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Politics and Government

Jared Polis doesn’t live at the governor’s mansion, but his top advisers get to stay rent-free

The private living areas at the residence still need $550,000 in renovations to upgrade them to modern standards for the first family, report says

The Colorado Governor's Residence in Denver on Nov. 20, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Just because Jared Polis isn’t living at the governor’s mansion, it doesn’t mean “Colorado’s home” is empty.

The Democratic governor is allowing two cabinet members from the Western Slope to regularly stay overnight at the Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion when they work in Denver, and his chief of staff did the same earlier this year. 

All three top officials stay rent-free — unlike other out-of-town administration officials and state lawmakers, who pay for their own lodging while serving in state Capital.

This news first appeared in The Unaffiliated. Subscribe here to get the twice-weekly political newsletter from The Colorado Sun.

The guest list for the private areas on the mansion’s two upper floors is the discretion of the governor, and the Polis administration acknowledged the arrangement only after repeated questions from The Colorado Sun. The governor’s office said the overnight stays don’t cost taxpayers any money and align with the practice of prior administrations. 

“This ensures that Coloradans outside the Denver metro area are represented in our cabinet and senior staff,” said Conor Cahill, a Polis spokesman.

Weeks after he won election in November 2018, Polis said he wouldn’t live in the mansion, deciding instead to stay his partner and their two young children in Boulder. If he refrains, he would be the first governor to not live at the mansion for a portion of his term since the Boettcher family donated the grand estate at 400 E. Eighth Ave. to the state in 1960. 

Polis drew criticism for the decision not to live there permanently, but two prior governors lived at the mansion only for a time and let other administration officials stay at the residence. Former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and his son lived in a three-room apartment in the carriage house on the estate grounds and other cabinet officials in John Hickenlooper’s administration stayed in the main house from time to time.

Two members of Polis cabinet stay for free at mansion while in Denver

The governor’s office said he has stayed overnight a couple times since taking office, but the more frequent guests are two cabinet members, Jeff Robbins and Dan Gibbs.

Robbins, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission who is tasked with creating the tougher new regulations envisioned in Senate Bill 181, lives in southwestern Colorado. A spokeswoman said he sleeps at the mansion when he works in Denver, which most weeks is Monday through Thursday or Friday. “Since he is from Durango, having this option means that Gov. Polis is able to have experts that live out of the Denver Metro area serve in his administration,” said commission spokeswoman Megan Castle.

Gibbs, the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, lives in Breckenridge, a roughly two-hour drive from Denver. A spokesman said he stays at the mansion most of the time when he works in Denver, which is two to three days a week in between his other meetings and travel. “Dan considers himself a Western Slope person. He enjoys living in Summit County,” department spokesman Chris Arend said. He added that Gibbs is making a sacrifice to be away from his family while serving in his post. “It’s not the best situation, but it’s what he’s been able to arrange.”

Both men are responsible for their own food, laundry and cleaning, administration officials said. The state pays the cost of a mansion director and other staff to arrange events and keep the first floor clean.

From January through April, during the legislative session, the governor’s chief of staff, Lisa Kaufmann, also frequently stayed at the mansion, sometimes with her husband and young daughter. Kaufmann, who lives in Lyons, has since found her own place to stay in Denver.

At least three other members of Polis’ cabinet came from outside the Denver metro area, but do not stay at the mansion, according to the governor’s office. Like state lawmakers, cabinet officials often will pay out of their own pockets to rent or purchase a place to stay in Denver during their terms of service.

The Colorado Governor’s Residence in Denver on Nov. 20, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Lawmakers approved $2 million for mansion repairs

The Polis administration also uses the mansion for other functions, whether cabinet retreats, state dinners or hosting military families. But in recent years, it’s needed significant repairs to keep it functioning.

Back in 1959, the state legislature initially rejected the donation of the mansion from the Boettcher Foundation because of its cost. But days before its scheduled demolition, Gov. Stephen McNichols accepted the gift in 1960. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

In 2014, an architectural report identified repair needs totaling $7.3 million. Colorado lawmakers earmarked $1 million in each of the past three budgets to pay for repairs at the mansion, which was originally built in 1908, and the repairs are ongoing.

The 22 taxpayer-funded projects at the mansion finished or scheduled for completion by the end of the year include replacing sections of the roof and gutters; swapping out 44 aluminum windows to make them historically accurate; repairing the back porch; and restoring the fountain on the south terrace, according to a June report from Humphries Poli Architects, the Denver-based company overseeing the work.

The second set of repairs for the next year includes more than a dozen items, such as replacing lighting on the grounds, repainting the carriage house and reconstructing the perimeter wall.

The list includes no significant upgrades to the private living areas on the second and third floors, which are estimated to cost $550,000. Hickenlooper, the former two-term governor who stayed at the mansion for periods of time, requested a renovation plan after he “learned the shortcomings of life in the residence” with a family, according to the architect’s report. The 2018 plan includes removing walls to connect and expand the private kitchen, dining and living space; adding a small deck; and remodeling the master bedroom into a modern suite.

Polis’ chief of staff takes role of interior decorator 

The private foundation that runs education programs at the mansion, the Governor’s Residence Preservation Fund, recently raised private dollars and grant money to reinstate elementary school educational tours, executive director CoCo Criste said.

The free holiday tours that begin Dec. 6 are one of the most popular programs at the mansion. This year, the governor’s chief of staff is taking the role of interior decorator for the holidays, a role typically played by local volunteers from the American Society of Interior Designers, who are assigned or bid for a room.

Kaufmann is working with other administration officials and even state lawmakers to design and decorate the first floor of the Capitol Hill home.