Oversight of some DIA deals may end; One council member balks at proposal

The City Council would surrender oversight of some contracts at Denver International Airport under a proposal given preliminary approval Monday.

But not all council members are ready to give up their authority.

Councilman Rick Garcia cast the lone dissenting vote, saying a "great number" of minority contractors can only go to council members to air their concerns.

Councilman Chris Nevitt said he was on the "horns of a dilemma." While Nevitt said he understands the advantage of expediting contracts, he added, "I take very seriously my responsibility to be a . . . watchdog of the business the city does with private contractors."

The proposed changes came from recommendations made by a group appointed by Mayor John Hickenlooper.

The group recommended that the council approve construction contracts only of $10 million or more and that it no longer review leases for less than a year or that involve less than $100,000 of annual rent.

The council currently reviews construction contracts for $500,000 or more.

"These changes will only affect those routine contracts where there is minimal impact or where council review adds time or money," Alan Ochsenbein, an associate manager of aviation, told council members last week.

The intent is to give the airport more flexibility within the city's procurement policies.

The airport gets its money from landing fees, rents and other sources. It doesn't receive tax dollars.

"DIA operates in an environment that's completely different than any other department in the city," said council President Michael Hancock, whose district includes the airport.

"It operates in a for-profit global economy. It has to compete. Otherwise, it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, and that is to really serve as an economic engine for the entire region," Hancock said, adding that the city "hamstrings" DIA with bureaucratic red tape.

The proposal calls for the airport to provide the council monthly reports on all planned, pending or approved projects, which Garcia called a "step in the right direction" but not enough because contracts could be bid by the time they appear on the report.

Auditor Dennis Gallagher is concerned about the proposed policy change because eliminating some of the checks and balances, especially in a strong-mayor form of government, isn't healthy, said spokesman Denis Berckefeldt.

"It's not a policy decision for him to make (but) he does feel like it's probably an abrogation of (the council's) oversight ability," Berckefeldt said.