Friday, December 25, 2009

Thoughts on Christmas Day

Sunday, December 20, at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel, I attended the 28th annual Fr. Woody Dinner and Present give-away. This event, organized by Holy Ghost Church, downtown, and lots of folks from Regis University, inoculates me for the rest of the holiday season as to what this season of the year is all about. I feel better just knowing that several thousand families, lots of children this year, got a great turkey dinner and an individually matched present based on age, size and gender. For the past few months students at Regis University wrapped the thousands of presents. I had been assigned as an elf to bring presents to the tables, but they had enough, so they said, "Just be the good auditor that you are and go around spreading smiles and good cheer." So I did and I had a great time. To smiling mothers holding babes in arms I said: "Tu sonrisa es bonita." "Your smile is beautiful," and they smiled all the more.

Out of the corner of my eye I spied Fr. Michael Sheeran, S. J., President of Regis University, kneeling beside a table full of eager youngsters as to what presents they might like. You just don't get that at some of our public universities. And seeing so many former Regis students who were volunteering for the event, brought back happy memories of my teaching days at Regis. Many still call me "Senator" which I was when I taught many of them. Lovey Shipp, Holy Ghost parishioner, wished everyone leaving a "Merry Christmas," to which many guests replied, "Thank you." She said, "The thanks goes to you for being here."

A chorus of older but radiant women sang many old time favorites which raised everyone's spirits. Fr. John Lager of the Samaritan Shelter directed traffic in his brown Franciscan robe. Fr. John waved people to waiting tables with the authority of a traffic patrolman.

The luncheon fare boasted roast turkey breast, big slices, potatoes and gravy, dressing and all the trimmings. The plates heaped high equaled the sumptuous feast served the day before Thanksgiving at Rescue Mission.

Denver's famous Rescue Mission in downtown Denver plays host to thousands of Denver's homeless and needy by serving an excellent turkey dinner, supplemented with salad and rolls. The Governor, Mayor and lots of Council Members also help serve the individual lunches for the people at the mission. Tom Noel, Dr. Colorado, and my brother Tim serve a shift and it is always great fun.

At North High School gym, Councilman Paul Lopez, sponsored his annual food box packing event. I bet a thousand neighbors from North and West Denver lined up in long rows to fill boxes full of oranges, apples, canned goods, bread and vegetables. Did I mention a box of dressing topped the stuffed boxes donated by Coors Brewery. Mayor and Council took their spots in line to fill the boxes delivered to families in need and many older people.

Let us hope that our nation moves to long term systemic changes that will lower the need for food lines, lunch lines and box give-aways. And let us be thankful that there are Americans who still care enough to pitch in to help their fellow citizens in tough times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


When I attended Holy Family High School in North Denver, Sister Marie Catherine Pondorff, S. L., my freshman English teacher, noted that I had the gift of gab and enjoyed talking lots. She encouraged me to join up with the forensics club at our school. "The medium is the message," as Marshall McLuhan, said, and the message from Sister was sign up "it will be good for you and debating will help build your confidence, teach you to be a leader, you will travel on Saturdays and meet interesting students from other schools, and you will learn lots about the debate topic." I believe the topic that year was a guaranteed annual income for all American citizens. Underneath the positive messages of confidence building, leadership, and helping forge myself on the smithy of my soul nested another message: "Sign up for debate, Dennis, or I will make your life miserable in my English class."

Because she was a great persuader with a contagious and jolly laugh, and I knew I would enjoy debating, arguing, verbally scrapping. So I happily and eagerly signed up for all the extra work on evenings after school and debate meets on Saturdays all around our state. I confess I enjoyed every minute of it. It changed my life. Debate made me confident. My grades improved and I did well in Sister Marie's English class.

I thought of my debating experience in high school and college the other day when I received a report from NAUDL, the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues. This organization announced that their association has expanded services to over 150 new schools this last year. NAUDL is now in Denver.

I hope the newly elected school board will look into bringing more speech and debate classes into the curriculum. Those classes will change the student's lives as it did mine. Debate will get them ready for college; help with their career choices; and give them leadership skills.

I plan on sending another donation to NAUDL by checking the website: Tell your friends. Check out the free movie from the Denver Public Library, The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington. This captivating story will persuade you of the importance of debate teachers in our lives and in our schools.

