AURORA, Colo. – On Monday, some Aurora city council members invited members of the community to share their opinions on the city seeking proposals to calculate the costs of privatizing the city’s public defender services during the public comment section of the city council meeting.
For months, Aurora City Council Representative Dustin Zvonek said he’s asked the city manager to issue a request for proposals to take a closer look to see if the city could save money by dissolving the city’s public defender’s office and contracting out those services to private attorneys.
“I asked the city manager, a different city manager to do this cost analysis, and it never got done. And so, a year later, I actually just ran a resolution, which is why this conversation is back and being discussed,” Zvonek said. “I wanted to have this assessment done to determine whether or not that cost savings was real.”
Zvonek said the Citizens Advisory Budget Committee (CABC) suggested that the cost savings could be near a million dollars.
But some council members are pushing back against that estimate and the call for proposals.
“I think anytime you try to make a change in government, the defenders of the status quo fight back hard and the fact that there's so much pushback against even doing the cost analysis really raises a red flag for me,” Zvonek said.
Aurora City Council Representative Alison Coombs said there’s nothing wrong with looking at costs savings but this proposal wasn’t born out of pure curiosity.
“Our chief public defender, Doug Wilson, who retired this year, had made comments in opposition to mandatory minimums. And that's when this whole push started,” Coombs said. “It was initiated in a situation that appears retaliatory. Those staff members who are our city employees who we are responsible for protecting and supporting as fiduciaries of the city, they feel like they have a target on their back.”
Coombs also thinks some are overestimating the cost savings.
“It was predicated on the idea that it would cost only $85 an hour…a chief justice directive requires that they be paid at least $100 an hour to provide contract public defense. But also the city has no private attorneys being paid less than $175 an hour at this time,” Coombs said.
Zvonek said he admits, the CABC’s estimate could be wrong.
“I've said as much multiple times in many public forums, that if the actual numbers come back, the apples-to-apples comparison, come back, and there's a de minimis or no savings at all, then we would move forward, this conversation would be over,” Zvonek said.
Coombs said council members will hear the details of the requests for proposals next week.