Regardless of their political leanings, Americans seem to agree: One of the things we dislike most about elected officials in the nation’s capital—and, to a lesser degree, in our respective state governments—is their inability to get anything done. Even so, as our representatives continue to pander, pontificate, and raise their personal profiles, we have an irritating tendency to keep re-electing the very same types of pols we say we disdain. We scream for change, but our votes tell a different story, and the politicians seem happy to give us what we perhaps deserve: gridlock.

Doing nothing, however, is not a luxury members of Denver’s City Council have. “This is an operational job, not a policy job,” former council president and current District 5 councilwoman Mary Beth Susman says. “You’ve got to plow the streets and sweep and pick up the garbage.” Imagine that: a group of elected officials who actually have to get things done or they will be held accountable by their constituents. What a radical idea! Of course, this is how it should be, but because that kind of governing is so rare these days, it feels novel. Senior editor Natasha Gardner knows. She spent countless hours at (occasionally tedious) meetings and interviewed each of the 13 council members to bring you this month’s “Inside The Sometimes-Contentious, Surprisingly Productive, and Never-Boring World Of Denver’s City Council.” “Talking to a councilor can give you whiplash,” Gardner says. “One moment they’re talking potholes, and the next they’re dreaming big about the city’s future. It’s a constant—and fascinating—balancing act.” My advice: Take a few minutes, read Gardner’s fun and informative look at our City Council (seven of the members are rookies), and find out what your representative can do for you.

Gardner’s foray into local government isn’t this issue’s only dive into political waters. Senior staff writer Robert Sanchez has long wanted to profile District Attorney George Brauchler but was unable to interview the 46-year-old at length until after the Aurora theater trial concluded because of the judge’s gag order. This issue’s “Life After Death” explores the controversial attorney, who was urged in 2013 to run for governor and has quickly become one of the state’s most high-profile Republicans. (He was also tapped by the GOP to vie for Michael Bennet’s U.S. Senate seat; Brauchler decided not to run in late September.) But what interested Sanchez more than Brauchler’s political ambitions was the push and pull between his faith—Brauchler is a devout Catholic—and his quest for justice during the theater trial. “I was surprised at how open he was discussing the case and his support of the death penalty,” Sanchez says. “Actually, I was impressed with how civil everyone was when speaking about this issue. They were set in their arguments, but they never conveyed things in a way that demeaned the other side.” Maybe that’s another lesson folks in D.C. could take from the local government playbook: Civil discourse, along with a little cooperation, can encourage productivity. I’d vote for that.

This article was originally published in 5280 December 2015.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke