LAKEWOOD — Despite voters in Jefferson County (Jeffco) overwhelmingly rejecting higher taxes twice in the last three years, the Democrat-controlled county commission is back at it again.
Only this time, they are willing to pay big money to a political consulting company co-owned by Ian Silverii, the activist husband of US Representative Brittany Pettersen, whose congressional district includes Jeffco.
Silverii is hoping he can help secure what looks to be another ballot initiative to de-TABOR county revenues and/or raise taxes in some form. However, multiple problems with the process around how and to whom Jeffco awarded the hefty contract, appear to signal inside connections influencing the decision.
On Nov. 2, 2023, Jeffco’s acting purchasing operations manager Vera Braeckman-Kennedy signed a contract for $340,000 with The Bighorn Company, a Lakewood-based campaign, public policy, and government relations consulting firm co-led by Silverii, the former executive director of Progress Now Colorado, which touts itself as the state’s “largest and most effective multi-issue progressive organization.” Silverii has been married to Rep. Pettersen, a Democrat, since 2017.
Of that $340K, Silverii, who according to the Secretary of State’s website donated to the election campaigns of all three of the Jefferson County commissioners who ultimately approved his contract, brings in $180,000 as a consulting fee for his part in the services.
Questions swirl around bidding process
Although the contract was the final step in the request for proposal (RFP) process, the circumstances around that RFP are suspect, beginning with how the RFP was coded on the BidNet site where it was posted on Aug. 21, 2023 and closed to new applicants just a month later on Sept. 25.
BidNet is a service used by consulting firms to get notified when RFPs are posted for bidding. It uses a sophisticated coding system that subscribers can choose from to determine what they want to be notified for.
Braeckman-Kennedy coded the RFP in broad categories (91800 – consulting services and 96100 and 96200 – two other “miscellaneous” categories) and not the stand-alone categories that consultants would generally subscribe to, other political consulting firms in the Denver area confirmed to Complete Colorado. Such categories produce far too many options for firms that generally specialize in specific areas when looking for opportunities.
“Anything can be coded under consulting services,” said one consultant. “If I’m a public policy consultant, I don’t want my email filled up with offers to consult on environmental issues, or the food industry, or financing, they are not in my wheelhouse, but they are all consulting services.”
BidNet staffers confirmed that to be true to Complete Colorado, adding that the codes Braeckman-Kennedy used on this bid would not trigger the system to notify anyone who had subscribed to any of the subcategories below them. Subscribers to the service would have had to intentionally select the broad codes.
For example, the code 91806 is specifically for administrative consulting jobs. Anyone subscribing to receive word of open RFPs under that code would not be notified of any administrative consulting RFPs if they were listed using the broader 91800 consulting code only, thus limiting the number of vendors who may see the open offers.
Complete Colorado reached out to Braeckman-Kennedy via email to inquire about her reasons for using the codes she did, but did not hear back, likewise, a call to the county also went unreturned.
Also suspect is the number of proposals (2) submitted to Jefferson County versus the number of companies who requested the RFP information (23). The only other firm (Cornerstone Government Affairs) that turned in a proposal offered their services for $25,000 per month, plus a flat rate of $25,000 for polling services, compared to Silverii’s proposal which breaks down the charges as $180,000 in payment to Silverii, $110,000 for public opinion research, $20,000 for a fiscal policy expert, and $30,000 for legal policy council.
“It is odd that so many people pulled the paperwork, but only two turned it in,” another consultant said.
Complete Colorado also reached out to several of the other firms that pulled the information packets but never turned them in and did not hear back. Most of the other firms were also progressive-leaning firms. The firms that were willing to comment asked for anonymity out of concern for retaliation by Jeffco, or other governments, in the awarding of future RFPs.
Relationships run deep in Jeffco
Bighorn’s Website boasts that it has never lost a ballot initiative. However, success may not be the only thing that made Silverii attractive to Jefferson County. The connections and history between Silverii, Pettersen, and Jefferson County’s leadership run deep.
Silverii and Pettersen worked together for years pushing progressive policy, while Pettersen represented the Jefferson County-heavy House District 28 in the Colorado legislature from 2013-19 and then Colorado Senate District 22 from 2019-23.
During Pettersen’s time in the legislature, she served alongside two of Jefferson County’s three commissioners who ultimately selected Silverii for the contract: Andy Kerr, who represented Senate District 22 from 2013-19, and Tracy Kraft-Tharp, who represented House District 29 from 2013-2021. Pettersen’s relationship with the third commissioner, Lesley Dahlkemper, dates to Dahlkemper’s time on the Jefferson County school board. In addition to donating to each other’s political campaigns over the years, the two women worked closely on several bills impacting education as well as the successful recall against three Jeffco school board members in 2015.
Under the contract, Silverii says he will supply:
- Recommend strategy to inform decision-makers
- Policy Research and Development
- Community outreach
- Strategic Communications
- Final recommendations report and presentation
Long-time Jefferson County political activist Natalie Menten sees serious problems in awarding the contract.
“This contract also designates $110,000 of our public money for polling surveys,” said Menten, who is concerned that will include what are known as push polls. “They are a political stunt.”
Push polls are commonly used for political campaigns and are often used by individuals or organizations in an attempt to manipulate or alter prospective voters’ views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll.
“We’re one of thirteen counties in Colorado that aren’t willing to give up our tax limitations,” Menten said. “We said no in 2019 and 2022 to a tax hike and eliminating TABOR government revenue caps. The problem is that we have three county commissioners who don’t want to listen to our voices. Instead, they thumbed their noses at voters and started spending our public funds on a ballot issue campaign headed up by a political strategist. It’s barely legal, but it’s not acceptable.”
Menten also took issue with the contract providing what she sees as electioneering services.
“The Bighorn contract lays out recruiting the campaign team, setting up the fundraising, and providing the strategic communications,” Menten said. “That’s called being a campaign manager, and you’re using our taxes to pay this consultant to do it. That’s an obscene use of taxpayer money. We have said no twice. Spending our public money on the Bighorn political operative is an abuse of power on the county commissioner’s part and a misuse of taxpayers’ funds.”
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.