Denver Mayor Hancock’s office still exposed to conflicts of interest, auditor says

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration is still at risk of allowing political favoritism and conflicts of interest to influence business deals, City Auditor Tim O’Brien said Tuesday.

That’s despite warnings and calls for change as far back as 2019, when O’Brien audited Denver’s processes for entering into contracts and found weaknesses that were exacerbated by inadequate documentation to track how the city’s vendors are selected.

Auditor spokeswoman Tayler Overschmidt said Tuesday that O’Brien recommended multiple improvements then that some city departments followed, but not Hancock’s office.

City departments enter into contracts worth a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars for anything ranging from janitorial and construction to mental health and affordable housing services. Not taking action on the recommendations hinders Denver’s ability to deter political influence in the contracting process, obscures details on how taxpayer money is spent and lowers accountability, Overschmidt said.

Representatives from Hancock’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the follow-up report.

Hancock did update the city’s rules to require city departments to form selection panels for all formal bids and mandated each panel member to disclose conflicts of interest, Overschmidt said.

Companies that do not have to compete against other bidders for contracts were already required to disclose political contributions, but city departments haven’t provided recent evidence that such disclosures are reviewed during the process, Overschmidt said. Competitive bidders are not required to submit the same disclosures, contrary to O’Brien’s recommendations.

Staffers in Hancock’s office told auditors that a new proposal to require disclosures from competitive bidders has been drafted and is awaiting review, but didn’t give auditors a copy of the draft, Overschmidt said.

The auditor’s office also recommended in 2019 that Hancock change a law to make sure companies provided disclosures when an existing contract might be extended for more than a year.

“Contracts get extended and extended and we want to make sure no new conflicts of interest pop up,” Overschmidt said, noting that Hancock didn’t propose such a law.

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