Denver mayor’s office of social equity lambasted by auditor

Two years after its launch, the Mayor’s Office for Social Equity and Innovation still does not have a cohesive strategy for its initiatives or for evaluating progress toward increasing equity and eliminating poverty. racial and social injustice throughout the city, said the city auditor.

The bureau also failed to disclose relevant contractual information before the end of the audit process and gave spurious answers to auditor questions, Denver auditor Timothy O’Brien said in a report released last week. .

“This audit was nothing beyond the norm for any assessment we might make, and no city agency is above an independent assessment,” O’Brien said. “I’m disappointed that office leaders and even the mayor have so completely misunderstood how the audits work and how they have misrepresented the integrity of our research and findings.”

The Mayor’s Office of Social Equity and Innovation was created by Executive Order of the Mayor in June 2020 after several years of planning. The office oversees efforts by city agencies to evaluate Denver’s systems, policies, and practices to increase equity and eliminate racial and social injustice.

But the office could be blocked by the executive order that established it, the auditor said.

The ordinance is vague about its authority to enforce city agency requirements, the audit found. The office cannot force agencies to create racial equity action plans or require them to participate in equity training. Staff said they were “blocked” when trying to work with some agencies on initiatives.

“As a result, several city agencies are not complying with the executive order,” according to the auditor’s statement. “They haven’t signed citywide equity pledges, created agency-level equity plans, or received training on social equity, race and social justice.”

The Mayor’s Office of Social Equity and Innovation now needs strong leadership and support from the Mayor’s team to get back on track after high executive turnover recently and a lack of clear direction, the statement said.

The office has gone through three chief equity officers since its inception, according to the auditor’s report. Since the co-pilot’s departure, the lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities has created tension and confusion among new and existing staff. Staff roles and responsibilities are underdeveloped because previous leaders did not prioritize their creation and did not document their knowledge or vision before leaving, the report said.

The office had 8.5 full-time staff and a recommended budget of just over $1 million for 2022.

The audit found six different mission statements and two short strategy documents, all of which lacked detail, clear mission statements and measurable goals. Best practices show that organizations should have a clear mission and more detailed strategic planning documents, policies and procedures that explain how the agency will achieve its mission, said Tayler Overschmidt, director of communications for the Denver Auditor’s office.

The audit examined whether the Mayor’s Office of Social Equity effectively designed, implemented and evaluated its initiatives to achieve its goal of increasing social equity and minimizing institutional, structural and systemic racism within the municipal administration. The audit found the office needed a detailed strategic plan, clearer authority when working with other city agencies and more support from the mayor’s office, according to the press release.

Near the end of the audit, the audit team uncovered a $30,000 consulting contract between the city and a company owned and operated by the former acting chief equity officer. The former officer attended the initial meeting with leaders of the mayor’s social equity office near the start of the audit work and did not disclose the current contract, Overschmidt said.

Despite several attempts by the auditor’s office to ensure it had all of the documents necessary for the audit, the contract was not provided by the city, Overschmidt said. “Because it was not provided to us during the audit…we were unable to audit the contract to determine if the city got what it paid for and if the work done under it contract could have met some of our recommendations.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he has welcomed audits in the past, even when they were critical of his office, because the reports can lead to improvements in city operations. However, in a statement released last week, he criticized this one.

While there were some positive recommendations for future operations and the overall structure of the city’s equity programs and practices, there was an incomplete description of the history and evolution of the city’s equity work. city ​​in the report, gross omissions of equity work in action and other errors. suggesting that this audit was undertaken in haste and without a serious appreciation of the challenges of establishing a new office in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the mayor said.

“Conducting this audit later, when the office is better established and its work more fully integrated with city departments, would have provided a much more beneficial examination of the impacts of its operations and areas where processes could be improved,” said the mayor. in a report.

However, most of the report’s recommendations include criticisms of a lack of strategic planning, measures of success, clearer definitions of roles and responsibilities, empowerment of staff, better internal communication and more accurate accounting procedures, said Hancock, who will complete his third and final term next year.

These are recommendations that the Social Equity Office accepts, he said, and they are actions that the office was planning to implement or is already in the process of implementing.

The Office of Social Equity and Innovation works to advance equity across all city departments and programs, with the goal of creating a more accessible, diverse, and inclusive city government.

The recently launched Social Equity Cannabis Program was part of the office’s work in conjunction with the city’s Department of Excise and Licensing. Less than a year later, applicants said the program already seemed to be failing.

Because the Mayor’s Office of Social Equity was created by executive order, there is a risk that a future major will end the program or revoke the executive order. The Denver auditor said he found no documentation that the mayor’s office or social equity staff had begun sending out a proposed ordinance to make the office permanent, as they had the intention to do so when signing the decree.

“I hope this audit inspires current leaders to begin building a stronger framework that will ensure the important work of this office has a real and lasting impact in the city for a long time to come,” O’Brien said.

AFTER: To read the full audit report, visit: https://denvergov.org/Government/Agencies-Departments-Offices/Agencies-Departments-Offices-Directory/Auditors-Office/Audit-Services/Audit-Reports/City- Equity- Program-and-Practices

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