And if the school board really wants to improve the curriculum; change students' lives; give them a sense of history and language; they will vote to bring Latin back into the curriculum. Debate was great for me in school. But studying Latin was even better. Smile until my next blog about Latin. Tu ne cede malis.

Monday, December 21, 2009


The overriding story of 2009 was the economy, so I’m not totally surprised that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who helped steer the U.S. economy through its darkest days since the Great Depression, was recently named Time Magazine’s 2009 Person of the Year. The magazine said the Federal Reserve chairman's foresight and success at preventing a second Great Depression -- the history that wasn't made this year -- drove its choice. This mild-mannered man has been credited with taking extraordinary measures to prevent the U.S. credit crisis from turning into an economic depression but he concedes that the Fed, among others, failed to spot the crisis before it struck.

Professor Bernanke of Princeton is a leading scholar of economic history and the Great Depression. He knew how the passive Fed of the 1930s helped create the calamity – through its stubborn refusal to expand the money supply and its tragic lack of imagination and experimentation. Republican Bernanke, was first appointed by George W. Bush and reappointed by President Obama, was determined not to preside over Depression 2.0. So when faced with the worst global financial crisis in decades, he conjured up trillions of new dollars and blasted them into the economy; engineered massive public rescues of failing private companies; ratcheted down interest rates to zero; lent to mutual funds, foreign banks, investment banks, manufacturers and others; jump-started stalled credit markets and more. His aggressive steps have exposed him and the Fed as an institution to criticism from all directions. He’s been called “Bailout Ben’, the patron saint of wall street greed, the unelected czar of a fourth branch of government. But Bernanke knows the economy would be much, much worse if the Fed had not taken such extreme measures to stop the panic.

Bernanke has made subtle changes in the Fed since taking over for his predecessor Alan Greenspan. He has pushed for more transparency and clarity. He has worked hard to explain his actions to the public, holding town hall meetings, writing op-eds and testifying before Congress a record 13 times this year.

Now that Obama has decided to keep him in his job, Bernanke has become a lightning rod in an intense national debate over the Fed and its role. A Senate panel approved the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to run the nation's central bank for another four years. The Senate Banking Committee voted 16-7 to send Bernanke's nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Before the vote, some of his critics poked fun at Time magazine's decision to name him "person of the year" for 2009. Bernanke "may wonder if he really wants to be honored by an organization that has previously named people like Joseph Stalin, Yasser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Vladimir Putin as their Person of the Year.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who voted for Bernanke, argued, "I happen to believe had he and others not acted . . . at a time of critical importance of our country, we'd be looking at a very, very different and far more dire situation in our nation than is otherwise the case." Although the 56-year-old Bernanke appears to have enough votes to win a second term, some senators are lining up against him. They blame him for not spotting problems that led to the financial crisis, failing to protect consumers and supporting Wall Street bailouts. With Bernanke's re-appointment clearing the committee, it now moves to the full Senate for a final vote. The Senate is not expected to vote on his re-appointment until after it reconvenes after a holiday break on January 19. It is expected that Bernanke's re-appointment will face some stiff resistance on the full Senate floor. Some Senators have even flat-out stated that they will try to delay the nomination process for as long as possible. Bernanke's current term expires on January 31.

Ultimately, Time magazine says it selected the Fed chairman because of the immense power he still has to shape the global economy: "The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world." Bernanke supporters--and there are plenty of them in the financial community--have long said it's tough to get credit for something that didn't happen. But Time has decided to do just that in naming Bernanke its Person of the Year. Now we wait to see if Congress will sign off on him keeping his job for another four years.

Friday, December 18, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, last week I attended the KPMG Roundtable on Risk Assessment for Audit Committees. One of the most interesting sessions of the meeting came when the presenters wanted to know what positions those in attendence held. The group was composed of 13 audit committee members; 34 audit committee chairs; 9 directors not on the audit committee; 19 members of management; and 26 other attendees. Most were members of private industry and I was the only elected official and a chair of a city audit committee present.

They presenters then asked the attendees: "When will the U. S. economy return to the pre-crisis growth in terms of investment, employment and productivity?"

The answers by the attendees were very interesting and I pass them along to you to compare with your prediction of when the economy will return to "pre-crisis growth."

