In recent weeks, members of a committee in Castle Rock called “Citizens for Elected Mayor” have attended town council meetings imploring councilmembers to research implementing a change that would allow town residents to vote for mayor.
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The idea of an at-large mayor has longtime support from the likes of former Mayor Randy Reed and current Councilmember George Teal. As of now, the mayor is elected by a vote of the seven-member town council, in which public comment is not allowed. Changing that process would require amending the town charter, something that requires voter approval.
On March 7, the committee heard what they'd been waiting for — the council officially discussed the group's proposal and agreed to consult with constituents on the issue. Council also instructed town staff to return with a report in May reviewing the requirements to run for town council.
And although the acknowledgment landed well with committee members, it came too late, they said.
The group —which is led by a committee of four town residents — intends to pursue a petition within the next few weeks in an effort to get the issue on the ballot.
Committee Chairman Wayne Harlos explained their priority is having a question before the voters by the November election. Waiting until May would not give them enough time to petition if the council takes no action at that time, he said.
“We need to have the position of mayor an accountable and elected position,” Harlos said March 8.
He also believes council had ample time to address the issue before March 7.
“They kept ignoring it and ignoring it and ignoring it,” he said.
A split council
Teal has supported switching to an at-large system since the early 2000s, and has never been shy to mention the idea in council meetings. He's agreed to be one of the petitioners if the effort goes forward.
And the cause has gained another supporter in District 1 Councilmember Jess Loban.
But Loban cautioned against making a hasty decision.
“I just don't want to toss it out and say, `Look, what we do now is fine,' and go forward. What we do now is OK and it does work, and there are huge municipalities that do the same thing we do,” Loban told council March 7. “But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing for us and our citizens.”
District 4 Councilmember Jason Bower said he was open to discussing the idea. Although Bower remained neutral during the council's March 7 discussion, he encouraged councilmembers to help educate constituents on the mayoral election process.
“I think,” Bower said, “we really need to do our due diligence.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Jennifer Green and Mayor Pro Tem Renee Valentine are both strong advocates for keeping the current system.
“One of the things that concerns me is if we're growing government,” Valentine said during the March 7 meeting. “That is something that I am not for.”
She also worried an at-large mayor would lead to a strong-mayor system and abandonment of the town's council-manager form of government, in which Castle Rock employs a town manager, currently David Corliss, to handle town administrative duties.
Harlos said March 8 that's not the case. His committee members are “big fans” of Corliss' performance as town manager and the council-manager system as a whole, he said.
They also support the weak-mayor system in place now. Under a weak-mayor system, the mayor does not have more authority than other councilmembers.
Teal asked Valentine if an arrangement establishing an at-large mayor, but keeping the weak-mayor and council-manager system, would appease her.
Although she did not directly answer his question, she responded by asking why they should change a system that isn't broken, an argument to which District 2 Councilmember James Townsend agreed.
“We've got town business that we need to be attending to," Valentine said. "We've got a lot of other issues. This to me is just not on my radar."
Harlos said their next steps will be enlisting signature collectors and volunteers for a petition effort. For more information about the group, visit the committee`s Facebook page, Castle Rock Citizens for Elected Mayor.
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