CASTLE ROCK — Despite voters in Castle Rock overwhelmingly passing a proposition to elect their mayor from an at large population, they are likely to have to vote again on the topic, and it could be up to three years before their wishes are implemented.
The passage of Proposition 300, with 67 percent of the vote, clears the way for the residents of Castle Rock to elect their mayor, but it has created complications that essentially put the town out of compliance with its charter.
Since Castle Rock became a home rule charter authority in the late 1980s, the Mayor has been appointed by and from the seven council members, who are each elected from a district.
The mayor is currently selected every two years. Under the new system, the mayor would serve four years, with a maximum of two terms. Council members are also limited to two, four-year terms, but could immediately run for mayor after serving eight years on council.
Continuing push back from some council members, however, could force the town into a legal mess and without a mayor if a decision on how to proceed isn’t reached soon.
Those in support of making the mayor an at-large elected position said the current system left a lot of people feeling disenfranchised as the Mayor represented only one district.
Those against feared making the mayor an at large seat is a stepping stone to a mayor-council form of government rather than a council-manager form. Others weren’t opposed to the idea of an elected mayor, but instead felt the process was disingenuous.
“The charter was changed,” said councilman George Teal, who represents District 6, which includes the areas of Crystal Valley Ranch, Plum Creek, The Lanterns and Heckendorf Ranch. “The core question of do we elect the mayor at large or not, has been decided.”
But the problem now is a council divided on how to incorporate the voters’ wishes and with two members continually absent.
“The biggest problem we have is a council failing to implement those changes,” Teal said.
Teal said the town attorney recommended from the beginning that the question of how and when to make the changes be included with the initial ballot question for voters, but there wasn’t enough support from council members.
Teal said the ideal time to have the first election would be in 2018. The current Mayor, Jennifer Green, who represents District 3, is termed out, as is the current Mayor Pro Tem, Renee Valentine, who represents District 5.
The district lines could be redrawn so as not to draw out anyone currently on the council, he said.
“It would not be punitive,” Teal said. “It would not cut anyone’s time short. It would be on the same schedule with when we elect the governor, congress, state house, it just makes the most sense.”
Not everyone agrees. Langford Jordan, a Castle Rock resident and business owner who led one of the opposition groups, says the council should take care to get it done right, electing its first mayor in 2020.
Jordan said he has never opposed the idea of an elected mayor, but believed this push was for the wrong reasons and rushed through, adding he believed it was about personal ambitions.
“It was sloppy and disingenuous the way they went about getting this done,” Jordan said. “It was like an elementary school election where the kid stands up and promises you less homework, better food and a longer recess. The question was, do you want to elect a mayor? Well of course. No partially reasonable American is going to say no to that.
“But there was never any discussion from the other side about the process, — they down played and understated the process which you have to go through to do that. The Town Charter guides everything we do.”
At the last council meeting Town Attorney Bob Slentz outlined his recommendations for what that process should look like, including a special election in April or May of 2018 asking residents to vote on a transition plan and mayoral qualifications.
He also said there would likely be at least one other election needed to clean up the charter to reflect the change in Mayor.
Jordan agreed it could take several elections to work out all the changes the charter needs, and doesn’t believe anyone would challenge the legitimacy of the Council so long as they show there is a process in place.
“We are changing the complete structure of how the town is now governed,” Langford said. “If you’re going to do it, do it right. Don’t just rush to do it so we can elect a mayor in 2018 so we can feel good. There are probably 30-40 amendments that need to be made, basically an entire rewrite.”
Jordan would like to see the council organize a charter review committee to thoroughly vet the required changes.
Slentz told the board that if there is not a transition plan in place soon it could lead to a challenge that the town is not operating legally.
“Counsel should be able to continue to meet and make decisions so long as they are diligent, without challenge,” Slentz said. “But if we are here a year from now, and this issue is not resolved we will have a very consequential situation. If we do not have a transitional plan … this will be a very significant issue.
“If it’s made up seven council members from districts, we’re going to have a potential conflict that council not being legally constituted. … If we elect three council members from seven districts and they have a four-year term then we have ignored the amendment and proceeded with business as usual. This is not a self-resolving situation.”
Teal said the biggest push back is still coming from the Mayor, who he said won’t return his requests to talk. That is compounded by two members — Brett Ford, who represents District 7, and Jess Loban, who represents District 1, both of whom did not support electing the mayor and have failed to show up for meetings since the election.
Green would not discuss her opinion with Complete Colorado either. She only referred to the Nov. 14 meeting where she said she voted to refer the issue to a citizen committee.
“There is no good reason not to move forward in 2018,” Teal said. “This is a strictly a delay tactic. We changed the charter. If we don’t elect a mayor in 2018, we don’t have a mayor.”
Slentz also said 2018 would be the most logical route.
“You can no longer appoint a mayor,” Slentz said. “So, if you wanted to wait until 2020, we would have to ask voters to allow appointment of mayor in 2018. That is a mixed message to sell voters. It’s a very hard message for people to understand. It is going to be seen by the voters as not being responsive to the election.”
The council will discuss the issue again at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 in its chambers at 100 N. Wilcox Street in Castle Rock. Contacts for the Town Council can be found here