Only 2 people of the 101 in attendance answered: within one year.

8 ventured a guess: within two years.

56 answered: within three to four years. This was over 50% of those in attendance.

19 said: within five to six years.

15 said "will not return to pre-crisis growth for foreseeable future.

These pessimistic predictions should give us all concern that the vast majority of those on local Denver and Colorado corporate audit committee members, audit committee chairs and others in attendance facing the risks of a risky economy believed we are in trouble for the long haul on the economic recovery. These predictions do not mesh with the rosy pictures painted by some in Washington. Where is Nostradamus now that we really need him?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last week I attended the KPMG Roundtable sponsored. The roundtable brought to mind some interesting civic memories. The title of the discussion was “Going Forward: Reform and Recovery.”

KPMG, Denver’s former outside auditors of a few years back, picked up on risk assessment issues with Mayor and Council on what the Denver Auditor’s Office should audit. And for a brief time, the Mayor’s so-called Financial Experts Committee, given the charge of suggesting how our city charter should be changed to reform our city’s audit committee, came up with some very poor ideas for reform.

It started when KPMG picked up on comments from Mayor and Council that the administrative and the legislative branches wanted more input on what audits were to be done in Denver. Remember the Auditor’s Office hosts a nesting ground for future mayors. “More input” meant limiting the independence of the auditor to select which audits should be done. They were worried about audit politics. Many a Denver Auditor has lusted to be mayor. And many an auditor running for mayor has made the life of many a mayor miserable in the pursuit of unbridled vaulting ambition. Thank you, Macbeth.

I look back with humor now, but at one point in the negotiations with Mayor and Council concerning Auditor’s Office reform which eventually made it to a charter vote, the Financial Experts Committee would have mandated that the Auditor make an appointment with Mayor and Council and bring a little tin cup and beg leave to do an audit. Most discussion centered on the membership of the city’s fledgling, motley, and not independent audit committee. At that time the Mayor made all the appointments to the audit committee, including two members of his cabinet who could cushion issues for the press where lack of internal controls were found in various departments. Thankfully, the mayor appointed the Auditor to the audit committee, good judgment on his part. I vigorously and clearly informed the mayor, council and the financial experts, that the Auditor has to be free to exercise independent judgment free from administrative or legislative influence. And we needed a fully independent audit committee, and if we did not achieve these to important principles, I would see them all in the precincts of Denver campaigning against them and these Enron-like attitudes. I am happy to report they did not want to see me in the precincts working against any charter change eating away at auditor’s and audit committee’s independence. I just kept repeating: “Does anyone here remember Enron?” And that strategy worked.

But the negotiations hinged on another important point. In my view good politics is often about good relationships. Because of a long-term collegial relationship, keeping it civil and agreeing to disagree, the mayor and I worked out the reforms for the independent auditor’s office. For the city’s audit committee, the mayor and council each make two appointments, and I make two appointments and serve as Committee Chair. The mayor gave up power, appointing all the committee members and the auditor’s office gave up payroll and accounting, which we should never have had in the first place. But in 1906, who knew? We now audit payroll and accounting. This has worked out just fine.

On risk assessment and how the auditor’s office determines which audits to do, the charter asks the auditor to seek from Mayor and Council, for information purposes only, which areas and departments need audit help. So each year, while not mandated in charter language, Kip Memmott, the director of Internal Audit, take the extra step to reach out and get feedback. We interview each appointed department head, the mayor, and council to get input and feedback of risks which might be raising their heads across the city. This enables us to get firsthand feedback as to problems in the departments. Mayor and council can suggest audits, but cannot dictate which audits should be done. The auditor’s office is totally independent of administrative and legislative influence as to audits in the lineup. This is working out just fine.

The 2010 Audit plan can be see on our website. I hope you will look at it and let us know what you would like to see audited for next year.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?

Over the past generation, signs of middle-class distress have continued to grow, in good times and bad, in recession and in boom. Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the bank bailouts points out in a recent column that, “Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street. “

America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.

Policies to strengthen the weakened middle class will certainly include the creation of jobs, helping families to build assets and reduce debt, making higher education more accessible and affordable, and addressing the healthcare crisis.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once solid foundation of our nation has certainly been shaken.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wrestling With Moses

Wrestling with Moses, Anthony Flint's book does not discuss the
Israelites crossing the desert from Egypt.

