DENVER (CBS4)– Denver’s city attorney is conducting an internal investigation into about a dozen of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s appointees and confidantes attempting to learn who may have notified the media Aug. 12 that the city was terminating the contract of Great Hall Partners for redevelopment of the Denver International Airport terminal. DIA administrators announced the termination the next day, Aug. 13.
Multiple sources familiar with the probe told CBS4 of the unusual investigation, which is being conducted by the Denver City Attorney’s office. “It would be irresponsible to not follow up on those kinds of matters,” said City Attorney Kristin Bronson. “We’re simply doing our job.”
On the night of Aug. 12, Hancock decided to terminate the contract with Ferrovial Airports and Great Hall Partners for the terminal renovation and management of the facility. The contract was worth an estimated $1.8 billion, the largest in Denver history. The terminal renovation itself accounted for about $650 million.
Great Hall Partners and the city had been arguing for months about cost overruns and change orders on the project. CBS4 learned of the termination decision Aug. 12 and began making calls and inquires to confirm the information. CBS4 broke the story of the contract termination the next morning, Aug. 13, several hours later the city officially announced the firing at a major news conference.
Unhappy about the information getting out prematurely, the city attorney has contacted about a dozen of the Mayor’s confidantes and appointees who were informed of the termination the night of Aug. 12. They have been asked to sign a release allowing the Denver City Attorney to access their cellular phone records.
According to a copy of the release obtained by CBS4 via an open records request, the employees are being asked to authorize release of “copies of any and all cellular phone records, including but not limited to, telephone bills including detailed call and text records, statements, text data, notes, or any other document whatsoever pertaining to the above individual for August 12, 2019.”
In a phone interview with CBS4, Bronson declined to identify who has been asked to turn over their phone records. She also declined to say if she had been asked to sign a waiver and provide her own phone records.
“The inquiry is ongoing,” said Bronson. “Our job is to follow up on the apparent release of non-public information that presents a legal risk to the city or its employees. Appointees should assist us in narrowing the scope of our inquiry.”
Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn seemed less enthusiastic about the probe telling CBS4, “It’s understandably a concern if insider information is being shared on the outside, but asking a large number of staff members to sign away the right to their personal phone records seems like a dragnet.”
Jeff Roberts, with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, suggested the phone investigation could amount to a chilling effect for city employees.
“It’s not always clear whether a public employee is protected by the First Amendment when they speak to a reporter,” said Roberts, “but leaking is sometimes the only way the public can learn about important matters of public concern — like what’s happening with a troubled government contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. What the city is doing threatens the public’s right to know because Denver employees will now be intimidated and less likely to speak up when they believe the public is being left in the dark. It’ll be much harder for journalists to do their job — which is to inform the taxpaying public — if mayoral appointees and other city employees stop talking.”
The terminal contract was ended “for convenience” and wraps up Nov. 12. After that, DIA administrators will oversee the terminal redevelopment. They have said they hope to resume construction early next year.
Denver City Council Member Candi CdeBaca released this statement, “Leaks occur when employees fear retaliation and don’t feel safe enough to raise concerns within a repressive administration. We know that our City does not have adequate whistleblower protections. The City Attorney’s draconian tactics maintain secrecy and deter truth-telling. Instead she should be asking: Why does this culture of fear exist among City workers? Why do they feel that leaking is the only way they can call attention to rampant problems? City information is public information. The leaker should be commended, not condemned for doing a public service by encouraging increased scrutiny of an $800 million public project.”
Additional Information: Read the waiver some Mayoral appointees are being asked to sign