In any given year, transparency, accountability, and good stewardship of public resources are the backbone of good government. In challenging years like 2020, our work in these areas is indispensable. We serve the people of Denver by championing accountability in our audit work and through education and enforcement of wage laws on behalf of everyone who lives and works here.
In 2020, we worked effectively despite significant and unexpected challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting budget shortfalls. In this 2020 Annual Report, I am pleased to present a look back at our work and how it served our community.
In this report, you will find summaries of our audits and highlights and impacts identified from our follow-up work. We also provide a detailed look at Denver Labor’s record-breaking success in getting people paid and supporting employers as they comply with Denver’s wage laws. This Annual Report also serves as our annual Denver Labor Wages Report on our minimum wage and prevailing wage efforts. We also share the achievements of my exemplary staff, and how we maintain open communication with all members of our diverse community.
First, let me extend my appreciation to Mayor Michael B. Hancock, the Denver City Council, the Audit Committee, and members of the city’s operational management for supporting our mission throughout the year.
As an independent agency, we take an objective look at how public money is used and how efficient and effective the city’s services are for the people of Denver. Our work is performed on behalf of everyone who cares about the city, including its residents, workers, and decision-makers. Our mission is to deliver independent, transparent, and professional oversight in order to safeguard the public’s investment in the City and County of Denver.
In the past year, we examined city agencies based on concerns we heard from the public and others, as well as our own risk assessments and analyses. In 2020, we shifted to working from home and didn’t miss a beat in holding the city accountable.
One of the audits we received the most requests for from the public was our audit of the city’s Neighborhood Sidewalk Repair Program. My audit team found the program was expected to miss its schedule by decades and wasn’t designed to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act best practices. The city’s Department of Transportation & Infrastructure cannot ensure sidewalk repairs are meeting all relevant standards and that the program is reaching its intended outcomes. I was pleased agency officials are ready to make changes and find solutions to make these public spaces accessible for everyone and to improve equal access to affordability options for sidewalk repairs across the city.
Another audit that directly impacted how the public successfully interacts with the city was our assessment of how city agencies manage and respond to open records requests. We found city leaders needed to do more to fully and transparently respond to open records requests from the public. The city was inconsistent in how it fulfilled records requests. Deficiencies in Denver’s open records response process hinder the public’s ability to confidently submit requests. I believe the city’s records are really the people of Denver’s records. Unless prohibited by law, we should be making it easy and clear for people to find information about what their government is doing. I was disappointed with the Mayor’s Office’s disagreement and unwillingness to take simple steps to improve transparency.
However, we did see some progress from city leaders on another important issue: taxpayer-funded nonprofits. In 2020, we completed our second audit of one of these organizations, which were approved by voters and are funded by dedicated taxes as they operate as independent nonprofits. Our audit of the Caring for Denver program — which supports efforts to address mental health issues and substance misuse — found the program was leaving millions of dollars unused and that it lacked a clear strategy and goals. City leaders agreed to develop a strategic plan and review and revise the program’s financial management policies.
We also completed a follow-up assessment of our first audit of a tax-funded initiative: the Denver Preschool Program. We found the city implemented every recommendation we made, allowing the nonprofit to do more to support kids in our community. I plan to audit more of these types of programs sooner rather than later, in the hope of making sure the city is setting up these nonprofits for success as they use millions of dollars in tax revenue.
The Audit Committee continues to contribute valuable feedback on findings from performance and financial audits and the risks found through audit analytics work. I’m pleased with the fine work my Audit Analytics Team does to use innovative data and continuous auditing techniques. Our substantive and impactful audit work helps make our government better.
Meanwhile, Denver Labor had a record year — recovering more lost wages for workers than ever and finding even more new ways to educate employers despite the gathering and training restrictions that were necessary during the pandemic.
Every penny matters in a recession like we all faced this past year. Our minimum wage and prevailing wage teams recovered more than $1 million in restitution in 2020 — money that went back to workers who should have received the correct wages in their paychecks.
Thanks to our team of analysts, we also recovered restitution for the largest number of underpaid employees ever uncovered in a single wage investigation by our office. Nearly 850 workers for one employer got paid for wages they should have received under Denver’s citywide minimum wage. We were able to work with the employer to get the backpay returned to the employees without needing to pursue any fines or attorney’s fees.
My goal is to get money to workers according to the law, not to punish employers for an honest mistake. Our office frequently works to find solutions that will bring employers into compliance without putting them out of business. Among those proactive efforts, we began live weekly training sessions called “Wages Wednesday.” Anyone can watch these trainings live or as recordings on our Facebook page — and they can ask questions in English and Spanish. These — along with other specialized trainings for community groups and employers and other virtual events — allowed our team to build relationships and answer questions despite the obstacles the pandemic created.
We continue to work hard to engage the people we work for: the public. We believe the people of Denver have a right to know what we do on their behalf and what their government is doing for them. As a result, we continue to find creative ways to reach all parts of our community on their terms. In 2020, we expanded our Spanish language outreach, attended and hosted virtual events and training sessions, continued our monthly “Ask the Auditor” video series, and reimagined our monthly email newsletter in both English and Spanish. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Nextdoor, and LinkedIn for updates from our office, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts, concerns, or questions. Read this Annual Report in Spanish on our website.
I am very proud of my team’s accomplishments and of our efforts to work with city agencies and residents, employers and employees, to ensure a better Denver for everyone.
Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, Denver Auditor