Interview #142: Denver, CO Former Councilman Rafael Espinoza (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Rafael Espinoza was the District 1 councilman in Denver for the past four years before stepping down this summer. From meeting attendance to the non-televised public comment sessions, he took issue with some of his council’s operating procedures. Plus, he explains on the podcast how he rapidly made up his mind during a divisive vote on affordable housing.

Q: Unlike most cities out there, your council does not hold public comment during the meetings. Why not? And as a follow-up: how dare you?

A: That was an interesting debate. I very much supported having public comment be televised. Basically we were advised by the city attorney to not do that because once you open public comment, you can’t shut it down. You cannot dictate or control what the individual speaks to. In order to maintain the ability for individuals to speak, but maybe not broadcast things that are not really good to broadcast, the decision was to hold that prior to the actual televised meeting.

Q: So if I’m hearing you correctly, there was a fear that mild-mannered Denverites would be more vulgar, crude, and insulting than all of the other cities that do televise their public comment?

A: There are some usual attendees that take every opportunity they can in public comment to speak. There was concern expressed by members of council that those individuals would take that opportunity to expound upon whatever theories they had.

Q: I noticed that the pre-meeting comment, although not televised, was on your personal Facebook page. Is anyone live streaming the half-hour public comment session now that you are no longer on council?

A: No. I took exception to the fact that we were fearful of having public comment. I took it upon myself to live stream it directly from the dais. But I didn’t bother asking permission. I didn’t think it was a big deal because anybody in the audience could do the same thing. But it did come out years later at a retreat–“hey, you’re doing that and you never bothered asking us.” I was like, “does anyone take issue with it?” And there were enough members of council that did that I ceased making that broadcast.

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Denver, CO former Councilman Rafael Espinoza

Q: Denver has council meetings. It has committee meetings. But it also has a unique third type of meeting called the “mayor-council” meeting. Each week, the council members sit around the table, and your mayor–who is not a part of council–comes in to chair a legislative update between the branches of government. These meetings are typically under a half hour, sometimes under ten minutes. If this is the time for the legislature and the chief executive to be in the same room at the same time, I would expect a little more give and take. What was your impression?

A: It is the lone chance where council is sitting at the table with the mayor in a public forum. Early on I did take advantage of that opportunity to try and raise certain concerns. That wasn’t very well received. It’s more of a perfunctory thing.

Q: I noticed that it was very rare for all council members to show up to the mayor-council meetings. What was your philosophy on showing up? Speaking now as John Q. Voter, should it matter to Denverites whether council members are having face time with the mayor?

A: I think it would be important to have face time with the mayor. I was a regular attendee until I wasn’t. There was a lot of things that were on the consent agenda that I took issue with and I wished we were questioning. I’m notorious on council for wanting to question things. For me personally, it made my skin crawl at times to be sitting in there being deferential when there were things there that I thought should be called out and questioned.


Follow former Councilman Rafael Espinoza on Twitter: @CD1Rafael

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

There is a lot of news to keep up with these days and it would be nice if someone explained what’s really important. Well, you’re in luck: there is a new episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project! For an explanation, check out the page here. Basically, you will be transported to a city or town where you (probably) have never been. You will hear from the locals about the things they like and the things they cannot stand.

So pack up your skis and put some hot chocolate in a thermos. Then head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 5: Vail, Colorado

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Photo source: Town of Vail

Vail is about 100 miles west of Denver in Eagle County, Colorado. Most people know Vail as home to the most popular ski resort in the country. But there is actually a town of 5,300 people who work at, ski on, or vacation near the resort. The town is fairly new–only 51 years old. It is a fantastic place for people who love the outdoors. But it is fairly remote in the Rocky Mountains. And it is increasingly adversarial for people who work there to also live nearby.  In this episode, we hear from a journalist, an events manager, a school board member, a house cleaner, and a rabbi.

Special Feature! “Best Thing, Worst Thing”

Hey, City Councilheads! Today we debut a special, semi-regular feature called “Best Thing, Worst Thing.” (No, it’s not about the election.) For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you like storytelling and municipal lore, I think you’ll dig what the chef cooked up.

To dive right in, head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast and download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.

Episode 1: Castle Rock, Colorado

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Source: Town of Castle Rock

Castle Rock is a town of 56,000 people located in Douglas County, 30 miles south of Denver. It is named after a distinct rock formation at the north end of the historic downtown. Outside of downtown, there are also several office parks, subdivisions, and the Outlets retail area. Castle Rock’s population is largely wealthy and white. Historically, Douglas County has been rural–home to ranchers. In the last several decades, it has grown dramatically as a Denver suburb. In this episode, we hear from a businesswoman, a pastor, a former Navy SEAL, and the town’s mayor.