In fact, they most likely will decide the fate of many key changes to the city’s charter or mini-constitution dealing with such issues as elections, council appointments and term limits, developer incentives, public notification procedures and internal housekeeping measures.
And if citizens want to add their own questions to this list, now is the time to act.
Last week, Woodland Park Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey, who has headed the city’s charter review committee for the last year, gave a short snapshot of the pending ballot issues. The city’s home-rule charter document was first approved in the mid-1970s and then it was slightly amended about 15 years ago.
However, the city council will have the final say in deciding if the group’s list of seven proposed questions should be advanced to the voters next April. In order for that to occur, the question wording must get finalized by mid-January 2016.
Some of the hot issues facing the voters could include another attempt at allowing the city government to offer financial incentives to developers of future projects. Only this time, the question will deal with only permitting these incentives to occur for projects that provide a “valid public purpose.”
Financial incentives has been a touchy subject in Woodland Park, with voters expressing much opposition to providing infrastructure and tax benefits and other perks to developers. On two previous occasions, voters have said “no way” to city hall incentives for private projects.
Instead, certain tax rebate benefits have been provided to projects occurring within the Downtown Development Authority District.
However, proponents of the pro-incentives idea continue to advocate that times have changed and Woodland Park must compete better with other communities for future development, especially when these projects include affordable housing ventures. But critics say this creates an unfair playing field for current business operators.
Elections and Media Restrictions
And when it comes to elections, the charter committee wants voters to consider changing the way appointments are currently handled.
Under one possible question, voters would be asked to eliminate the 30-day requirement to fill a vacated seat and even open the door for having a special election to decide a council or mayoral opening, if the elected leaders can’t reach a final majority verdict.
This issue is a byproduct of the “hung jury” process that occurred in 2014 in picking current Mayor Neil Levy. The council was deadlocked in making an appointment selection between the two top finalists, including Levy and current council member Phil Mella, and opted for a chance drawing. Many residents complained about this procedure, which culminated by picking a name from a bowl, for finalizing such as important position.
Some civic leaders believed that the city should have held a special election to determine this seat.
Also, the charter group wants to firm up the current eight consecutive-year limit for serving on the council. Exceptions could occur for appointments, so a person wouldn’t receive the boot in the middle or beginning of a term. This is another awkward scenario when a previous council member Terry Harrison was handed his walking papers, after his time on the council exceeded nine years.
“We want to simplify the charter and allow it be more flexible,” said Harvey.
Another hot issue could deal with the proposition of shutting the door on the local media, when it comes to publishing legal notices, ordinances and other legal documents. The charter group still favors designating a local newspaper for its public notification process. But at the same time, they want to heavily restrict what items are published in a newspaper, by using the city’s website and social media outlets more. For example, the city may just opt for publishing the title of certain lengthy ordinances, and then have them posted on-line.
In addition, residents will probably cast tallies on a number of housekeeping matters and regulatory changes, such as altering the timing of the annual report provided by the city manager.
Councilman Bob Carlsen asked about adding more questions to the list, if residents want to suggest certain charter-related ballot questions of their own. Harvey stated they could try to do this, but they would have to compile questions by the first meeting in January.
But the idea of people adding to this list didn’t receive much support by Carlsen’s peers on the council. They lauded the work of the charter group for the last year. Several council members noted that all of these meeting were open to the public, if citizens wanted to comment on the review process.
“We are in a Catch 22,” argued Carlsen. “I don’t think too many public (citizens) showed up (at these meetings).”
However, the majority council members stood firmly behind the work of the charter committee and the preliminary list of questions they compiled.
The committee’s proposed ballot questions will be formally presented to the council on January 7, 2016, according to Harvey. She said the group will make a detailed pitch, outlining the history of the charter and the reasons for these specific amendments.