In February 2007, reporter John Schroyer offered the following article entitled "Denver auditor faces 'candidate of destiny' in May election." Reprinted in its entirety with permission from the author, this article provides extensive profiles of each candidate along with the issues animating the campaign.
If you don't think this is the most thorough and engaging story of the 2007 Denver auditor's race, I'll eat my hat.
For Bill Wells, the job of Denver City Auditor isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.
“It’s just something I’ve got to do,” Wells explained. “It’s a dream.”
Wells, a retired automobile parts manufacturer who’s been filling his spare time working as an airport inspections officer for TSA, has already run for the auditor’s job, in 1979 and then again in 2003, when current Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher won his first term. But Wells isn’t letting his past failures distract him from his goal.
“I started campaigning shortly before the November election. It’s been a very behind-the-scenes thing so far, but I’m not going to lose,” Wells said. “I knew, election night four years ago, that I was going to run again. It didn’t make any difference who else was running.”
Though he came in dead last of the five candidates listed on the ballot in the 2003 election, with only 5 percent of the vote, the 60-year-old Wells says this time will be different (Gallagher took first in the 2003 general election with 31 percent and then won a run-off a month later against second-place finisher Ed Thomas).
With a campaign slogan of “An auditor for auditor — what a novel idea,” Wells has been quietly shoring up support and canvassing neighborhoods. He’s been talking about the different ways he wants to cut out inefficiency from Denver’s daily operations, which he learned about firsthand between 1973 and 1980, when he served as Denver’s Budget and Management Analyst.
“I was bewildered to see the amount of government waste and the bureaucracy that prevented any improvements. I know what some of the problems are, and I know what some of the solutions are,” Wells said.
He said one of the biggest problems he noted at the time was the inefficient upkeep of municipal vehicles.
“I uncovered the city spending $10,000 to $15,000 thousand a year on vehicles that were only worth $5,000. The same amount of dollars could have purchased a new vehicle that would have lasted longer,” Wells recalled.
“That’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said with a chuckle.
Wells also cites his ingenuity and foresight in devising a method for calculating licenses and permit fees, a fifty-point plan that was adopted by the Denver City Council while he was working with the Budget Office. In 1999, Wells said, the Financial Accounting Standards Board adopted a similar plan and required it be implemented nationwide.
“I started that twenty years before it became the standard,” Wells said.
More than his qualifications, though, Wells says Denver voters are tired of Gallagher’s style.
“Dennis wasn’t cut out to be an auditor,” Wells said. “Dennis just doesn’t have the makeup to be an auditor. He’s a very good politician, no one will disagree with that. He’s probably one of the best. Meeting and greeting people and name recognition, he’s very good at that, but when it comes to running an office of professionals in a non-political way, I don’t think he knows how to do that.”
Wells said though Gallagher has made a number of mistakes over the years, one that stuck out for him was the “$9 billion mistake,” at the very beginning of his term, when Gallagher calculated the amount of debt Denver has. His office somehow misplaced a decimal point, and instead of the true amount of debt, Gallagher wound up proclaiming that Denver was $9 billion less in the hole than it actually was.
Wells has held office before — he ran for and won a seat on the city council of Smethport, Pennsylvania, a town of roughly 1,700 people, where he lived from 1983 to 2001. Wells said he moved to Smethport when his father, who was ailing, asked him to run the family business, Smethport Auto Parts, a now-defunct parts manufacturer. Simply moving from one state to another didn’t relieve Wells’ desire to serve in public office, though, and he wound up serving on Smethport’s city council, from 1988 to 1996, and was elected council president both terms.
So far, he’s hired no official campaign staff, and though he said his campaign will be “the typical deal,” he also said it would be much smaller and less of “a high-profile type thing.” His strategy was to keep his candidacy quiet until the last minute in the hopes that “no one else would jump on the bandwagon.”
Gallagher, by contrast, has been proudly extolling his campaign to voters for months, and was even able to kill two birds with one stone, thanks to the special election in January when Denver voters approved a measure to disband the Denver Election Commission in favor of an elected clerk and recorder. Gallagher, a longtime proponent of the switch, campaigned hard for the measure, and was delighted when it passed.
