Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will announce today that longtime private-sector executive Jose Cornejo will be his new manager of Public Works — one of two Cabinet positions left to be filled.

Cornejo, 56, a Chilean immigrant and brother-in-law of previous Denver Mayor Guillermo "Bill" Vidal, will earn a salary of $172,614 — the second-highest among Cabinet members. (The first is Manager of Aviation Kim Day, who earns $240,996.)

Cornejo said he emigrated from Chile in the 1970s to escape the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

He settled in Denver in 1976, eventually earning a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado. Since 1983, he has worked for Littleton-based engineering firm J.F. Sato and Associates, where he is president and chief executive.

Jose M. Cornejo poses for a portrait in his backyard in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver on Aug. 30, 2011.
Jose M. Cornejo poses for a portrait in his backyard in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver on Aug. 30, 2011. (Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

Hancock picked Cornejo to bring a more global approach to the position that oversees streets and bridges, garbage collection, snow removal, parking enforcement and a host of other services.

"What we were looking for was someone who can see things at a much higher level, someone who maybe is an engineer but doesn't think as much in the weeds as most engineers do," Hancock said.

Cornejo said his arm was twisted into applying for the job by Vidal, who was Denver's Public Works manager before being appointed as mayor, a position he held from January 2011 to July, between the terms of John Hickenlooper and Hancock.

Cornejo said he applied because the job fit with his civic-minded ideals and love of civil engineering.


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"I'm not just an engineer," Cornejo said. "I have been heavily involved in social issues and cultural issues. I have been an organizer in a parallel life. For me, this is the perfect opportunity to put the two and two together."

Avoiding conflicts

Cornejo said he met with Michael Henry, staff director of the Denver Board of Ethics, to figure out how to avoid conflicts of interest that could arise because his company has had contracts with the city and county of Denver.

Cornejo said he will resign today from the company and will be sworn in April 14. J.F. Sato currently has an on-call structural-engineering contract with Denver International Airport. Cornejo said he will have to separate himself from anything to do with that contract and any future bids for work by the company.

Jim Sato, founder of the company, said Cornejo — who goes by the nickname "Pepe" — is an ethical man. Cornejo and his wife, Marcia, and their three sons are quality citizens, he said.

"The strength of Jose is his integrity," he said. "He will make a great manager of Public Works. He is a model citizen and will serve Hancock well."

Jose Cornejo gives a speech after Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced his appointment as the new Manager of the Department of Public Works for the
Jose Cornejo gives a speech after Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced his appointment as the new Manager of the Department of Public Works for the City and County of Denver on February 28, 2012, at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, in Denver. (Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado )

Interim Public Works manager George Delaney will become the agency's chief operating officer. Delaney, a finalist for the position, said he will likely focus on the day-to-day operations of the department.