Wards or at-large: Key discussion due for Westminster

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 7/1/20

There is an important item scheduled to be discussed as part of the Westminster City Council’s July 6 study session. Very few voters even know about it or just what is slated to be addressed. Some …

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Wards or at-large: Key discussion due for Westminster

Posted

There is an important item scheduled to be discussed as part of the Westminster City Council’s July 6 study session.

Very few voters even know about it or just what is slated to be addressed. Some care and some don’t, but this opportunity is fundamental in practicing democracy and the will of the people.

I am referring to the pending issue of whether or not the methodology of how city council candidates are elected should be changed.

I have written about this issue previously because it deserves a full opportunity to be decided by the citizens. It was discussed back in early May and that revealed a 4-3 council split on whether to seek citizen input on the matter of how city council candidates are elected.

Basically, Mayor Herb Atchison, Mayor Pro Tem Anita Seitz and Councillors Katherine Skulley and Jon Voelz did not wish to seek public input from this fundamental governance question. The trio of David DeMotte, Rich Seymour and Lindsey Smith all favor putting an advisory question on the November ballot.

But they ended that May meeting agreeing to discuss the idea further at a July study session.

Wards are a valid issue that warrants input

The main argument by the four who don’t want to seek citizen input is that this is not a real issue. They say they have not heard any concerns in changing the 62-year-old all at-large approach to elect the six members of Council.

The three who favor an advisory vote say this has been an issue during the last two city council elections and it came up time and time again in their door-to-door campaigning.

I have certainly heard from folks who want to pursue a different approach. In previous columns, I have contrasted how much Westminster has changed since 1958 when the City Charter established the all at-large approach.

Today Westminster has a much larger population, a huge land area and more diverse and is a geographically different, mature city. And, it should be noted that not a single council member resides south of 100th Avenue in the Adams County portion or north of 120th Avenue. Local advocacy is compromised.

Local issues warrant in-district advocates

Clearly, there are different issues and needs in the various geographical parts of Westminster. This is true for most communities.

Simply being located in three separate school districts and two counties generates different issues for Westminster residents. The issues and challenges Westminster Public Schools District faces are very different from Adams 12 Five Star School District or Jeffco R-1 School District and those can involve the Westminster city government.

The needs are different in different parts of the city. For example, the northern part of the city has never realized a recreation center contemplated in the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Historic Westminster has more economic development challenges even with the commuter rail station. The western part of the city must cope with increasing jet traffic in and out of Rocky Mountain Regional Airport.

Each area needs its own advocates and voices on City Council. Councilors who live in their district and know the issues can relate better to their constituents.

Survey results confirm growing discontent

The 2020 Citizens’ Survey results clearly demonstrated that Westminster citizens are not satisfied with their city government.

Since the surveys were first started back in the 1970s, the current survey results are the lowest to be tallied. Clearly, there is dissatisfaction and a lack of trust relating to a variety of issues involving the city. Issues of too much growth, too much density and traffic congestion, a need to purchase of more open space and issues with law enforcement, street conditions and water rates are among the many noted in the survey results.

If you are interested in a copy of the survey results, call the Westminster City Manager’s Office at 303 658-2400 and request a copy.

I will delve into the survey results in more detail another time but I can perceive a pattern of growing discontent with communications, decision-making and an insular attitude at City Hall.

Blocking the advisory question for citizens to provide their opinions on potentially changing the method of electing their city council members is yet another example of “business as usual.”

What’s the question

So, what exactly is the focus of this 4-3 debate among council members? It’s pretty simple: Should the City Council place an advisory question on the November 3 ballot to gauge the citizens’ opinions about alternative ways to elect city council members?

Specifically, city staff and the City Attorney have drafted ballot language for the city council. It reads as follows: “Shall the City Council of the City of Westminster establish a commission to research and recommend to the City Council potential changes and election best practices, to include and improve representation of residents, diversity of elected officials and campaign finance?

Let’s find out what the public wants!!

This is simple and would give City Council clear insight on whether to pursue this matter or drop it. The City Council would decide on any City Charter amendment after the commission does its work.

Ultimately, the voters would decide if changes were to be enacted.

One City Councillor told me that the staff is too busy working on the Covid-19 pandemic responses to work on this matter. What is there to do except have the City Clerk send the ballot language to the Jefferson and Adams County clerks to be included on the November 3 ballots? The mayor and councilors who say this is not an issue would have confirmation one way or the other if this is a real issue with the public.

One City Councillor told me they didn’t want to upset Mayor Atchison over this issue and those of us who follow the issues at City Hall know that the Mayor and the City Manager are adamantly opposed to any change to the at-large system. But council members should be voting their conscience representing the people.

Contact information

If you have an opinion on this issue, you should communicate with all seven members of the City Council. Their email addresses are on the city’s web site. You can also call the City Manager’s Office at 303 658-2400 and get a list of council member telephone numbers.

Any feedback should be provided before July 6.

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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