Castle Rock Town Council prepares for at-large mayor special election

Moving to new system could mean another round of balloting would follow

Posted 9/9/17

The petitions have been signed and submitted.

The ballot question is set.

Now, town council is deliberating over the final steps needed to prepare for a special election in which Castle Rock voters will decide who elects the town mayor — and …

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Castle Rock Town Council prepares for at-large mayor special election

Moving to new system could mean another round of balloting would follow

Posted

The petitions have been signed and submitted.

The ballot question is set.

Now, town council is deliberating over the final steps needed to prepare for a special election in which Castle Rock voters will decide who elects the town mayor - and what work is on the horizon if the measure passes.

After a successful citizen petition, the November ballot will ask Castle Rock residents if the town should cut its districts from seven to six and switch to an at-large mayor system.

Currently, town council elects the mayor from among its seven councilmembers in a vote where public comment is not allowed. Passing the ballot measure would amend the town charter, first adopted in 1987.

Implementing an at-large mayor

Down the road, Councilmember James Townsend, who is a family-law attorney, believes passing the measure would require further amendments to clean up the charter's language, mostly surrounding the roles and duties of a mayor versus a councilmember.

Under the charter as it's written today, the mayor is also a councilmember. The amendment would make the mayor a separate position on the council.

Council also raised other questions that might need to be addressed if the initiative is successful, such as what an at-large mayor's voting power would be and if a councilmember could term out, then immediately run for mayor.

Passing the ballot measure would ultimately require redistricting and forming a transitional plan with a timeline for implementing all the changes, Town Attorney Bob Slentz said over the course of multiple town council meetings. Slentz pointed out the proposed amendment and the ballot language do not stipulate when the first at-large mayor should be elected or when redistricting should occur.

All are issues council would need to address if the town moves to an at-large mayoral system, Slentz said.

"I am not bringing those up because I am attempting to trash this or point flaws or discourage the voters from favorably considering the amendment," Slentz told council Aug. 1. "I don't want to come across as being harsh or judgmental about the petitioners. This is a tough thing to do. It's complicated any time you do a charter amendment."

To muddy the waters more, if voters pass the amendment in November the mandate immediately takes effect - and because the town council is currently a seven-district council where Mayor Jennifer Green was elected by her peers, the town would then be out of compliance with its own charter, Slentz said, leaving it in a vulnerable legal position.

Slentz recommended council act quickly to make any of the needed changes if voters approve the ballot issue.

That could mean an additional special election in February to get voter approval for pieces in the transitional plan. The town estimates a February special election would cost $37,195.

No official position from council

Council spent hours debating the verbiage of the ballot question at its Aug. 1 and 15 meetings - a discussion where emotions at times ran high as the issue has left the council somewhat divided.

Councilmember Jess Loban has been supportive of an at-large mayor, although not the change to town districts.

Councilmember George Teal is one of the five petitioners who brought the measure forward and a longtime advocate for an elected mayor, leaving some to question if he intends to run for mayor should the measure pass.

It's a question Councilmember Brett Ford - who opposes an at-large mayor but says he will respect the voters's decision - bluntly asked Teal during council discussion. Teal said he did not have plans to run for mayor at this time.

In another surprising moment, Loban publicly chastised Teal for a Facebook message sent by Teal to Loban's wife, in which Teal expressed frustration with Loban's support of an at-large mayor but not the petitioners' full proposal to cut the number of town districts.

"Eventually I will pull your knives from my back and give them back," Teal wrote in the exchange.

As Loban read parts of the messages aloud during council, Teal remained silent.

Meanwhile, Townsend says his position has shifted. In early discussions on the issue, Townsend questioned if changing the town's mayoral system should be a priority, believing issues such as town growth were more important to his constituents. Now, Townsend says he's more open to discussing an at-large system if it could better address the town's needs, but he still has concerns about the Nov. 7 ballot issue.

"If the town residents are interested in an at-large mayor, I wouldn't be opposed to it," he said. "I just don't think that this particular ballot measure is that solution."

Councilmember Jason Bower, who was at first open to the issue, has also taken a stronger stance since the petitions became public.

"I like how we have seven equal eyes on everything right now and the mayor is simply a council person who runs the meetings," Bower said in a written statement. "I'm afraid if we glorify the mayor position and separate it from council, we will start to see outside money, big party politics and the big bad political man come to town." 

The council has not taken an official position on the issue, something they could have opted to do, Slentz said, and instead chose to maintain individual positions.

A large piece of council's focus moving forward is on educating the public prior to the Nov. 7 election. Council directed town staff to prepare an informational mailer that residents can expect in their mailboxes before ballots are mailed on Oct. 16.

Early drafts of the mailer are available online at CRgov.com.

Petitioners and opponents

Citizens who spearheaded the at-large mayor petition say Castle Rock, now approaching 63,000 in population, has grown to where citizens should have more direct say in who represents them as mayor.

The group, Castle Rock Citizens for Elected Mayor, has a Facebook page and a website, castlerockcitizensforelectedmayor.com.

Their initiative would not grant an at-large mayor more power by creating a strong-mayor system, they say, but does aim to hold the position more accountable to all of the town's residents.

Petitioners who attended council meetings in recent weeks have worried overwhelming the public with all that could come by moving to an at-large system is a fear tactic that could dissuade voters from approving the issue.

But well before council's recent debate, the petitioners' movement was not without resistance.

Cliff Orr, a signer of the original town charter, has questioned if the petitioners fully thought out what shifting to an at-large mayoral system would entail, and said now may not be the right time for a change.

Orr's sentiments were echoed by Castle Rock resident Langford Jordan, who's joined a counter-movement dubbed Champions of the Charter to hopefully see the at-large mayor measure defeated. The group formed in August and has a Facebook page, "Champions of the Charter."

"There's no timeline. There's no framework. There's no plan for how we're going to execute this," Jordan said of the initiative, adding he believes petitioners are well intended. "I think it will degrade the ability of town staff and council to serve the other needs because it's going to consume a lot of their time."

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