Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif will publish that examines the Weld County Council, the Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s office, and the Weld County Board of Commissioners. Three commissioners are up for reelection this November, and Complete Colorado will look into accusations of impropriety, misuse of funds, and wasteful spending among some board members.
Next up: A look at the County Council and how it interacts with Weld commissioners.
GREELEY – Despite one commissioner strongly expressing displeasure with his peers, it appears the five-member Weld County Board of Commissioners is on its way to organize an ad hoc committee to review the Weld County Home Rule Charter.
Although the board did not make a final decision after a public hearing on Wednesday, four of the five members were ready to move forward with discussions on the how and the who of the review process – just not the what.
If there was one thing the board agreed on, it was that the committee would not be led by commissioners in any way. The commissioners made clear that they would not give advice to the committee about what to examine. The entire document would be up for review.
“It makes a whole lot more sense to me to have a charter review committee take a look at the charter and make recommendations to the commissioners to put something on the ballot … versus us just sitting here making the decision to put something on the ballot,” said board chairman Mike Freeman.
Commissioner Julie Cozad said the idea of reviewing the charter first came about when the County Council talked about dissolving itself – an action that cannot be taken without a change to the charter.
The county charter went into effect on Jan. 1, 1976. A home rule charter allows counties or cities to make their own decisions concerning laws, ordinances, land uses, and other items not expressly laid out by state law.
Not including jurisdictions that are both city and county and governed under one board, of the 64 counties in Colorado, only two – Weld and Pitkin – are home rule counties.
Weld’s charter has been tweaked a few times, most recently in 2007, when voters approved placing term limits on elected officials in Weld. In 2001, the charter was changed to make the county coroner and the county treasurer appointed positions.
It’s the 2001 changes that some fear will happen again, especially now with recent accusations that Weld Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes is not properly running her office, leading to long wait times and disgruntled employees.
The Weld County Council, an elected board that oversees the county’s elected officials, has ordered a performance audit of both Koppes’ office and the commissioners.
Some believe that Commissioner Steve Moreno, the former clerk and recorder who was term-limited out of office in 2014, supports making the clerk’s office appointed as a way to take back his former role. Moreno ran for the Weld County Board of Commissioners after he lost a lawsuit challenging the term limits and seeking a fourth term in the clerk’s office. Moreno said Wednesday he would not support an effort to change elected positions to appointments.
“I am not in favor of appointing the clerk and recorder or any other elected positions,” Moreno said. “I strongly believe elected officials should report back to the people.”
Johnstown resident David Kisker asked the commissioners to wait until the audit on the clerk and reporter’s office was complete so the current controversy surrounding the clerk can die down.
“In principle, reviewing the charter is not a bad idea,” Kisker said. “But it seems this time it’s gotten caught up into a political situation. Rather than undertake this review at a time when it’s so politically charged, we ought to sit back, take some deep breaths and do it at another time.”
Monday evening, Weld County Council Chairman Jordan Jemiola said he believed the charter review was simply a plan by some of the commissioners to make the clerk and recorder’s office an appointed position.
“To target the clerk and recorder’s office is nothing more than a power grab,” Jemiola said. “Next it will be the assessor’s office and eventually the sheriff’s office. And ultimately they will dissolve the county council. It is an abuse of power and amounts to the foxes guarding the henhouse. They want to rewrite the charter how they like.”
Commissioner Sean Conway said he would like to get more input from residents about whether they want a charter review before the commissioners appoint a committee. Conway is married to Koppes’ aunt. Some have accused him of improperly defending her using his position as a commissioner.
His argument was met with resistance.
Although Moreno and Commissioner Barb Kirkmeyer didn’t say much about the formation of the committee Wednesday, Kirkmeyer said at a work session on Sept. 12 that she envisioned it as more of a “taskforce.”
“I thought when we were talking about it before … it was like we were talking about a taskforce,” Kirkmeyer said. “Where we give them a specific task to work on, versus opening up the whole charter. … I do think we need to put parameters on it.”
Freeman and Cozad said Wednesday, however, that in no way should commissioners have any input on the direction the committee takes. And they disagreed with Conway that they should get more input themselves.
“We need to separate ourselves from the charter review committee and what they are looking at,” Freeman said, “and let the charter review committee meet with citizens throughout the county and let those conversations go on. Otherwise we’re putting ourselves in a spot where we don’t want to be — which is directing what is looked at in the charter.”
Cozad agreed based on her own experiences in county-wide processes before she was a commissioner. She said at times those processes felt very commissioner led, and people felt intimidated. She said she would like to find other ways to include public input in the process instead of relying only on public meetings because it is hard for some people to stand up in public and disagree with an elected official.
“The public meetings I attended did seem to be commissioner driven,” Cozad said. “That’s my perspective as a citizen. A lot of the meetings I ended up going to it was commissioners who stood up front [and] stated their opinions and what they thought should happen. If elected officials are driving the conversation and you don’t agree with them, what’s the possibility that somebody’s actually going to get up and say what they think?. … I don’t want to want to drive the conversation. I don’t think it should be us.”
Commissioners said at both the work session and again at the meeting Wednesday that they envision seven to nine people from all parts of the county and from across the political spectrum as committee members.
Freeman also said after the meeting that the committee will not include a commissioner, as it did in 2007 when then Commissioner Bill Garcia sat on the committee.
“There will be no commissioner on this committee,” Freeman said. “I’m being completely honest when I say we need to separate this completely away from the commissioners and let the citizens look at it.”