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Q&A With The Candidates For Denver Clerk and Recorder

By Cara DeGette

Editor, GPHN

It’s been more than 100 years since late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in a 1913 article in Harper’s Weekly, uttered what has become synonymous with transparency in government: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” 

Every March, journalists and good government advocates engage in an activity representing a spring cleaning of sorts – a week devoted to promoting open government and pushing back against excessive official secrecy. This year’s Sunshine Week runs from March 10-16, and the theme this year is a simple one: “It’s your right to know.”

This spring also marks one of the most hotly contested municipal elections Denver’s experienced in recent memory, and anti-incumbent sentiment is palpable: A total of 66 candidates are running in municipal elections citywide for offices from mayor to city council to Denver Clerk and Recorder. Peg Perl and Paul Lopez are running to replace the woman currently in the job, Debra Taylor – who has decided against running for another term. 

Denver’s Clerk and Recorder oversees municipal elections, oversees licensing, and is the repository for public records, including everything from property records to city contracts. 

Perl is currently a public interest attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Denver. Lopez is currently a three-term member of the Denver City Council who represents the city’s west side and is term limited from running for that office again. Both have identified government transparency, and making the Clerk and Recorder’s office more accessible – especially when it comes to access to public records – as top priorities. 

The Greater Park Hill News asked both Perl and Lopez to provide specifics of how they would improve greater public access to records, as well as other improvements to the office, if elected.

Name:  Peg Perl

Website: perlfordenver.com

Current Occupation: Public Interest Attorney & DU Adjunct Professor

Greater Park Hill News: Why are you the best candidate for the job of Denver Clerk and Recorder?

Peg Perl: I’ve dedicated my legal career to making government more open and accountable to all, not just the wealthy and well-connected. For 15 years my focus has been on the core areas of the Denver Clerk’s responsibilities: voting rights, campaign finance, public records access, and government ethics. With my past positions in the Federal Election Commission and U.S. House Ethics Committee, I have experience in administering these programs in a government agency. I also successfully passed reforms and enforced campaign finance, ethics and public records access on behalf of Coloradans as Senior Counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch.

GPHN: You have said that you want to make the office more accountable and transparent. Identify specifically what records you believe should be more accessible to the public. 

Perl: First, I will post a full inventory or directory of all public records available from the Clerk’s office, because there are a number of city records that are not advertised as available. For example, those receiving a no-bid city contract, lease or concession agreement must file a certificate listing past campaign contributions with the Clerk. Similarly, Business Improvement District annual filings and all city contracts are filed in the office. I want these documents to be identified, searchable, and available online as well as partner with the public libraries for offline access to much of the Clerk’s information. 

GPHN: Identify 2-3 specific areas of the Denver Clerk & Recorder’s current website that you would improve.

Perl:Overall the Clerk’s website needs to be more mobile-friendly to make information accessible for those whose only internet access is through a cell phone. Also, I will create an online FAQ available in many other languages than Spanish for each division of the office (elections, marriage, foreclosures, etc.). Finally, I will modernize the campaign finance disclosure system so that it is easy for candidates to file, and information is easy for residents to find.

GPHN: Identify 3-4 government websites (in Colorado or elsewhere) that you view as providing exceptional access to public records, and whose tools you would like to replicate for the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office. (Feel free to explain what you find exceptional about them.)

Perl

1. OpenColorado’s site provides great access to documents that are data-driven to allow comparisons and analysis of that information.  http://data.opencolorado.org/dataset 

2. San Diego has a searchable database site for city records, like city council minutes, ordinances, and reports. I would like to implement something like this across city council records, contracts, BID filings, and similar documents.  https://www.sandiego.gov/city-clerk/officialdocs 

3. Pittsburgh provides campaign finance, city contracts, lobbyist and other disclosures in a searchable form together. I especially like the “elected official” page where each city official is listed with direct links to disclosures. I would use this in Denver to include links to elected officials’ campaign finance, financial disclosure, lobbyist and gift reports. http://www.openbookpittsburgh.com/  

GPHN: Describe specifically what improvements you would pursue to improve voter turnout in Denver:

Perl: In general, I will work to expand automatic voter registration and updating of addresses when voters access city services so that ballots can be easily received. I also will increase community involvement in determining drop-box and voter service locations and hours to better meet the needs of all voters. I will continue to collaborate with community groups for targeted programs to welcome more voting by immigrants, youth, those experiencing homelessness, and voters with disabilities. Finally, we must address the almost 40 percent turnout gap between even-numbered elections and municipal elections by looking at possible timing changes and increasing our voter information outreach year-round.

