By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) The Denver City Council quizzed city staff members over millions of dollars in contracts at Monday's City Council meeting.
The first batch of questions came from City Council member Amanda Sawyer regarding Parks and Recreation Department contracts. The department asked for approval of 17 on-call contracts totaling $17 million for landscape design services.
Sawyer repeatedly has opposed on-call contracts, which allow city departments to hire companies without much council oversight. She voted against the request, as did Council member Chris Hinds. The rest of the council voted to approve the contracts, 13-2.
During the discussion, City Council President Stacie Gilmore, who is married to Parks and Recreation Director Scott Gilmore, dropped out of the Zoom meeting.
City Council President Pro Tem Jamie Torres stepped in during what Gilmore called a Zoom glitch. But when it came time to vote, Gilmore reappeared. She voted yes on the contracts.
On-call contracts require little council oversight
Sawyer said on-call contracts do not require city departments to explain how they spend the money.
She expressed frustration that departments asked the council to approve around 100 on-call contracts during the past year. She started approving on-call contracts with the Department of Transportation Infrastructure because that department has become more transparent. It gives the council reports every three months on balances and shows how the department uses on-call contracts.
City Council member Debbie Ortega also appreciates the quarterly updates. She asked parks and recreation to make a similar commitment.
A representative of the Parks and Recreation Department apologized to the council for not reaching that level of reporting.
Sawyer asked how many of the 17 on-call contracts received work, and the parks department representative said most of them. He said less than a third of the 17 contractors had spent their individual $1 million allotments.
Questions about home monitoring contract
Also Monday, some council members expressed concern about a $1.5 million contract for home monitoring equipment for criminal offenders and people accused of crimes.
City Council member Candi CdeBaca questioned awarding a contract to BI Incorporated because it is an affiliate of GEO, a for-profit prison company. The council voted to end contracts with such companies about three years ago.
Greg Mauro, who oversees corrections for the safety department, said BI only leases monitoring equipment to the city.
CdeBaca, Hinds and Torres voted against the contract. The other council members approved it in a 10-3 vote.
Decision to hire BI not taken lightly
Mauro said the department did not make the recommendation to hire BI lightly. He said the department uses BI equipment to monitor 623 people. If the council discontinued the contract, the department needs time to transition those people to a new device.
Mauro said the council would have the opportunity soon to approve a contract for similar services with a company not affiliated with for-profit prisons.
City Council member Paul Kashmann asked why people not convicted of crimes must sometimes wear monitors. Mauro explained that courts make it a condition of pre-trial release for someone viewed as a danger to the community or a flight risk.
Other times the department uses the devices for people accused of domestic violence to restrict their travel to protect victims. Some also wear devices that measure their drug or alcohol intake, Mauro said.
Halfway house shortage
As a result of the decision against doing business with GEO, CoreCivic, or other for-profit prison companies, the city lost half of its locations used for early release. That means Denver has five halfway houses with 360 beds, Mauro said.
Ortega asked if the city's decision to purchase and operate a halfway house from a former operator costs more money.
"Yes, it is, it absolutely is costing us more," Mauro said.
He said the city paid about $1.2 million for the property, but that does not include renovations and operating costs.
He said 125 people are awaiting placement in a halfway house.
The contract with another CoreCivic property will expire in 2023, which could remove another 90 beds from the city's halfway house inventory.