New faces on city council but will the direction change?

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 11/20/19

It’s a wrap on the 2019 municipal and school board elections. The election judges did their job, the ballots have been counted and the winners were declared — with the exception of the Aurora …

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New faces on city council but will the direction change?

Posted

It’s a wrap on the 2019 municipal and school board elections. The election judges did their job, the ballots have been counted and the winners were declared — with the exception of the Aurora Mayor’s race.

In most cases, the newly elected mayors and council members have been sworn-in and seated at the dais,or they will be shortly.

There are new mayors in Thornton, Northglenn, Federal Heights, Broomfield and Commerce City while the incumbent mayors in Arvada and Lakewood won re-election.

Among the city council seats, there are a bunch of new folks including Westminster.

As I had predicted, there are two new Westminster folks who won council seats — Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith. Incumbent Anita Seitz won re-election. All council seats in Westminster are for four-year terms.

Sizing up the votes

It’s always interesting to analyze the votes to the extent possible and see if there were any lessons to be learned.

While Seitz was the top vote getter overall (11,831) over Seymour (11,624), Seymour was the highest voter getter in the Jefferson County portion of Westminster with 5,106 votes compared to Seitz at 5,018.

Seitz garnered the most votes from the Adams County-portion of Westminster with 6,813 votes while Seymour had 6,518, Smith at 6,512 and Bruce Baker at 6,387.

I wasn’t surprised with Seymour and Smith doing well on the Adams County side as they worked hard in Historic Westminster. All eight candidates received more votes on the Adams County side than the Jefferson County part of the city.

Pat Moore had placed an emphasis on representation for the Historic Westminster area. While I agree with her point, her campaign produced last place for her. In part, it proves the point that candidates must appeal to all geographic parts of the city.

Second time around was a charm

So, for Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith the election produced a second time charm for both of them. In 2017, Seymour ran for mayor unsuccessfully while Smith failed to gain a council seat then. In Bruce Baker’s case, he has come up short in his last four attempts at elected office — Westminster Mayor, U.S. Congressman, Colorado House of Representatives and Westminster City Council member.

You will recall that Michele Haney and Sheela Mahnke were appointed by City Council along with Jon Voelz in a somewhat controversial move instead of calling a special election to fill three vacant seats. It is hard to tell if voters were expressing their disfavor with these two appointments, but the issue certainly did come up during the campaign season. Nick Dyer was new to the Westminster political scene finishing 7th in the vote getting.

It’s a new ball game with new players

With the newly elected council members sworn-in on November 11th, the election of the mayor pro-tem was the next order of business. Under the Westminster City Charter, the seven member city council selects one of their peers to serve in this capacity for two years.

The outcome of this process this time may well be indicative of how things will change from the previous council regularly voting in a 6-1 pattern — with David Demott being the lone vote against many issues.

Seitz had served the previous year as Mayor Pro Tem and sought the position again, and both Demott and Kathryn Skulley threw their hats in the ring as well.

It took 17 rounds of voting to produce a winner with Skulley finally pulling her name out of consideration, opening the door for Seitz to be elected on a 4-3 vote.

My forecast is that there will be considerable differences of opinion now, after this “changing of the guard” and 4-3 votes will be more of the norm than the previous predictable 6-1 voting pattern. After all, Seymour and Smith represented change to the voting public while Haney and Mahnke were viewed as “status quo.”

City Manager Don Tripp and his staff will have to get comfortable with the change in the council’s perspective.

Will councilors modify their positions?

It will especially be interesting to see how this newly configured City Council will address a variety of pending major policy issues.

Will Seitz, Skulley, Voelz and Mayor Atchison modify their positions on the pace and volume of new growth, especially the number of apartment complexes?

The Pillar of Fire (“the Farm”) development proposal will be coming to Planning Commission for public hearings in December/January. How will they view and decide on the development plan, which has been in the making for literally years? Will the Council ask about water resource commitments for such a large development?

The Comprehensive Land Use Plan is still being worked on by city staff. How will this City Council view high density designated land uses? The issue of the high density planned for the New Downtown (urban center) certainly came up numerous times during the campaign.

More issues for the new council to ponder

What about the issue of spending more than 1% of the $7.7 million Parks, Open Space and Trails budget to acquire more open space and trail development?

What about the council asking for a water resources and conservation plan that provides a clear picture on the city’s ability to serve the new developments and beyond?

The existing comprehensive plan calling for 5,566 new residential units over a period of time going out to 2035 is not realistic and does nothing to manage growth. This should be comprehensive in addressing not only the apartment developments and other residential proposals, but hotels, office buildings, restaurants and other non-residential developments.

Incumbents and mayoral candidates will want to be thoughtful

Westminster voters demonstrated their increased interest in actions taken by the previous council.

Councilors DeMott, Skulley and Voelz will be up for re-election in 2021. Mayor Atchison will be term limited at that time, which means a new set of candidates will evolve who have their eye on the Mayor’s seat.

So, any of the six current city councilors who desire a shot at the mayor’s position will need to be cognizant of their actions over the next two years and how the public view their actions.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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