Transparency: Public Notice and Engagement

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Objective

To evaluate the city’s transparency practices by determining whether selected case studies in the Department of Community Planning and Development, the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure, and the agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships have adequate processes to ensure public notices comply with requirements and that these agencies sufficiently inform and engage Denver residents.

Background

A transparent government seeks to ensure community members affected by government decisions can both influence and actively participate in making those decisions. Efforts may include posting legally required public notices, holding town hall meetings, creating community advisory boards, and soliciting public comment. Denver city agencies are individually responsible for public notice and engagement.

Why this matters

Engaging community members in the government’s decision-making process increases public trust and results in more effective solutions to community issues. By providing more structure and guidance around public notices and public engagement, the city could ultimately provide higher quality services to residents and business owners.

Findings

Finding 1 -  Gaps in Structure, Guidance, and Oversight Limit the Public’s Ability to Access Information and Participate in Decision-Making on City Projects

We identified several areas for improvement associated with the three case studies we reviewed.

  • Inconsistent compliance with public notice requirements limits the public’s awareness of some city activities. While we found Community Planning and Development fully complied with all public notice requirements in its case study, two projects in the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure and meetings of the 10 commissions under the purview of the agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships did not.

    The examples of noncompliance in these two agencies affected residents’ awareness of projects in their communities and limited their opportunities to participate in public meetings.

  • Public notice requirements are limited when it comes to how the notices are to be distributed, who should receive them, and when they should be issued. City agencies could use additional tools — as well as make better use of the city’s website — to improve residents’ awareness and provide access to public meetings, hearings, and other ways for residents to provide input on city projects and decisions.

  • Standards, expectations, and practices for public engagement vary across the city. More consistent guidance could help agencies better inform and engage residents about decisions that affect their lives. 

Recommendations

1.1 Develop, Document, and Implement Monitoring Process – The Department of Transportation & Infrastructure’s executive director should work with the director of the Street Maintenance Operations Division to develop, document, and implement a process for street maintenance staff to monitor and track contracted work to ensure all affected businesses and residents receive public notice for paving activities as required.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – May 1, 2022

1.2 Review and Revise Process to Post Meeting Notices – The agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should review and revise the process by which meeting notices for its commissions are posted to ensure it leverages technology and available staff to help mitigate volunteer- and pandemic-related budget and staffing limitations.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.3 Establish, Document, and Communicate Expectations – After implementing Recommendation 1.2, the agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships and its commissions should establish, document, and communicate clear expectations for all staff and volunteers responsible for posting meeting notices — including commissioners, staff liaisons, or other agency support staff who prepare meeting agendas and publicly post the notices.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.4 Include Expectations in Performance Goals and Training – After implementing Recommendation 1.3, the agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should include its internally established expectations in its employee performance evaluations for staff liaisons and agency support staff as well as in its training program for commissioners, liaisons, and other staff.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.5 Develop and Implement Procedures for Management Review – The agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should develop and implement procedures for management to review key activities required of commissioners, staff liaisons, and other agency support staff — including but not limited to those associated with complying with public meeting requirements and developing relevant governing documents.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.6 Improve Accessibility of Notice and Engagement Information – The Mayor’s Office should work with the city’s Technology Services agency to improve the accessibility of public notice and engagement information on the city’s website to improve residents’ access. At a minimum, this should include determining the feasibility of the following methods — among any others the Mayor’s Office and Technology Services choose to consider — and developing and documenting an implementation plan:

  • Adding searchable, interactive neighborhood maps with agency project information.
  • Developing a centralized repository for all public meeting notices and engagement opportunities for city agencies under the purview of the Mayor’s Office.
  • Enhancing connections between the city’s events calendars and agencies’ events calendars for project engagement opportunities, meetings, and staff contacts.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.7 Create a Citywide Framework and Guidance for Engagement and Outreach – The Mayor’s Office and Denver Marketing Services, a division of the city’s Technology Services agency, should develop centralized guidance — such as a citywide framework for engagement — and offer formal networking opportunities, such as communities of practice, for the city staff responsible for public engagement. These centralized efforts should include standardized training, a statement of the city’s values and expectations for engagement, and a description of guidance resources available for all public engagement staff. The establishment of communities of practice could include designating an individual or group that would serve as engagement experts and connect city staff with guidance resources.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 30, 2022

1.8 Create Formal Policies and Procedures for Engagement – The Department of Community Planning and Development’s Planning Services Division should create formal policies and procedures for department-led text amendment projects to guide staff in conducting public engagement and outreach.

