For the record, as a Teller County Commissioner, and a member of the board of Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI)my experience has taught me that virtually all of the time, issues that face our county are complicated and rarely lend themselves to simple uncomplicated remedies. When State Laws dictate certain behavior, but include opt-out language to allow for local control, it was typically developed to garner sufficient support for passage of the measure. That was the case with both Senate Bill 152 and Amendment 17. I am fully in support of voting “Yes” on both of these opt-outs as approved for the ballot by resolution of the Board of County Commissioners, and allowing for the local control that is provided for in both of these laws. I would likely vote to opt-out of any State Law that would allow for that decision at the local level. Your reporter apparently considers the Senate Bill 152 opt-out favorably and the term limit initiative less so. My concerns which follow are primarily regarding the exercise of our rights under the opt-out provision of Amendment 17 which limits county officials’ terms.
It was with great disappointment that I read the multiple offerings from Rick Langenberg regarding the two county ballot issues that will be put before the voters this November in your July 19th issue. First, Mr. Langenberg “covered” the events of the July 14 public Board of County Commissioners meeting in Ballot Hysteria Continues in Teller County and then followed it up with his Missing Links column with a subheading of A Bad April Fool’s Joke. The coverage and comment, coming from Mr. Langenberg was astonishing, as he was neither present for the presentations nor did he show any evidence of engaging in even a cursory effort to interview any of the participants, pro or con, prior to unleashing an inaccurate and insulting flurry of misinformation.
Let’s start with the Hysteria news article. Had Mr. Langenberg been in attendance, he would have known that this effort came from citizens and was not some sinister plot by treacherous elected officials to surreptitiously manipulate the electoral system. I reported in detail that a request had been made by several constituents to move forward a ballot initiative to exercise our constitutional opt-out of term limits for the off-year election in 2015. I further clarified that I could not commit to an opt-out opportunity for our constituents then, but would support it in a presidential election year when voter participation is at its zenith. At the meeting, I honored that commitment. Had he been present to hear this, he might not have reported that “the timing of this proposition may raise questions as a number of elected leaders have already entered their second and final terms while two other high-profile leaders could be entering that stage next January” as if due to the very nature of a two-term limit, any present or future elected official could ever find themselves in a different position.
Again, had he actually “covered” the meeting in person as his article insinuates, he would have been exposed to the consequences learned from over 20 years of term limits by State Representative Polly Lawrence and retired Commissioner Jim Ignatius by letter, and District Attorney Dan May and five Teller County citizens who were concerned enough to attend the meeting, and advocated for including the initiative on the ballot at a rate of 100%, and for its passage with only one dissenter. The reasons provided for both sides of this opt-out were numerous and detailed and it is pathetic that as an organization trusted with the responsibility to inform the public on the issues, you published such slipshod reporting that actually served to mislead your readers.
Mr. Langenberg, in his effort to produce his requisite column inches regarding the meeting by your publication deadline, also made two significant misrepresentations regarding the number of already opted-out counties and the previous effort to alter the constitutional term limits only a few years after their inception. He reported “23 Colorado Counties, many of which are of similar size (and scope) to Teller, (County) have already eliminated term limits” which was included in the first draft of the resolution, but at the meeting the corrected version was read and distributed, clearly showing that 25 have done so. He also asserted that previously “…
County leaders tried to eliminate term restrictions for certain elected positions and conducted an aggressive campaign.” Had he made even one phone call to any of the remaining county leadership from that timeframe, he would have been informed that the campaign was anything but aggressive. When I invested about 20 minutes in preparation for this letter and made those contacts, the most often conveyed descriptions were “tepid,” “last-minute” and “non-existent.”