“The campaign is going very well,” Gallagher said. “I got a little bit of an early start because I was supporting the amendment for the elected clerk. That was a sort of prelude to the campaign. By supporting that, I reminded everybody that I’m up again in May.”
The 67-year-old Democrat has held public office without a break since 1970, when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives. He stayed there until 1974, when he moved over to the State Senate. Once term limits for public officials were approved by voters, though, Gallagher found himself term-limited after the 1994 election, and quit the senate for a Denver City Council campaign a year later. He served there until 2003, when he was again term-limited, and then was elected to city auditor. For this election cycle, he’s already turned in his petitions, weeks ahead of the deadline, and with 500 signatures as opposed to the requisite 300.
After this term, though, he says he’ll be done with politics, and plans to retire and write short stories “like James Joyce,” he said with a grin.
For now, however, he’s taking reelection quite seriously.
Gallagher laughed at Wells’ slogan, and retorted, “That’s a great motto. Mine is ‘audit the hell out of them, no matter what.’”
He also rejected Wells’ suggestion that he was unqualified for the post.
“I was sixteen years on the state audit committee. Do you think that’s long enough?” Gallagher asked rhetorically. He served on the state senate audit committee from 1978 to 1994.
He also scoffed at the insinuation that the so-called $9 billion mistake was a crucial slip-up, and said he even heard from his 7th grade math teacher about that snafu.
“She said, Dennis, I’m praying for you, and with a mistake like that, you should be working for the federal government,” he laughed.
His mission, he said, is bringing ever more accountability and efficiency to Denver city departments. Gallagher cited one example where his office had discovered an agency using 411 every time they needed to find a phone number, instead of simply using either the Internet or a phone book, at an estimated annual cost of $25,000. After they brought the matter to light, Gallagher said, the cost was reduced to just a few thousand.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to improve city government and making it more accountable to the taxpayers,” Gallagher said.
Another issue Gallagher says resonates with voters is performance audits, which his office was authorized to begin after Denver voters passed 1B last November.
“That is going to be our new thrust,” Gallagher said. “It’s through performance audits that you find out almost everything that’s going on.”
Gallagher said that tool is going to increase Denver’s bureaucratic effectiveness by allowing his office to “get in deep” and find out how to help city offices figure out the best and most effective ways to do their jobs.
Another aspect of 1B Gallagher’s pleased with is that from now on, the city audit committee will be comprised of financial experts from outside the city’s infrastructure, which he believes will increase the committee’s objectivity and integrity.
“If you remember Enron, that’s how they got in trouble,” Gallagher said, referring to the past structure, which allowed for two members of the committee to be appointed by the mayor. “I’ve always supported getting outside members on the audit committee. All along, in my years in office, we’ve been pushing for a totally independent audit committee, and I’m pleased to report that we’ll have that now.”
Gallagher said he will also be campaigning on his role with the prevailing wage law, which protects construction workers and other contract employees from being undercut by companies with which Denver contracts for projects. The law requires employers to pay a competitive wage, and Gallagher says his office has concentrated on enforcing those protections.
“We’ve made it very clear from the beginning with construction companies and companies that do business with the city what prevailing wage is,” Gallagher stated.
Gallagher’s also being supported by an enormous contingent of Colorado Democrats, including Denver lawmakers Sen. Paula Sandoval and Rep. Jerry Frangas, former legislators Regis Groff, Paul Sandoval, Rob Hernandez, Frank DiFillipo, Bill Thiebaut, Gloria Tanner, Wilma Webb, and Frana Mace. Gallagher has also been endorsed by the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council, the Laborer’s local 720, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees local 821, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 68, the Teamsters local 2004, the United Food and Commercial Workers local 7, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades local 930, the Plumbers Union local 3, the Plumbers and Pipefitters local 208, and the Colorado State Electrical Workers. Gallagher has also been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CD 7.
As of Feb. 5, Gallagher had $29,672 on hand. Wells has not filed campaign finance reports with the Denver Election Commission yet.