denver's next mayor will inherit well-paid and high-ranking deputy department managers who they might not necessarily want.

"What that does, is it hamstrings the next mayor with employees that maybe they would prefer to not be the people running the department," Sawyer said. "Now, they can't do that because those spots are career service and they're taken."

Susan Barnes-Gelt, a former Denver city council member and a sharp critic of the Hancock administration, said the move could have big implications.

"It impacts the ability of the next mayor to fully realize their agenda," she said. "It's cynical, it's corrupt, and it's nasty."

Barnes-Gelt called the salary increases "unfathomable" and questioned if the selection process was honest and fair or simply rigged to accommodate Gilmore and Martinez.

"No question," Barnes-Gelt said. "It was fully baked before it hit the oven."

The parameters for the jobs seemed tailor-made for Gilmore and Martinez. One requirement, the job posting stated, was "extensive experience managing parks operation and recreation division."

Haynes, a mayoral appointee who is the executive director of Parks and Recreation, initially refused to discuss what happened with CBS4, but later relented, apparently under pressure from the mayor's office.

"I was asked to call you," she told CBS4's Brian Maass this week.

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She declined to speak on camera, but explained the jobs were re-classified because deputy managers in other agencies are career service employees and Gilmore and Martinez both have "a proven track record and are well qualified."

She called the transition "a business decision... to ensure continuity... to maintain progress on key game plan initiatives."

She said it was important that the Parks and Rec Department keep employees who "know the ropes" and have "institutional knowledge."

"We want people who know the city and the agency," Haynes said. "The process was conducted exactly as it is supposed to be under career service rules, and we followed it."

Asked about the generous pay increases, she said the dollar amount was determined by human resources, and aligns their salaries with other similar deputy manager positions in the city.

Although the jobs were not posted until Sept. 7, Martinez apparently had advance knowledge, as his application was dated Sept. 2.

"I wasn't aware of that," Haynes said.

The Mayor's office declined to address the re-classifications in an interview but released a written statement to CBS4.

"It is not unusual for highly qualified and experienced people to move from being appointees to permanent career service employees," the mayor's office wrote. "We fully support Executive Director Haynes' decision."

Sawyer is unmoved by the explanation, and questions if the process was transparent and straightforward.

"It looks terrible," Sawyer said. "It undermines people's confidence in their government, and it demoralizes the rest of Parks and Recreation staff."

Barnes-Gelt offered a more pointed assessment on what message was sent by the move: "Thanks, Denver, you took care of us for 12 years and now, up yours."

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