Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien.
Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien had a low profile even when he won the office last spring. Since he
took office July 20, he’s been working to build more community connections and to put his imprint on the office.
Since he succeeded three-term Auditor Dennis Gallagher — a Denver political icon from decades in elected office at the state and local levels — he’s had flashy shoes to fill with his lower-key approach.
Auditor Tim O’Brien’s office sent this mailer to 50,000 homes. (Click image to enlarge)
The office has sought to maintain some visibility recently through promotional spending, along with placing print and online ads to seek out workers still owed back pay from past public projects because their employers failed to pay prevailing wages. O’Brien and his office stress that both kinds of paid outreach serve a purpose and keep pace with the office’s activities under Gallagher.
On the promotional side, a recent mailer to 50,000 homes introduces O’Brien and outlines some of the Denver auditor’s office functions, along with laying out some details of its audit plan for this year. The cost, according to communications director Kathleen MacKenzie, was 39 cents per piece, or $19,500.
She says the plan is to convey regular information in the future using the office’s low-cost (or virtually no-cost) e-mail newsletter, but first the office has to build a list. The mailer includes an invitation for recipients to sign up on the website.
Gallagher’s office didn’t leave behind any e-mail distribution lists it had compiled, MacKenzie said, so O’Brien’s staff is starting from scratch.
“During the campaign, so many people I spoke to asked me, ‘How are you going to communicate with me?’ ” O’Brien said in a comment provided by his office. “We publish an email newsletter every month, it’s just that lots of people in Denver don’t subscribe to it yet. Part of the reason we mailed the Action Card was to encourage residents to sign up for the electronic newsletter, and many have.”
The office said it tried to avoid heavy promotion of O’Brien, who will face re-election in three years, instead focusing on what the office is doing — similar to how legislators can send constituents taxpayer-paid mail describing what they are working on.
“With the Action Card, we tried to transmit as much substantive information as we could, condensing our 22-page audit plan into an inexpensive format,” O’Brien said. “I’ve already gotten feedback from recipients who are impressed with the number of audits in our plan. As an added bonus, we’ve gotten information from the community on what their concerns are about city government. This is important input for current and future audits.”
MacKenzie, a former City Council member hired by O’Brien after he took office, said the money for the mailers came from unspent money in the 2015 budget, since O’Brien had not finished filling out executive positions.
She said Gallagher used the office’s budget last year for activities that included producing a 20-page, full-color booklet promoting Gallagher’s impact as auditor over his dozen years in office, as well as a short documentary about Gallagher’s public service.
O’Brien has been less visible so far. But he recently had his most visible moment when his office released a scathing and outrage-spurring audit of Rocky Mountain Human Services, a nonprofit that receives dedicated tax revenue to serve disabled people. It was found to have misused millions of dollars.
Currently, the auditor’s office homepage seems to revel in the attention the audit received by summarizing reaction and linking to various media reports, including several articles and editorials run by The Denver Post.