Mr. Langenberg also characterized the flavor of the arguments in favor which were offered by the participants, but then editorialized the last few paragraphs of the article with what appear to be his opinions that elimination of term limits would “provide more of an advantage for current incumbents and the status quo…” attributing this comment to pro-term limit advocates. He further reported “The idea of no term limits would make it even more difficult for unaffiliated contenders and Democrats to seek these positions,” attributing this assertion to political sources. If in fact, Mr. Langenberg actually did do some substantive research with these sources, why did he not specifically address who they were? I suspect that they exist only in his imagination, just like the balance of his reporting in this “news” report. Bottom line, if you are seriously identifying your publication as a “newspaper” and your assigned employee as a “reporter” it is a requisite expectation that they conduct some investigation of the subject matter and at a minimum, drag their behinds to the events they cover. In this instance, neither of those activities occurred.
Mr. Langenberg’s opinion piece, while not bound to facts or reality as it is clearly an attempt to entertain, actually deserves some scrutiny and correction that I will acknowledge represent my opinion as a citizen of Teller County and the United States of America. First, his assertion that “An attempt to end state-mandated term limits and anoint themselves and other elected leaders as Kings,” ignores our electoral process and frankly, insults every voter who has participated, not to mention all of those who make the difficult decision to run for elected office and are subjected to the unnecessary ridicule of muckrakers like your columnist, in an effort to be “funny.”
He further misrepresents significant facts with regard to the number of interested candidates Teller County voters can choose from in any given election, the constant shuffling of elected officials from one elected position to another, and that the elimination of term limits will result in a small group of people determining the future of every election. Since these were offered in a clearly marked opinion piece, I will acknowledge that the First Amendment protects Mr. Langenberg, even when providing his utterly ridiculous ramblings. Our Founders provided us with a system of checks and balances with three branches of government. The fourth cornerstone of the foundation of this nation is a free and unfettered press, to check and balance the checks and balances. I would hope this letter gives you and your reporter/columnist cause for a moment of reflection on your constitutional responsibilities.
The final item I will point out is his contention that “…A Blanket plan to end term limits on all positions, with no strings attached, is a darn good April Fool’s Joke. We will consider that for our next Mountain Crackpot issue.” I have no misconceptions that you already appreciate that your chosen moniker for your “Joke” issue is not limited to the first of April by most of your readers, but the idea that a focused ballot initiative that will put Teller County on an equal footing with 25 of the 64 counties, when we compete with them for the return of millions of tax dollars at the state level that are taken from Teller County every year, surely deserves more serious consideration.
The simple facts are that with a few notable exceptions, the overwhelming majority of Teller County elections since the inception of term limits have offered only a single, unopposed candidate. The reality exists that every departure of an elected official who has required substantial training, expertise and experience to accomplish their duties, not to mention our dedicated county employees who are faced with the prospect of an uncertain future which often incentivizes their departure, all contributes to egregious turnover ratios and unnecessary training expenses which fall on our taxpayers to cover and our constituents to endure. Finally and most importantly, it is the undisputed truth that under the two-term limit, with the exception of an expensive and difficult recall, every single one of our county elected officials is blissfully free of the ravages of accountability to the electorate for more than half of the eight years they are permitted to serve. When simply dismissing the important analysis and consideration of opting-out of term limits, which Mr. Langenberg characterized as failing the “smell test” and as “ridiculous,” he demonstrates an incredible level of arrogance and irresponsibility.
I trust that recognizing your constitutional duty as what passes for that “free and unfettered press” that the Bill of Rights as its very first item protects, and without which we find our freedom at risk, you will publish this letter in its entirety, and additionally apologize to your readers for repeatedly characterizing them as incapable of voting intelligently in any election. Teller County Voters have proven repeatedly that we can decide for ourselves, who we trust to represent our best interests and we should all vote to be free of artificial, nanny-state restrictions in making those decisions.
Editor’s Note: Stay Tuned for Round Two in the Battle Over Term Limits, with the TMJ Response to Commissioner Paul next week. We look forward to more opinions and comments regarding this ballot issue and many of the other propositions voters will face this November. Make sure to vote and to get involved in the upcoming election. For ongoing election information, visit www.mountainjackpot.com.