Protecting local determination

Bill Christopher, Crosscurrents
Posted

When the state Legislature is in session you never know when a new attack on local determination will be under way. We have seen it time and time again and for a variety of reasons. For example, remember Photo Red?

It was a traffic enforcement tool which was an alternative to hiring more police officers to enforce speed limits in those communities which chose to implement the photo program.

Well, the then state Legislature passed a bill that gutted the effectiveness of this tool and took away the decision-making of city councils in home rule cities like Westminster, Thornton, Boulder, Lakewood, Arvada and Aurora. Well, the latest attempt is a mandate from the Legislature to usurp local decision-making on recognizing firefighters’ unions.

State mandate for collective bargaining

State Sen. Lois Tochtrop is pushing the bill that would declare unionizing firefighters to be “a matter of statewide interest and concern” and take away that decision-making process at the local level. State law does not prohibit firefighter unions. Some municipal fire departments and fire districts are currently unionized such as Denver, Englewood and Thornton.

Currently, city councils make the decision on whether to recognize unions. Furthermore, there is the option to petition the question on local ballots over the objection of councils. This occurred in 1981 in Westminster when the voters soundly defeated an attempt at police and fire unionization. What else do you need as far as options?

Encouraging stance by Hick

It was most encouraging last week when Gov. John Hickenlooper released a letter sent to the House Speaker and Senate president in which he stated, “We do not believe it is a matter of state interest to require mandatory bargaining between a locality and its firefighters.”

Tochtrop’s bill has already passed the Senate and currently is in the House. If the House approves it (which I think they will given the Democratic Party’s close connections to labor and collective bargaining), it will be up to the governor to decide the bill’s fate. This same situation happened in 2009 when Bill Ritter was governor and he vetoed the bill. Let’s hope that Hickenlooper will do the same. Local determination needs to be upheld. Additional personnel costs such as increased salaries, more vacation time, increased insurance premiums and overtime compensation should be decided by the local elected officials; not the local collective bargaining unit with a threat of strike.

Open to the public

Hooray for transparency and an open court proceeding. The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that the Jessica Ridgeway murder case hearing involving the charges against Austin Sigg shall be conducted in open court.

Earlier, District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger had ruled to close the proceedings. We the public want to know what takes place in this heinous case as does America and the world. Such prosecution cases should be tried in the open so that the public can be apprised of the testimony and the outcome. Let’s not have such proceedings hidden behind a legal mumbo jumbo cloak. The public has a right to know.

Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.