Woodland Park group preparing to scrutinize city constitution

government_website_design-1024x432

Mayoral selection sparks charter review

by Rick Langenberg

The city of Woodland Park’s mini-constitution, originally crafted in 1977, is ready for another overhaul, with voters making the final decisions during the next election.

However, a key leader of the city charter review effort cautions that residents don’t have to worry about a slew of changes. But the group may address several key community concerns, including future selections of vacated elected seats, government housekeeping measures and possibly another bid to alter the current prohibitions against city incentives for private developments or certain projects.

Last week, Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey announced the formation of a charter review committee, comprised of three council members and four citizens. The council members selected for the committee last week include Harvey, who will head the effort, and Ken Matthews and John Schafer. The other members will be picked on Feb. 19. Once the entire committee is selected, the group will face the daunting task of reviewing Woodland Park’s complete city charter, developed when Woodland became a home-rule city, and proposing a series of amendments. They will then make recommendations to the council, which would decide on the specific ballot proposals to be referred to the voters. Ultimately, the WP citizens will have the final say in April 2016, the next regularly scheduled municipal election. “This is our constitution,” said Harvey, following last week’s council meeting in discussing the charter overhaul process. “We want to have a good, clean review.”

The last time a charter review occurred was around 2000 and 2001, with voters deciding the fate of approximately 10 proposed changes to the city’s constitution. This initial review was capped by efforts to tighten up the procedures for handling citizen-driven petitions regarding referendums, initiatives and recalls. These changes played a big role in determining the future political landscape of Woodland Park, such as making it tougher for a group of citizens to block a Wal-Mart development in 2005 and other projects. Prior to this review, the city was bombarded by many petition drives, one of which killed plans for a mega housing development off Hwy. 67. This charter review vote also paved the way for the formation of the Downtown Development Authority and a defined district

The original charter review group worked extensively on the process for months. Harvey doesn’t expect that many issues will be voted on this time. “Most charters are pretty boiler plate (documents),” she admitted. But the mayor pro tem concedes that the process will be time consuming with the group facing a tight deadline. The timing of the changes must be done in coordination with the city’s election schedule in 2016, unless leaders opt for a special election.

Mayor selection fueling review

The charter review process is being sparked by a huge controversy surrounding the selection of a mayor, following the exit of former WP Mayor Dave Turley last summer.

Due to certain time rules in the city charter, the council was forced to make a final decision by a chance drawing between the two finalists: Neil Levy and Phil Mella. Levy got the nod, after the council couldn’t reach a majority consensus. Many people who attended the appointment process were outraged by the way the final decision was handled, especially with such an important pick and with a hefty lineup of candidates for the spot. At the time, the final council votes for the mayoral spot ended in a tie repeatedly. And unfortunately, due to the charter restrictions, the council was obligated to pick a head leader that evening. This led to the final pick from pulling names from a bowl.

However the city mayoral pick system used by leaders garnered many complaints and gave the city a black eye, according to some reports. Besides the issue of a mayoral vacancy, the charter review may evaluate how other appointments are made within the city government.

Development and building matters could also come into play. Some concerns have occurred about amending the city’s current prohibitions against offering financial incentives to private developers This issue has been voted on several times in the past, with no success for those who have favored loosening up city restrictions to spark more projects that would provide tangible economic benefits. Some also want to change the incentive rules for projects that encourage affordable housing opportunities. Currently, city development incentives, in the form of tax rebates, are only offered for those projects done within the DDA district.

City voters initially passed an anti-incentives initiative that blocked the first proposed Wal-Mart development proposal in the late 1980s and then rejected a plan to reverse the anti-incentives law about 10 years ago by a resounding margin.

Anyone interested in applying for a position on the charter review committee, should visit the city’s website for details. Eligible applicants must be residents of Woodland Park and must abide by a few other requirements. For more information, call 719-687-9246.