GPHN: Do you support public financing for political campaigns? Explain.

Perl: Yes. I was a leader on the policy team that developed the Fair Elections Fund policy that later became part of Measure 2E in Denver. I believe that public matching of small donor contributions diversifies the pool of candidates and increases voter engagement and involvement in elections. People who participate as small donors are more likely to get involved in Denver’s municipal elections when they feel not only that their vote will be counted, but that their voice matters and will be heard.

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Name: Paul D. Lopez

Website: LopezforDenver.com

Current Occupation: Denver City Councilman

Greater Park Hill News: Why are you the best candidate for the job of Denver Clerk and Recorder?

Paul Lopez: I have experience to hit the ground running on day one. I am a three-term city councilman who has spent 12 years serving the people of Denver and fighting for people and neighborhoods. I am proud to say that I’m born and raised in the city that I serve. I grew up poor, working to pay my own way through college, and spent my life organizing for equal access to the ballot in Denver neighborhoods.

GPHN: You have said that you want to make the office more accountable and transparent. Identify specifically what records you believe should be more accessible to the public. 

Lopez: 

1. Property records: It’s very important for the public to know the history of the properties they rent or buy. Recently many dedicated affordable housing properties were sold at market rate. This is unacceptable, and through the Clerk’s office we can impose small liens and better tracking of titles. 

2. City contracts: As a councilman, I have the experience to know what to look for. It is hard to get a copy of a full contract online, even if you are a party to it. As the city begins to involve public/private investment, it is imperative that records be available online for the public to the extent allowed by law. Having greater access to these contracts helps us hold accountable the city’s commitments to all who are impacted or party to.

GPHN: Identify 2-3 specific areas of the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s current website that you would improve.

Lopez: Overall I think the website is helpful and represents a lot of hard work by employees in the Clerk’s office. However, a couple of changes that we need to work on are to:

1. Make city contracts available online to the extent allowed by law; and

2. Having the website resources available in Spanish and other languages. It is important that we have the proper access to all legal and public records regardless of personal capability.

GPHN: Identify 3-4 government websites (in Colorado or elsewhere) that you view as providing exceptional access to public records, and whose tools you would like to replicate for the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office. (Feel free to explain what you find exceptional about them.)

Lopez: Again, this is where Denver leads. The 53 hardworking employees in the Clerk’s office have spent the last decade making voting easier, and making its services and records available to our public. What we need is greater physical presence and outreach into our communities to remind folks about what we do, and how we can help. 

GPHN: Describe specifically what improvements you would pursue to improve voter turnout in Denver.

Lopez: Unfortunately, nationally we are bearing witness to what happens when people don’t vote! We can’t just depend on campaigns’ outreach to the same people all the time.

1. If elected, I will expand our efforts by putting boots on the ground, clipboards in hands in every single precinct, for every election cycle, and with special attention to areas with historically low voter turnout.

2. We must fully support the state’s efforts to establish automatic voter registration for all eligible voters.

3. Precincts must be drawn smaller and more manageable for equal representation.

4. I plan to substantially increase access to election ballot drop box locations throughout Denver.

GPHN: Do you support public financing for political campaigns? Explain.

Lopez: Yes. Fundraising is necessary, and can be hard for us everyday people who cannot self fund, or have access to money. Far too often, elected officials become beholden to campaign contributors and not the public. I supported referendum 2E last November and was part of the city council’s effort to fix its issues and voted to refer the measure to the ballot.


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