This guidance should identify the circumstances under which a formal engagement plan should be developed and specify that these plans must document — at a minimum — goals for the engagement effort, the process to be used in communicating with the public about input the department receives, and the process for self-evaluating the department’s engagement effort.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – March 31, 2022

1.9 Develop Process for Responding to Public Input – The Department of Community Planning and Development’s Planning Services Division should establish a process for responding to the public directly about input provided to the department — such as auto-reply emails to let individuals know their input was received and how it will be considered in the process, including contact information for the department staff leading a project.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – March 31, 2022

1.10 Develop Engagement Evaluation Tool – The Department of Community Planning and Development’s Planning Services Division should develop an evaluation tool to assess the public’s feedback on the division’s engagement activities, such as the format of public meetings, the time allotted for questions and answers, and the ways the department collects public input. The division should implement this tool by providing it to community members who participate in an engagement activity to assess whether these activities are meeting the public’s needs and expectations.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – March 31, 2022

1.11 Establish Self-Evaluation Process – The Department of Community Planning and Development’s Planning Services Division should establish a process to measure the success of engagement efforts for department-led text amendment projects through a lessons-learned review, and it should document the results of this self-evaluation.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – March 31, 2022

1.12 Assess Expectations for the Office of Community and Business Engagement – The Department of Transportation & Infrastructure should assess the expectations for the Office of Community and Business Engagement, its staff resources, and the level and timing of support the office gives to bikes project teams. The results of this assessment should be documented.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – February 1, 2022

1.13 Develop, Document, and Implement Policies and Procedures – Based on the results of the assessment called for in Recommendation 1.12, the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure should develop, document, and implement policies and procedures for planning engagement efforts that include — at a minimum — clearly identifiable responsibilities of each collaborative partner (e.g., staff in the Office of Community and Business Engagement, public information consultants, and community designers) and the bikes project team to increase the consistency of public engagement and ensure effective collaboration on bike lane installation projects.

The developed policies and procedures should also include a formal process for handling public input.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – March 1, 2022

1.14 Identify Areas to Standardize – The agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should review how it supports its 10 commissions to identify areas where standardizing job expectations, templates, tools, and processes may help the commissions comply with city requirements and operate more effectively. Specifically, the agency should review the support it provides through staff liaisons and it should review the commissions’ practices related to establishing goals and objectives, among other practices as necessary.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.15 Work with Stakeholders to Develop Standardized Processes – Partnerships should work with relevant stakeholders — like commissioners, staff liaisons, and other agency and city staff — to develop standardized expectations, processes, templates, tools, and technology resources to streamline how its 10 commissions and support staff share information and manage the commissions’ documentation.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – April 1, 2022

1.16 Develop Management Review Procedures – The agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should develop and implement review procedures to assess key activities required of its staff liaisons and its 10 commissions, including but not limited to setting and reporting goals and objectives on an annual basis.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – July 1, 2022

1.17 Work with the Mayor’s Office to Develop Communications Protocols– The agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships should work with the Mayor’s Office and other city agencies to define expectations for and a process by which the Mayor’s Office and the agencies under its purview regularly report to the 10 commissions regarding how the commissioners’ input was considered and used in the city’s decision-making and policy.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – February 2, 2022

Auditor's Letter

November 18, 2021

The objective of our audit of transparency practices in the City and County of Denver was to review the processes selected agencies use to ensure public notices comply with requirements and that these agencies sufficiently inform and engage the community about issues affecting Denver residents. I am pleased to present the results of this audit.

The audit determined the city could benefit from a more structured approach to informing and engaging residents. We identified some issues with public notice compliance that may limit the public’s awareness of city activities. The city could make some information more accessible to residents, such as required public notices, and it could provide more information about opportunities to participate in government decisions. City agencies could also benefit from having clearer standards, expectations, and guidance — both from the Mayor’s Office and from management of individual city agencies.

By implementing recommendations for a citywide framework and recommendations to strengthen individual city agencies’ management practices, policies, procedures, training opportunities, and monitoring and evaluation processes, the Mayor’s Office and the city agencies under its purview will be better equipped to inform and engage residents about decisions that affect their lives.

This performance audit is authorized pursuant to the City and County of Denver Charter, Article V, Part 2, Section 1, “General Powers and Duties of Auditor.” We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

We extend our appreciation to the personnel in the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Community Planning and Development, the Department of Transportation & Infrastructure, and the agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships. For any questions, please feel free to contact me at 720-913-5000.

Denver Auditor,

Auditor's Signature
Timothy O'Brien, CPA

Follow-up report

A follow-up report is forthcoming. 


Timothy O'Brien Official Headshot

AUDITOR TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, CPA
Denver Auditor


Denver Auditor´s Office

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