2020.01.27 – Week in Review
Hello everyone, I hope you are looking forward to the weekend! It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and with travel (unrelated to city business) in the mix I didn’t have a chance to pen last week’s update until today. That means this update will have a little content more than usual to make up for the gap. Enjoy!
Aurora Urban Renewal Authority Public Meeting
We had a public meeting of the Aurora Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) on Monday evening. Each council member is a commissioner of AURA board of directors, and the mayor is the chair of the board of directors. The county commissioner who represents the county commissioner district in which the project is located also sits on the board of directors. In this case, Commissioner Nancy Jackson served as the 11th commissioner for the AURA board.
The business before the board was granting an option to the developer to purchase a small portion (roughly 33,000 sq. ft.) of land pending the outcome of an application for a low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). If the developer is awarded the credit, they will be able to build 63 units of affordable housing, with affordability for this project defined as being priced for those earning between 30-80% of the area median income. If the developer is unable to secure the grant, the option will be cancelled and AURA will maintain ownership of the land. I am pleased to see the developer taking the feedback of council seriously and I am hopeful that we can find a way to make the rest of the housing on this development come online at price points that don’t contribute to the housing cost burden faced by so many of our residents.
Special Study Session
This week’s study session was dedicated to discussing the public safety task force, revisions to last year’s ethics ordinance, and interview applicants for our Civil Service Commission.
Public Safety Task Force
The structure of the task force was the primary point of contention, followed by a WHEREAS statement that contained an acknowledgement of the tension between our community and our police department.
CM Bergan stated that she was concerned about having former felons represented on the task force, echoing CM Gardner’s comments during the Public Safety, Courts, and Civil Service policy committee meeting on 01/20/20. After a tense exchange, representation for former felons and for a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police remained in the desired membership for the task force.
The WHEREAS statement was modified slightly but still acknowledged the need to rebuild trust after the Meier and McClain incidents. These non-binding statements are important to create a legislative record and establish context for future city councils around why today’s council felt it was important to create a task force at this time.
A number of CMs raised concerns about privacy and security with regards to their financial information during a presentation by our city clerk on what information needs to be disclosed by council. The primary concern was how much easier it would be for potential identity thieves to take publicly disclosed information and combine it with some social engineering to gain access to council members’ banking, credit, and investment accounts.
Changes were proposed that would no longer require the disclosures to be published on the city’s website but still subject to a Colorado Open Records Act request. I proposed a pair of friendly amendments to sections of the ordinance to strengthen it and close loopholes that had been exploited by bad actors across the country at other levels of government.
The first was to revise the disclosure requirements for real property transactions to include those outside of Aurora city limits while continuing to ensure that the location of a council member’s primary residence remains private. The second was to require financial disclosure of any income, losses, or capital gains with any entities subcontracted to an entity that has an existing, ongoing, or pending contract with the city. The current disclosure requirements just apply to a primary contractor and ignore subcontractors.
Some council members stated that these revisions weren’t relevant to the subject at hand, even though they only touched sections of the ordinance currently being revised. My intent is to bring these back (along with many other amendments to strengthen the ethics ordinance) later this year if they don’t make it through this time.
Civil Service Commission Interviews
We interviewed five Aurorans who want to serve or continue their service on our city’s Civil Service Commission. Video of the interviews is available here starting at 2:08:35.
Audit of Economic Incentives
I have long been skeptical of economic development incentives as a means to lure businesses to a locality. Numerous well-respected publications have studied this matter over the last twenty years and have found little to no correlation between employment growth, wage growth, and incentives. As vice-chair of Management and Finance (the city’s audit committee), I requested an audit for the past five years of all economic development incentives the city has had a hand in. I believe we owe it to our residents to demonstrate that spending tax dollars on incentives is (or isn’t) yielding the desired result, and making decisions about future spending based on the results of the audit.
We are in the process of meeting with members from the Rocky Mountain Public Banking Institute to educate members of council on the subject and examine the feasibility of such an enterprise in Aurora. We’re early on in the process, but I am hopeful that this will be a way to raise revenue without raising taxes so that we can bridge the gap in our infrastructure maintenance deficit, bolster our small businesses with low-interest lines of credit, and insulate our general fund and local economy from the impacts of recession. I’ll keep you updated as this initiative moves forward.
Electoral and Campaign Finance Reform
We’re reviewing a very in-depth revision to the city’s campaign finance laws and should have something on the docket in the coming months. The goal of campaign finance reform is to institute individual contribution limits comparable to the state legislature’s limits, bar corporate contributions entirely, set up a structure for small donor committees, and tax independent expenditures as a means to fund public financing for future elections.
We’re also setting up a presentation to our election commission on ranked choice voting (RCV). The goal of this reform is to ensure that the threshold for victory for future elections is 50% + 1, and that campaigns become more issue-focused and negative attacks (whether from the candidates themselves or an independent expenditure) become counter-productive.
How is it already February? We’re heading right on into a council meeting on 02/03/2020, and our next town hall meeting is coming up on 02/19/2020. We’ll be having a presentation from Aurora Sister Cities, the Census, and then we’ll have a general update and a Q/A session. I also want to know what topics you want to see discussed for March’s meeting, so please send over your suggestions to email@example.com.