GREELEY – Although Democrats and Republicans across the state and nation can’t agree on much right now, they have come together in Weld County on one issue before voters in November – whether to abolish the Weld County Council.
The council is a five-member, non-partisan, non-paid, elected governing body written into the Weld County Charter.
Weld is one of only two counties in Colorado that is home rule. Pitkin County is the other. Denver and Broomfield are also home rule, but they have city and county status with separate, specific constitutional provisions.
Home rule cities and counties have the right to self-rule. They have the power to govern over public health, safety and welfare.
The council is unique to Weld. It was created and approved by the voters in 1975. It became effective with the rest of the charter in January 1976.
Its main purpose is to oversee the county’s elected officials and other certain aspects of county government to act as a checks and balances on the system without state interference, such as setting salaries for commissioners, the sheriff, the clerk and recorder and the assessor; acting as a vacancy board for commissioners and ordering performance audits on officials.
It was just two weeks after the results of a performance audit on the commissioners was released that four of five commissioners voted to ask voters to disband the council, despite a public hearing where all but one person spoke against the idea. Chairwoman Julie Cozad, at a subsequent meeting, refused to consider a petition with 150 signatures of other Weld residents asking not to put the issue on the ballot.
Those against the issue say this is a power grab by commissioners Barb Kirkmeyer, Cozad, Mike Freeman and Steve Moreno. And many are upset the election is costing voters $150,000.
Dave Kisker, President of People United for Responsible Government (PURGe), a 501 (c)(4) formed to watch dog Weld officials, has said the issue was rushed through in an act of retribution for the audit and a waste of taxpayer money. Kisker said the commissioners should have waited, formed a charter review committee and considered it for the 2018 election.
Bill Jerke, a former commissioner and one of four who initially asked for it to be put on the ballot has said the council is an extra layer of government that is not needed, that it doesn’t do anything, and that most members are partisan with an ax to grind. Jerke, however, has agreed the timing is bad and feels rushed.
Complete Colorado spoke to several other elected officials, party leaders and former elected officials from Weld County to find out how they will vote and why. Complete attempted to contact most of Weld County’s mayors in the process. Some are in such small areas their contact information was unavailable, some did not respond, one said she didn’t want to go on record as part of a gentleman’s agreement to stay out of each other’s politics, but many said they were afraid to comment publicly because they also feared retaliation from the commissioners.
All but one of the elected officials Complete spoke to said they are voting no and are encouraging others to do so as well because it is never right for an elected official to ask citizens to remove the oversight of an elected official. They say if the voters wanted this, it should be a citizens petition. They also said the best oversight is local oversight.
Although Complete did not find anyone who supports 1A, Ault Mayor Butch White did take to the public social media site of PURGe with his thoughts. He didn’t directly say he was voting yes, but his comments seemed to lean in that direction.
“I would think the folks would be happy,” White wrote on a post about the cost of the election. “They are getting a chance to vote and make their choices known. If the vote turns out to get rid of the council so be it, the people have spoken. If the vote is to keep the council the commissioners will have to take heed. It may even empower the council, as it stands I think they are irrelevant and have looked foolish in the last few months.”
Here is what everyone else had to say:
NO – Rep. Lori Saine, Colorado House District 63 – Republican
- “Weld County has a proud history of home rule since our charter was enacted in 1976 and that tradition of self-governance has given us the kind of fiscal stewardship that makes us a leader in Colorado and the nation,” Saine said. “If people were perfect, no controls on government would be necessary. I trust the wisdom of the charter authors: the County Council should stay.”
NO – Rep. Dave Young, Colorado House District 50 – Democrat
- Young, a former councilman, said he has concerns about doing away with the council in its entirety. “I think it needs to be vetted more,” Young said. “I think we should get a group together and look at what its role is. Maybe it’s not working right now, but I don’t know that getting rid of it is the right thing. We should look at giving it what it needs to serve its purpose.”
