Something in the water: A key ingredient in Westminster politics

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 9/15/20

If you enjoy and focus on local history like I do, you know that water has played a key role in Westminster’s political history. There was the “Mothers’ March on City Hall” in the early …

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Something in the water: A key ingredient in Westminster politics

Posted

If you enjoy and focus on local history like I do, you know that water has played a key role in Westminster’s political history.

There was the “Mothers’ March on City Hall” in the early 1960’s protesting the water quality of the municipal water system. It made the national TV news. That situation segued into the issue of whether the city should contract with the Denver Water Board for treated water or remain independent with the city providing water service. This issue split the community with neighbor against neighbor. Two separate elections were held about this issue with the conclusion to stay with Westminster having its own independent water utility.

In the late 1960’s, unincorporated Shaw Heights residents were faced with water issues with their supplier, the North West Water Corporation. Residents wanted an alternate water supply and they wanted it soon. Should they contract with the Denver Water Board or with the City of Westminster? Ultimately, their elected water board voted to go with Westminster, but not without some small, translucent worms appearing in their water before the decision.

Dissatisfaction, mistrust and unrest

Now it’s 2020 and the issue is again water. However, this time it is over water rates.

At the recommendation of the city manager, the City Council voted to significantly raise water and sewer rates for 2019 and 2020. City leaders said the rate increases were necessary due to the needed aggressive utility capital improvements plan which caused a $100 million utility bond issue to be authorized.

Earlier this year, Councillor Seymour with the support of Councillors DeMott and Smith attempted to have the city provide relief on the higher rates until next year. The attempt failed with Atchison, Seitz, Skulley and Voelz not supporting the idea. It should be noted that the council did approve a no-rate increase for 2021, extending the current 2020 rates but with the exceptionally hot and dry summer, higher water consumption exacerbated the higher rate structure producing costly water/ sewer bills never seen before. Some bills were $500, $600 and even $1,000 for one month.

This situation has evolved into increased dissatisfaction, mistrust and unrest among residents leading to the first step in a recall action of four members of city council.

Mayor Atchison and City Council members Seitz, Skulley and Voelz are targeted based in part for not postponing the higher rates for the summer of 2020.

Recall is underway

The process to recall Westminster municipal elected officials is not an easy task — nor should it be.

Basically, the petitioners have 60 days from the time the affidavits are received by the City Clerk’s Office to gather at least 25% of the votes of the mayor and council candidate’s previous election vote tally. Roughly, to put Mayor Atchison on the recall ballot would require approximately 5,000 valid signatures. For council members, it is approximately 6,100 valid signatures for each one. So, we will see how the recall group does with a deadline right before the November 3 election.

It’s a pity as the recall perhaps could have been avoided.

It’s a pity that the mayor and three council members failed to see the light on joining Seymour,

DeMott and Smith on rolling back the 2020 water rate increase as summer hit. Just think, it very well could have prevented this recall effort.

When you are paying $500-$600 or even $1,000 per month in the heat of this summer to irrigate your lawn, you are likely to think all kinds of thoughts. Then there is the lady with her $250 water bill forced to choose between paying her water bill or purchasing groceries. This all could have been likely avoided if ONLY one of the four had some empathy and had seen the light.

Celebrate RTD’s N-Line opening

There’s a train coming down those tracks! RTD’s N Line is scheduled to open on September 21. Hooray!

That is good news for the North Adams County area consisting of Commerce City, Northglenn and Thornton. The 13 mile line starts at Union Station going north to the National Western Complex, Commerce City, Northglenn with the current end of line station in Thornton at Eastlake-124 Avenue station. RTD says the remaining 5.5 mile segment of the N-Line will be built as funding becomes available. The line consists of six stations with a total of 2,480 parking spaces.

It’s great to have commuter rail service for this portion of Adams County as its cities join the other corridors that were a part of the 2004 FasTracks plan approved by metro area voters. Furthermore, it is great to see another public-private partnership achieve design, construction, operation and maintenance of another passenger rail service line.

Now, if we could only get something going on the NW Rail Line from Westminster to at least Boulder.

Nancy Mcnally announces run

In case you missed the surprising announcement from last week, former Westminster Mayor Nancy McNally is the first candidate to announce her candidacy for Westminster Mayor in next year’s municipal election.

While it is unusual among the majority of candidates for mayor or city council seats to announce this early, her reasoning was quite sound. As she stated, she has watched the current less-than-transparent and conspiring approach to local governance in Westminster long enough and felt compelled to do something about it. She is motivated to “get the city back on track.”

She pointed out when she left office in November, 2013 that the city was financially solid and had a definitive water plan and growth plan for a city of 120,000 people that were well coordinated. Now, the city and its citizens don’t have either.

She points out fundamental rule of equal treatment

She recounted her experience on the Jefferson County School Board of Education when it was a divided 3-2 board. The three in control were shown favor by the superintendent of schools and given exclusive information. When she became president of the school board, she made it clear that there would not be any favoritism and that the five must work together.

The superintendent left and the board came together to serve the school district. She shared this experience and then compared the Westminster City Council and City Manager to the same unacceptable type of behavior. In her “straight-up” manner, she stated that City Manager Don Tripp was playing favorites with weekly closed door meetings and sharing information only with the four favorites. This puts the other three and the public at an extreme disadvantage. She argues that all seven City Councilors and the city manager must have open two-way conversations and sharing of information.

It’s getting interesting

Like I said, this announcement was unforeseen and it must have surprised the current mayor, city manager and city council members. It probably was especially concerning to Councilor Seitz who has had her eye on the mayor’s seat going back to 2017. Some politicos had assumed that Councilor DeMott would be announcing to run for mayor.

It’s going to be an intriguing time with the Covid-19 pandemic, a city government with a budget shortfall of up to $30 million, the recall effort under way, an undefined amount of water resources left to quench the thirst of more apartments and a growing unrest and lack of trust among members of the public.

Welcome to Westminster politics 101.

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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