Proposed Ballot Measures May Drastically Change City Government

~ by Bob Volpe ~

On April 3, 2018 Woodland Park voters will elect a mayor and three council members to new terms.

Also, voters may decide the fate of two proposed citizen initiatives, pending the outcome of a current petition-gathering process. One proposal would merge the 1 percent street capital improvements sales tax with the 2 percent sales tax for the general fund. Ostensibly, this would allow funds earmarked pecifically for street improvements to be used for other things deemed necessary by city council.

The second measure is a city charter initiative. It asks voters to change the form of government of Woodland Park “from a council-manager government to a mayor-council government.” This is also referred to as a “strong mayor” form of government. This measure would eliminate the position of city manager and allow for the mayor to be paid a $5,000 monthly salary.

Former Councilman Bob Carlsen is the author of the ballot questions. Carlsen is in the process of gathering signatures to get the questions on the ballot. He has the support of several prominent business owners and citizens including the Downtown Development Authority and Woodland Park Main Street, who endorse these measures. In addition, such prominent business owners as Tanner Coy, Jerry and Vickie Good, Merry Jo Larsen, Jan Wilson, Elijah Murphy, Nikki of Nikki’s Knot, Dana of Dana’s Dance Studio and many others support the plans.

Carlsen said, “These business owners recognize that the ballot questions if answered affirmatively by voters will improve the business climate and reduce their onerous property taxes, as they pay about 3-4 times what residents pay on their properties.  The best way you can help small businesses and yourselves is to sign the petitions and then vote YES!”

Carlsen is employing the “door to door” method of gathering signatures. He said, “It takes about 20 minutes per residence to go door to door for signatures,” he estimated.

Voters registered within the city limits can also find the petitions at such businesses as Tweeds, Williams Log Cabin Furniture, Curves, Cowhand, Historic Ute Inn and Nikki’s Knot.

A tough petition deadline

Recently the city adopted new standards and rules that must be met for a citizen to get a measure on the ballot. This is the first election in which the new rules apply. Carlsen mentioned he encountered some hurdles getting his measures to clear the new rules.

He said, “City Clerk, Suzanne Leclercq, has been very helpful, even as she is learning the new rules.  The City Attorney has been slower in providing timely advice as to whether the draft ordinances met the legal requirements, and then telling us at the last moment that we had one month instead of three months to collect signatures. So this has been a learning experience for everyone. 

“At least now we will know how to process ballot ordinances and petitions going forward.”  He continued, “When we started this process in September, seven months before the April 3 election, we were given milestone dates that required signatures by the end of February 2018.  However, the City Attorney has advised that the signatures are required 90 days before the election.  Learning this at the end of November was unhelpful, almost ensuring that unless we get the required signatures, we will then have to use the 90 days allowed for gathering signatures and then proceed with a special election.  We want to save taxpayers money by avoiding a special election.”

There was some discussion at a recent city council meeting on the subject of these measures.

 

Councilman Ken Matthews gave a brief warning about signing a petition without reading it. He addressed the question of going to a strong mayor form of government.

He said, “My question is: Why?” He pointed out that there are only three municipalities in Colorado that have a strong mayor form of government. Those three are Colorado Springs, Denver, and most recently Pueblo.”

Matthews continued, “We are not like these cities and managing Woodland Park like Denver does not make any sense.”

 

Plus, a glaring omission in the strong mayor ballot question was also addressed by City Attorney Erin Smith recently. The petition did not state when the strong mayor would take effect if passed. Smith said, “I have reviewed the law in Colorado and conclude the following: Will the mayor elected in 2018 be a strong mayor? No. Then how and when will the strong mayor be elected? At the April 2020 election.”