As if shimmering mountains and sunny winter days weren't enough, the Mile High City boasts a dazzling performing-arts center, a gorgeous library, an art museum and convention center with massive expansions under way, three handsome sports facilities, two futuristic choo-choos to whisk suburbanites to and from work, miles of bike paths, lofts galore and plenty of swanky downtown joints where you can suck down Coors into the wee Wednesday mornings.
Those are just sprinkles on the boomtown's hot fudge sundae. Leaders in our sister cowtown to the west have survived a decade of growth with their streets and sidewalks smooth, their parks pristine and their drainage system actually draining.
It's enough to make a Kansas Citian want to lug the old barbecue grill across Kansas. Anything to get away from a city government that does boneheaded things like letting infrastructure crumble while giving out politically motivated raises to key staffers during a budget crisis.
But then, they do that in Denver, too.
On December 14, 2002, The Rocky Mountain News reported that Denver Mayor Wellington Webb had given his top people $517,000 in raises while the city faced a $44 million deficit.
The biggest beneficiary was Webb's right-hand man, Wayne Cauthen -- the man Mayor Kay Barnes has picked to become our next city manager. From 2000 to 2002, Cauthen's salary jumped 16.5 percent -- from $109,971 to $128,112.
Since 1999, the News reports, the combined salary for Webb's staff has mushroomed 52.2 percent, from $2.9 million to $4.4 million. And Webb's staffers -- Cauthen among them -- have donated at least $30,000 to the mayor's campaign trust. (A 1995 News article flat out called Cauthen a "patronage appointee.")
Lately, though, Webb has asked other city employees -- ones not on his staff -- to donate the nearly $20,000 in raises they've received back into the city's anemic general fund. Other workers might have to take furloughs. And the city has sliced rec-center hours and jacked up park fees.
"This is a slap in the face to taxpayers," Denver Councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt told the News. "It's just staggering that the mayor would have salaries like this when the city's in this situation."
In his own defense, Cauthen tells the Pitch that Denver's city charter allowed almost all Denver employees to enjoy high raises over the past few years. His raise became news, he says, because the city's auditor rearranged the figures and released them to the press to kick up a political firestorm. "We're similar with Kansas City," Cauthen explains. "The auditor is running for mayor. So the auditor wanted to go ahead and get something out on the administration in these times to say the city of Denver is out there giving out ridiculous raises to staff."
Mr. Cauthen starts work on April 10. We were worried about how he would weather his downgrade to Kansas City, but now we know he'll feel right at home.