Opinions on changing rules for special council elections

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 4/5/21

In my opinion, there are a lot more issues that warrant Westminster City Council candidate responses than just water rates and water supply. Voters deserve more information and insight on where …

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Opinions on changing rules for special council elections

Posted

In my opinion, there are a lot more issues that warrant Westminster City Council candidate responses than just water rates and water supply. Voters deserve more information and insight on where candidates stand on these issues.

I have identified numerous issues that have occurred with the Westminster City Council over the last 18-24 months and designed a process to gather insight from the candidates.

My first question, sent to all Mayoral and City Council candidates, reads as follows:

“Do you support a City Charter Amendment which would mandate a special election when two or more City Council vacancies occur?”

Three is the trigger

Currently, the Charter specifies three vacancies to trigger a special election. In 2018, the city council did appoint three people to fill vacancies created by Shannon Bird, Maria De Cambra and Emma Pinter resigning. Some citizens thought this action violated the City Charter.

For the reader’s edification, I am sharing the existing relevant wording in the Westminster City Charter. It is Section 5.7 (b). “If any vacancy in the office of Councilman which the Council is authorized to fill is not so filled within thirty (30) days after such vacancy occurs, or if three (3) or more vacancies exist simultaneously in the office of Councilman, such vacancies shall be filled for the respective unexpired terms at a special election.”

GROUND RULES

There are a couple of ground rules to share before I recite what each candidate said either in full or partially.

Given word count limits for my column, I am unable to recite every sentence from every candidate. If you desire more input from a candidate, I suggest you contact them directly. There are three Mayoral and seven City Council candidates right now and their responses are listed alphabetically.

Mayoral candidates’ responses

Let’s first take the responses from the three Mayoral candidates.

Nancy McNally stated “I would be in favor of an amendment. In the event a councilor is up for election to another position before their current term ends, and gets elected, it is clear there will be a vacancy no matter when swearing-in is of the second position. The night of the election in my mind is the trigger for the vacancy. When the council had two positions elected to new offices and one that resigned to go to another job within the same timeline, I always felt there should have been an election by the people.”

Incumbent Council Member Anita Seitz stated “With the limited amount of information given in the question it is impossible to make a determination of support or opposition, but I am open-minded. However, in light of the pandemic, financial crisis, aging infrastructure, other pressing needs of our community, and that this issue does not appear to be a pressing concern for the vast majority of residents, an amendment to our charter to address a theoretical dual council vacancy is not a priority of mine.”

Austin Watts stated “When it comes to filling two simultaneous vacancies on the City Council, I would support a City Charter Amendment allowing our voters to decide who fills the positions through a special election. From what I’ve seen recently, people are losing trust in our governing bodies. We must eliminate corruption and the appearance of corruption in our politics if we want to fix the aforementioned public trust.”

City Council candidates’ responses

Now, here are answers from the seven City Council candidates.

Bruce Baker stated “To answer your Charter question to mandate a special election when 2 council vacancies occur; Yes, I would support the change. Decent ethics are essential for decent government. The answers candidates give need to be widely shared with the Public. Actions by individuals are even more important.”

Incumbent David DeMott stated “I called for a special election (in 2018). The council at that time took action of appointing new members to those 3 spots effectively taking the voice out of people in my view. I think we need to address this in the charter to assure if we hit an issue as we did in 2018 we have a special election and I would be open to looking at a change to a special election if 2 seats are vacated at once.”

Kathleen Dodaro stated “I would support a mandate for a special election when 2 vacancies occur in a 30 day period.”

Obi Ezeadi stated “…I believe an equitable solution exists between the two extremes of appointments and special elections. If your thought experiment permits, I would actually change the proposed amendment as follows: When two or more City Council vacancies occur, such vacancy shall be filled for the respective unexpired terms by the candidates receiving the 4th and 5th highest number of votes from the city’s most recent regular election.”

Sarah Nurmela stated “If we worked diligently to ensure that participation in special elections is representative of the City’s demographics, and the likelihood of needing to replace 2 council members is still very low, then I could see adjusting down from 3 to 2, the timing for which would be determined in relation to other City priorities.”

Incumbent Kathryn Skulley stated “Yes, with qualifications, I would support a City Charter Amendment. Residents have a responsibility and right to determine how the city should be governed and guided through unexpected situations. Amending the City Charter should always be done with circumspection, for great care must be taken to scrutinize the possible scenarios and potential consequences of the Amendment.” Incumbent Jon Voelz stated “I am neither for or against the Charter Amendment you referenced. I would need more information before I can answer your question regarding Charter Amendments. For example, I would need to know the cost to Westminster taxpayers and the amount of staff time to complete it. I would also need to know if there is broad public support for moving forward and spending precious City resources for this effort.”

Clear support for two-seat trigger

So, you can see that two out of three Mayoral candidates (McNally and Watts) favor the concept of the Charter Amendment as outlined with Seitz not declaring a “yes” or “no” position.

Five out of seven City Council candidates support it (Baker, DeMott, Dodaro, Nurmela & Skulley). Candidate Ezeadi had an alternative approach and Council member Voelz was undecided on the idea.

As you would have noted, there were some qualifications in the responses with a few candidates. An example is the cost of the special election. Based on previous information from the Westminster City Clerk pertaining to the recall election, the cost of such an election would be approximately $200,000. In comparison, the 2021 General Fund Operating budget is $141.7 million, plus cash reserves.

Going forward

I’m going to withhold comment on the individual responses contained in this column or future ones about this informational process, for a while at least. I may comment in summary form as we approach the distribution of the mail-in ballots in October.

Voters need to be well informed on each candidate’s positions when deciding who to support. Since the Westminster City Charter declares Mayoral and City Council elections to be non-partisan, the focus should be on individual candidates as opposed to party affiliation. I will be stressing succinct responses from candidates on future questions.

Roughly speaking, I will do two sets of questions/responses per month. I hope you will find this effort to be informative.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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