LAFAYETTE — A Boulder County resident frustrated with representation on the Board of Boulder County Commissioners is hoping to change the number and districting of commissioners to represent the actual political make-up of the county as a whole.
Gary Cooper says he’s tired of a three-member board that is essentially selected by those who live in the most populous part of the county, the City of Boulder.
Although the commissioners represent a specific district within the county, they are elected at large, so it’s the more liberal city dwellers who are electing all the board members, he said.
“With the current situation, Boulder City votes in every, single commissioner,” Cooper said. “We haven’t had anything but this small group rule for over 30 years. It was 1986 when there was anything other than a Democrat in office.”
As of the 2018 Primary, there were 91,290 registered, active Democrat voters in Boulder, 77,669 active unaffiliated voters and 33,328 active Republican voters.
An example of the “small group rule” Cooper is concerned about is twin sisters Suzanne and Elise Jones, who currently hold elected positions in the county and city. Suzanne is mayor of Boulder, while Elise is on the commission. Suzanne was also hired as the Executive Director of Eco-Cycle, which does business with the county.
Cooper said the idea to change the makeup of the board has been taken to commissioners multiple times over the past couple of decades, but they refuse to put it to a vote of the people. He chose to petition the question on the ballot, believing he has wide spread support.
This is Cooper’s second attempt at the idea to increase the number of commissioners to five and create separate districts that would exclusively elect representation. The first time he fell short because of miscommunication and errors in the clerk’s office, he said.
This time, just a week into the petitioning process, Cooper said the response has been positive from people of all political parties who are frustrated with the current format.
“I’ve got about 20 people out there right now,” Cooper said about the volunteers currently collecting signatures. “I need about 100. If they can all give me 10 hours over the next 90 days we’ll collect the signatures we need.”
Cooper said his group is setting up at events across the county and in outdoor malls and other highly populated areas. Anyone who wants to help can get contact information at www.districtrepresentationforbouldercounty.com.
Under state law, if Cooper can gather the 13,926 signatures needed to put the measure on the 2020 ballot, voters will have two choices if they decide to increase the number to five. The first choice would be to draw five separate districts that would each elect its own commissioner. Districts would be similar in population numbers.
The second would be to elect three members of the board by districts and then two members “at large,” by the full electorate in the county.
He is pushing for the five-district option because he said the three-district option would still give the City of Boulder residents three of the five to elect.
“At least we would still change the tone of the conversation if we get two other people,” Cooper said.
Whichever option is chosen, it’s likely the district boundaries would be drawn for the 2022 election and commissioners would run based on those boundaries with two more commissioners elected. However, the full details would be worked out to ensure continuity on the board.
Cooper has until September 18 to collect the signatures needed. His goal is to collect 25,000 signatures to have a buffer for any that may be disallowed. He is optimistic it will happen with the League of Women Voters supporting his effort along with local union leader and former Vice Chair of the Boulder County Democrats Geof Cahoon, he said.
“Even the Democrats are unhappy with the current situation,” Cooper said. “This is a bipartisan effort. I’m convinced as long as I keep my nose pointed forward and pay attention, we’ll have it on the ballot.”