NO – Rochelle Galindo, Greeley City Council, HD 50 Candidate – Democrat
- Galindo called the issue complicated. “I don’t agree with 1A,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t pass. It’s taking power away from the people, mostly less oversight over a government entity is never a good thing.”
NO – John Cooke, Colorado Senate District 13, former Weld Sheriff – Republican
- Cooke said the timing is bad. “I think the county commissioners, in particular, need oversight,” Cooke said. “The audit came in critical of the commissioners, and they don’t like it, so they want to get rid of their oversight. A couple of commissioners want to be rulers of Weld County and don’t like anyone telling them what they are doing wrong.”
NO – Pamela Russell, Former Weld County GOP chairwoman from 2015-17, and vice chair from 2008-15.
- Russell said she is asking her friends and colleagues through social media to not support 1A. “This volunteer council was set in place as a check to elected officials and a place where a citizen’s voice can truly be recognized and heard,” she said.
NO – Adrian Felix, Weld Democrats Central Committee Secretary – Democrat
- Felix said the party has not taken a position but his own position is “The County Council is ineffective, but it’s because it lacks true ideological diversity,” Felix said. “It also needs more responsibility, not be disbanded. Even more concerning is the timing of all this. Seems like a lot of retaliation.”
NO – Bernie Kennick, Greeley City Council 1989-97, Mayor Pro Tem 1995-97 – Democrat.
- Kennick said the council has gotten away from being nonpartisan and added the timing is bad. “That’s the problem. It’s got in the way of doing the best for the county,” Kennick said. “But I’m in favor of retaining County Council. We need to make it better. But in the meantime, we have to have someone watching the rest of the county. If we can make it better, we should do that. Just as they have an audit performed against them, they want to disband the council.”
NO – Beau Woodcock, Mayor of Milliken – Republican
- Woodcock said he does not believe the council should be dissolved. “If it’s broke, fix it,” he said. “Give them a budget. Give them an attorney. Let them be able to do their job, and if it doesn’t work after that, then take it to the voters. But right now, (the commissioners) are just wasting our money.”
NO – Scott James, Mayor of Johnstown – Republican
- James said he doesn’t agree with the extra layer of government argument. “Quite frankly, that layer of government keeps control closer to home,” James said. “If we eliminate that, it goes back to the state. We know that the best power is the power closest to us. And keeping the council keeps the power closest to the people.”
NO – Dick Bond, former state legislator and former President UNC – Democrat
- Bond, who was a Democrat while serving as a state legislator and became an unaffiliated voter since said he believes the council needs to be reorganized and strengthened. “It’s ironic that the (commissioners) want to disband any group that is looking at them closely. I think the council can have a value if you get the politics out of it.”
NO – Perry Buck, Colorado House District 49 – Republican
- Buck, a former council member, said for as long as she can remember, commissioners have balked anytime the council has tried to do its job. “I think it’s only fair. No layer of government is beyond accountability. The county council, they are the watchdogs. And they are able to keep the county commissioners in check.”
NO – Ken Buck, U.S. House of Representatives, 4th Congressional District – Republican
- Buck, who represents Weld County in Washington, lives in Windsor and is the former Weld County District Attorney. “The Weld County Council serves an important oversight role for the Weld County government,” Buck said. “If we want to restructure the county government, then we need to holistically review the county charter.”
NO – Ed Jordan, former Weld Sheriff – Republican
- Jordan said although he’s never been a big fan of the council because they’ve never really done anything, the recent events make him a no vote. “The first time they ever really did anything, the commissioners said, ‘well we want to disband you.’ Plus, I don’t want commissioners to have that much power. This group is running amok and we need to have oversight over them.”
Non-committal – Steve Reams, Weld Sheriff – Republican
- Reams said he doesn’t think it’s his place to tell voters how to vote, but he doesn’t have an issue with the council, which also oversees the Sheriff, the Clerk and Recorder and the Assessor. “I’ve never been afraid of my office being reviewed,” Reams said. “Having said that, the timing of the ballot question is something that if it is of concern or not, the voters will decide, and I believe the County Council will remain in place.”