Two cuts to next year’s city of Aurora budget that would eliminate unfilled positions for an independent police monitor and a manager in the city’s diversity department resulted in some council members voting against budget approval Monday night.
The city has already been sued over police abuse allegations, and across the nation, it’s been shown that having an independent monitor will save a city money, Omar Montgomery, Aurora NAACP president and former mayoral candidate, told council members.
Those in favor of the cuts, however, argued that the Aurora Police Department is bound by consent decree from the attorney general’s office that would last four years, but more likely seven to 10. That includes a contract for auditing the department’s practices that costs about $700,000 per year.
“It was a budget saving opportunity, recognizing that it would be redundant, and we, frankly, wouldn’t try to fill them anyway,” said Council member Dustin Zvonek.
But Councilwoman Angela Lawson took exception to that, saying that the city’s independent monitor is a more public-facing role and while the consent decree monitor is tasked with addressing internal issues and policies within the agency, the city’s monitor would be reviewing incidents reported from community members. City Manager Jim Twombly confirmed that while there is some overlap, the position would be more focused on external community concerns.
Budgets are considered moral documents, Councilwoman Crystal Murillo said, and to eliminate an independent monitor, particularly after the death of Elijah McClain, is problematic. Plus, she added, the positions were eliminated to save money for council members other proposals such as eliminating an occupational tax and the revenue from that tax.
“It’s a relatively new office,” she said. “And if we’re not properly resourcing that office, there’s no way that it’s going to be able to grow and thrive into a meaningful department. It just takes time and time and resources.”
The city didn’t fill three positions within that office at a total cost savings of about $400,000, because of potential confusion between the roles and not fully knowing what implementation of the consent decree would look like, Twombly said.
While council members agreed that these roles could be important for the future, the majority opted against Councilman Juan Marcano’s amendment to hire a manager to help with the transition, despite the budget still being balanced, and set aside the other positions to be filled in the future. Mayor Mike Coffman, Mayor Pro Tem Françoise Bergan, and council members Zvonek, Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky and Steve Sundberg voted against it.
“It was said earlier that a budget is a statement of values and I agree with that, and one of the things that I value is not wasting taxpayer money on duplicative positions,” Councilman Curtis Gardner said, adding that he’s interested in the proposal for a manager but thinks it needs to be more fleshed out.
Council members also considered on Monday adding back a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office position that was cut, previously budgeted at nearly $158,000, though they ultimately voted against Councilwoman Alison Coombs’ motion.
“We talk about the diversity in the city of Aurora. We brag about it. This the first thing we talk about every single day,” Montgomery told council members. “But do we have the infrastructure in support of the diversity that we have of the 132 to 150 different languages that we talk about? We talked about Havana Street. We talk about Colfax. But do we have the infrastructure to support the residents in the city of Aurora?”
But Bergan said the other two people in the office are fairly new and with a possible upcoming recession, the cuts made sense. She said with both the diversity office and the independent monitor, “we are supporting them. We are just being fiscally responsible with the budget.”
Council members in support of reinstating the positions, however, saw it as move to cut services the community wants, and Marcano, Coombs and Murillo voted against adoption.
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