BY FREDA MIKLIN
On September 30, five of the six candidates running for Aurora City Council at large participated in a virtual candidate’s forum sponsored by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters of Arapahoe and Douglas Counties (LWV), Aurora Women’s Club, 9News, Sentinel Colorado and Telemundo Denver. Vicki Harimon of LWV moderated.
Kara Mason (Sentinel Colorado), Marshall Zelinger (9News) and Sergio Ornelas (Telemundo) asked questions, the answers to several of which are featured below. The entire forum can be viewed online via auroratv.org. The candidates who participated were Candice Bailey, Becky Hogan, Danielle Jurinsky, John Ronquillo, and Dustin Zvonek. Hanna Bogale, the remaining candidate, did not participate.
The first question came from the moderator who wanted to know, “What actions would you propose as a council member to support local retail and small businesses in Aurora?
Hogan: “For the communities of Bennett, Louisville, Westminster, Wheat Ridge, I developed a façade improvement program. It offered small businesses in our community the ability to do matched grant funding in cooperation with their respective cities or towns to improve their façades. It was very, very successful.”
Jurinsky: “The first thing I would do is look at where small businesses are over- regulated.” She would also make sure that all licenses (e.g., business, sales tax, and liquor licenses) were going out in a timely manner.
Ronquillo: “Small businesses are the backbone of our community. The city draws nearly 60% of its revenue from sales taxes. I can’t think of anything more empowering than the opportunity for somebody to own a business, create jobs and bring a lot of value to the community.” He also said it is important to support immigrant-owned, women-owned and minority-owned businesses.
Zvonek: “1) We need to create an environment of certainty. We can’t have a council that’s telling small businesses what they should put on their menu or how much they need to pay their employees. 2) I propose the idea of having a red tape round-up that would ask anybody who complies with rules, regulations and processes (how to) make Aurora the most business friendly city in the state. 3) We need to ensure that our small businesses feel safe… Many of them in the Havana Business District have concerns about the homeless encampments and the public safety challenges that creates.”
Bailey: “We need you to continue to support business development through the Aurora Small Business Development Center. They had been key and strategic in helping many of our small businesses have…a vision, a goal, a plan and a way to get there. They offer funding and support services. We also need to think about decreasing the tax liability for our small businesses for the first five years. This is the time when most small businesses fail.” She also said that “added support for filing for local and federal assistance programs for minority owned, small owned and immigrant owned businesses is fundamental in keeping our small business district alive, functioning and thriving.”
Marshall Zelinger of 9News said, “100 officers have left the Aurora police force since January 2020. The deputy police chief recently told one of my colleagues that staffing shortages are a critical problem for the department. So, what calls for service do you think the police should no longer prioritize and does Aurora Police need to lower its standards for new officers?”
Jurinsky: “Calls for service that should stop going to officers are bad parenting calls. They are literally being called out because someone can’t get their kid to go to bed.” Jurinsky responded, “Absolutely not” to the question of lowering standard for new officers. To get new officers, Jurinsky said, “It starts by first and foremost having a council and a city that supports them. Secondly, I would like to look into better pay and better benefits for our Aurora Police Department.”
Zvonek said that “there have been a number of staff reports that have been done to look at how civil employees within the police department, the functions that they should take over. I think we need to go back and look at those because many of the recommendations haven’t been implemented. (We should) make sure that we are sending officers where they belong.” To the question of lowering standards for hiring new officers, Zvonek said, “Absolutely not. We need to make sure that our police department is supported by council. We need to make sure that they are fully staffed, fully funded and have access to the best available training.”
Ronquillo: “The city has launched the Aurora mobile response team recently, based on the CAHOOTS program (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) out of Eugene Oregon which has been very successful for the past decade, similar to the STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) program in Denver that sends a paramedic, maybe a counselor to focus on some issues that are not necessarily going to be violent or resulting in an arrest. I’m supportive of this program, I hope that the pilot yields good results and that we will see an ability to fully fund this program citywide. In terms of lowering the standards, absolutely not… I would like to codify an employee retention program that specifically focuses on our police and fire. The amount of money that we spend to train these officers and our fire personnel is a sunk cost when they decide to leave for other departments… We need to pay them what they’re worth and keep them in the city of Aurora.”
Bailey: “We must continue to uphold and execute the Office of Police Accountability, Transparency and Transformation (PATT) that was created out of the Police Oversight Committee. It’s in our budget. It has not been established. This is going to help us… in looking at the calls that officers are receiving, the way that things are being handled; (we should) actually not be reacting to crime… but preventing things from happening, reducing our police liability. We are looking at $17 million per suit. We have $10 million in liability insurance… We have to have the CRT (crisis response team) step in for mental health crises when they happen. We have to utilize the things that are in the community and redirect those dollars back to grassroots organizations.” On the question of lowering the standards to get more officers, Bailey said, “First, we should higher the standards. We’ve watched that fail miserably.” She returned to the role of the PATT “to make sure that things are happening appropriately within our officers’ lives every day.”
Hogan: She would not prioritize “the calls that are not necessary for a police officer and can be handled by a police partner,” adding, “Standards for officers need to be kept at the priority and the quality that our citizens deserve.” To hire new officers, she suggested, “I think we have to look at our pay and benefits for officers and make sure that is competitive. I also think we need to make sure that our officers feel and know how valued they are in the City of Aurora.
Sergio Ornelas talked about two ordinances that would have benefited the undocumented community that were brought before the Aurora City Council earlier in the year and failed. One would have “limited cooperation between the authorities and immigration officials” and the other would have “created a legal defense fund for the immigrant community.” He asked the candidates if they would support those ordinances if they came up again and why.
Bailey: “Yes, I would support both ordinances. We have to stop criminalizing people. It’s not illegal to be in our nation. If you don’t speak the language, there needs to be someone who steps in…I will always support immigrants.”
Hogan: “There is a lane that municipalities need to stay in. Sometimes that lane works with other partners but it doesn’t cross it. There is a distinct line between an Aurora city council member and the federal government that oversees detention facilities and oversees immigration practices.”
Jurinsky: “I would not support either of those ordinances.” According to Jurinsky, she was told by an ICE official that “90 percent of the inmates in the ICE facility are not there because they entered the country illegally but because they committed further crimes.”
Ronquillo: “I would support both ordinances. I don’t believe that the city of Aurora should be responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws. We should focus on city issues.”
Zvonek: “No, I wouldn’t support either of (the two ordinances). I don’t think it’s the proper role of city government to provide (legal defense) funds. While (John Ronquillo) says that it’s not up to the Aurora Police Department to enforce federal immigration laws, it’s also not up to the city of Aurora to just ignore federal immigration laws.”
There were also questions about public transportation, homelessness in Aurora, and how the city budget is allocated.