Wrestling with Moses tells the gripping story of how Jane Jacobs took on
New York's Robert Moses and changed the American city forever. It is
more the story of David fighting Goliath, the humble and lowly neighbors
locked in combat against their own arrogant politicians and city
planners. Jane got her start by leading the fight against the Lower
Manhattan Expressway expansion into her neighborhood: Washington Square
and Greenwich Village.

Jane was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and moved to New York armed with
her high school diploma. She moved to New York City in 1934 and hoped
to break into journalism. After all she did have a few months
experience writing for her hometown newspaper, "The Scrantonian." She
wanted to progress to higher education and applied to several school but
because of her lackluster high school record, Columbia's college for
women informed her she would have to take additional courses to be
accepted. She walked away and decided to educate herself. She
researched the founders of the constitution spending hours upon hours at
Columbia Library.

She met and married a Columbia architect, Robert Hyde Jacobs, and they bought a townhouse at 555 Hudson in the Village. Every year on the
anniversary of her death, people bring flowers to the address,
unfortunately now a business of some sort.

Readers will remember her magnificent book, The Death and Life of Great
American Cities, published in 1961. The Random House publishers put the
following headline on the advertisement for the book: "The City Planners
are Ravaging Our Cities!" I had just graduated from Regis and I agreed
with Jane as I watched my parents and neighbors in North Denver fight
I-70 plowing through Berkeley Park, Sunnyside, Globeville, Elyria and
Swansea and Northeasterly neighborhoods. I-70 laid waste to thousands
of homes, torn off their foundations, thousands of families disrupted
and removed from their neighborhoods. Northwest Denver is finally
beginning to recover from this disruption caused by the federal
bulldozers. But the fragile neighborhoods of Globeville and
neighborhoods east of there are still struggling.

Jane's book hit a responsive chord with me as I watched Denver Urban
Renewal tear out the heart of our city by destroying hundred of historic
structures in downtown. After reading Jane's book, we all mourned what
Paul Goldberger, architectural critic of New York Times, the "unrelieved
plainness and basic dreariness of what turned out to be nondescript, big
red boxes." Any one wonders why folks like LoDo so much. It the part
of downtown where urban renewal left off. It is not healthy when
neighbors pray for a recession to block certain excessive developments
around town. Does God hear such prayers?

Let's cut to the end of the story, Jane won. She beat back Gotham's
Goliaths that won in many cities across our nation. Jane and the
neighbors beat back the plans for expansion of the Lower Manhattan
Expressway. But her book changed city planning in America forever. I
actually saw a copy of Jane's book in the Denver Planning Office not too
long ago.

Are there still wrestling matches to be waged across the neighborhoods
of Denver? What would Jane say about our city's new zoning code? Would
Jane "ooh" and "ah" over the Union Station plans? Wrestling with Moses
inspires me to get Jane's book off my shelf and remember why Denver can
be a great city. "To your tents, Oh, Israel."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Colorado Recession Watch published by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute reported that the recession figure for unemployment in October dipped to 6.9%. That dip, slight blip that it was, prompted the bloggers for Governor Ritter to announce that employment in Colorado has fallen below 7%. I hope you will check the two recession sites mentioned in my first sentence. Statistics do show a trend and this recession is the longest since the great depression which my folks and grand parents fought to survive.

A recent report from the city administration marked the 2008 unemployment rate for metro area was 5.1% but for Denver it was 5.7%. And as I have said before in a previous entry, if you check the unemployment rates for Globeville, Elryia and Swansea and Northeast Denver, the rate will get up around 20%.

These statistics mean little when you have been out of work for months. A former student and now a friend, has been out of work for months, has applied for thousands of openings and is about ready to lose her home. She is desperate and has applied to work as a guard at the city buildings. She wonders out loud why she got her BA from CU.

Speaking of blips in statistics, did you read where there is actually an address to which you can send money to spend down our national debt? I will check this out to let you know if this is another fund congress can raid to add more to the deficit. The report said the fund is supported by many immigrant Americans who show how grateful there are to be living under the blessings of our constitution. That's why they donate to lower our disastrous deficit - only in America.