In 2003, George Teal was a somewhat new Castle Rock resident.
It was as a constituent that Teal, now a councilmember, said he was concerned upon hearing a ban had been implemented that year on open carry of firearms.
Teal’s first thought was to protest the ban through the next election. He’d simply vote for a new mayor, he said.
But then he learned Castle Rock’s town charter does not call for a mayor to be elected by residents. The mayor was — and still is — elected by a vote of the seven-member town council, a vote in which public comment is not allowed.
The open carry ban inspired Teal to run for town council and support former Mayor Paul Donahue’s campaign to repeal it. The campaign was successful, so Teal’s attention returned once more to the town’s mayoral-election process.
“Right now, we have an enclosed group that makes decisions for the entire town,” he said. “The people in Castle Rock have the right to be able to choose their leader.”
As a home rule municipality, a town charter lays out Castle Rock’s council-manager form of government. The system in which Castle Rock employs a town manager for the day-to-day administration of the town could remain the same under an at-large mayor. So could the town’s weak-mayor system, meaning the mayor does not have more power or authority than other councilmembers.
The charter was established in 1987 and outlines election procedures for the mayor and mayor pro tem.
Amending those stipulations would require an election.Amendments can be proposed though a petition by registered electors. Such a petition would need signatures from 5 percent to 10 percent of the elector base to advance a question to the voters.
The council can also propose charter amendments by passing an ordinance calling for an election.
Teal has vowed in council meetings and to his constituents that he will keep fighting to amend the charter and allow citizens to elect their mayor.
He’s not alone.
A group effort
Mary Wilson of Castle Rock is one of five on a citizen committee preparing to file a petition. Although they haven’t divulged any specifics, it will call for an at-large mayor, plus possibly, a mix of districted and at-large councilmembers.
Wilson said the people deserve a say in who represents them as mayor. For her, the town’s growth plays a factor.
The town estimates Castle Rock’s population was under 10,000 people when the charter was ratified. Today, it is approaching 63,000.
“We’ve outgrown it,” she said of the current process. “Just like we’ve outgrown our town hall, we’ve outgrown a system of government”
She wanted to know how many others felt the same way. To gauge public opinion, she opened a www.change.org petition called, “Should Castle Rock, Colorado have an at large mayor?” The online petition reached nearly 200 signatures in its first two months.
Comments on the petition were varied. Many said they want a say in who becomes mayor. Others said they weren’t satisfied with how council represents constituents. Some said the town’s growth and size now warrants a new system.
“The biggest thing is it would make the mayor more accountable to the city,” said Wayne Harlos, who’s assisting Wilson with the petition.
Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said he hasn’t seen a municipality switch to an at-large system recently, but it was a trend eight to 10 years ago.
“It pops up every once in a while,” he said.
A mayor serves as the face of a community and as its spokesperson on many issues, Mamet said. Supporters of an at-large system believe that means constituents have the right to elect their mayor.
“The argument on the other side is, `We don’t want to have one individual have too much power or authority,’ ” he said.
Of Colorado’s home rule municipalities, 80 select their mayor at-large and 21 select their mayor by a vote of the council.
“We use to have many more appointed by the council,” Mamet said.
Former town officials have weighed in on different sides of the issue.
In 2008, then-Mayor Randy Reed was two years into his four-year tenure as mayor, and he actively participated in groups comprising mayors from throughout the state. Reed said he began to notice a difference between mayors elected at-large and those appointed by their town councils.
“I think townwide-elected mayors lent a lot more credibility to themselves and to their community,” he said. “Because you have a much larger number of people electing that person than a majority of your council.”
Reed began to believe an at-large mayor would benefit Castle Rock — a belief he holds to this day.
Meanwhile, former Mayor Paul Donahue has spoken favorably of a council-appointed mayor.
“I like the checks and balances that are in place on the mayor now,” he said.
An at-large mayor could allow a “fabulous campaigner” into office, but also someone who “doesn’t have the trust and respect of the majority of council,” he said.
Regardless, Wilson said the group is serious about their petition. They’re prepared to file within the month, she said, and are now focused on educating people about the issue.
“I think everyone can agree,” she said, “that they want their vote to count.”