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Kelly SloanKelly SloanMarch 28, 20189min1722

A municipal election in Erie, CO would not generate much interest outside the town limits, were it not for the fact that everything that happens politically in Erie in the last couple of years seems to stir excitement. The reason, of course, it that the little municipality finds itself, by geographic accident, on the front lines of the battle within the state over economic growth.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningFebruary 27, 20184min4708

The conservative Washington Free Beacon on Monday pointed out that Democratic congressional candidate Jason Crow works at a high-powered law firm that has lobbied and done legal work for gun interests at the same time he's attacked the "gun lobby" and been calling on U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman to return campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 20, 20172min1275

Castle Rock Town Council member Brett Ford tells Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif that if his attendance lags at regular council meetings — he’s shown up only 62 percent of the time since 2014 and has attended barely over a third of meetings this year — it’s because his day job gets in the way. Yet, he insists he does a good job serving his constituents:

“Although work obligations and flight schedules might require me to miss periodic Tuesday meetings, I am always available to staff, council members, and most importantly, residents …”

At least one fellow council member, George Teal, doesn’t buy it. What’s more, Teal asserts, even when Ford does show up, he adds little value to the proceedings:

“He had neither comments nor questions during the deliberations that set our $250 million plus budget,” Teal said. “When Brett is paying attention, his behavior is both divisive and offensive. He has already announced to council that he does not plan to run for re-election, so I have been patiently waiting for him to just resign his seat and allow council to appoint his seat.”

Which is why local political activist Wayne Harlos, a 25-year Castle Rock resident, has decided to run for the seat himself in the next election. Harlos, whom we profiled in a Q&A in August, helped organize a successful local citizens initiative to directly elect Castle Rock’s mayor and also happens to be chair of the Colorado Libertarian Party.

Harlos says he thinks Ford should resign — but isn’t holding his breath for that to happen:

“District 7 needs representation … And because he never shows up, I’m going to throw my hat in the ring.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 5, 20174min860

It had seemed so simple. “Do you want to directly elect your mayor?” Castle Rock voters were more or less asked in the Nov. 7 election.

Overwhelmingly, they said yes. All that was left was for the city council — of which current Mayor Jennifer Green is just another member chosen by council colleagues to wield the gavel —  to work out the details of letting voters city-wide elect the next mayor.

If only. The Devil’s always in the details — and he has been putting in overtime in Castle Rock since last month’s balloting. Reports Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif:

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.

And that has led to divisions in the current council, reflecting factions in the community. Some want the transition to proceed apace, with a follow-up election as soon as next year, while others seem to want to go slower in order to get it right. Skeptics accuse them of foot-dragging, but those arguing for the more deliberative approach contend the ballot issue was sold simplistically in the first place, with too little focus on how, legally, to get from Point A to Point B.

Hence:

… the problem now is a council divided on how to incorporate the voters’ wishes and with two members continually absent.

That’s right; two of the council members seem to be MIA, and fellow council member George Teal, who supported the ballot initiative to direct-elect a mayor, smells a rat:

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.

(Mayor) 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.

It’s a convoluted saga that’s still unfolding; be sure to read Peif’s full story as she does a good job untangling the knots. Perhaps things also will become clearer tonight, when the council is scheduled to take up the issue again.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 27, 20172min895

Earlier this week Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif looked at the latest Colorado municipality to consider going into the broadband business in order to give residents an alternative to the big providers.

The idea of municipally owned broadband has a distinct appeal for a lot of households and businesses — they’re lured by hopes of lower rates and faster speeds — and has fared variously with the local governments that have jumped into the fray. Peif’s account mulls the less-talked-about downside of such proposals — notably, the financial risks of a citizen-owned broadband venture going belly-up — and she interviews a skeptic of Fort Collins’s upcoming ballot proposal on the subject:

Fort Collins resident Sarah Hunt says the initiative is a huge risk for residents.

“Fort Collins wants to enter the ultra-competitive, quickly evolving broadband industry,” she said. “They haven’t shown they will out-maneuver some of the world’s biggest tech companies for decades to come. If they fail, every resident, not just subscribers will have to pay $17 per month, or over $2,420 for the life of the loan.

According to Peif, Fort Collins is one of 57 Colorado communities that previously opted out of a statewide prohibition on municipally owned broadband. Now, voters there will decide on Nov. 7 whether to allow Fort Collins officials to explore a fiber optic network of the city’s own.

Definitely worth a read; here’s the link again.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20174min928

As readers no doubt are tired of being reminded, all politics is local. And whether or not the late, legendary U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill actually was the first to invoke that phrase, he surely would be proud of Colorado’s 4th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Ken Buck for embracing it this week.

To wit, Buck’s op-ed published Tuesday in his hometown paper, the Greeley Tribune. Buck may serve in a lawmaking body that places a premium on posturing over weighty, resonant and poll-tested issues of national and international bearing, but his commentary in the Tribune — bearing the headline, “Rather than wantonly eliminating the Weld County Council, elect better council members” — couldn’t be any more down-home. And it just might be unprecedented for how far afield it seems to be from the usual fodder of a sitting member of Congress.

The piece addresses an issue we reported on earlier this month and that has been in the news for some time in Greeley: a ballot proposal referred by a majority of Weld County Commissioners to disband the aforementioned county council. As Complete Colorado investigative ace Sherrie Peif informed us at the time, critics of the proposal surmise it’s retaliation for an audit of the commission by the council, which functions as sort of a watchdog over county affairs. Some even called it a power grab by the commission.

Peif then did her own impromptu poll of key political figures in the county to test if the commissioners’ proposal had any traction; it turned out to be overwhelmingly unpopular.

Enter Buck, who doesn’t pull his punches in this week’s op-ed opposing the commission’s bid to eliminate the council:

By asking the voters to abolish the Weld County Council, the commissioners seek to eliminate safeguards erected to the home rule charter and place more authority under the commissioner’s control.

The decision to place 1A on the ballot came right after the Weld County Council contracted with an out-of-state, independent firm to conduct an audit of the county commissioners. Axing your own oversight body right after they suggest improvements undermines public confidence in good government.

Buck also notes:

The county council plays an important oversight role for Weld County. Adding an extra layer of accountability in government doesn’t necessarily make government bigger. I proudly tell my colleagues in Congress that my home county is the only county in the U.S. with no county sales tax and no debt.

It’s all too easy for a member of the D.C. delegation to pepper home-state media with press releases about cyber-security or global terrorism. But to wade knee-deep into a local issue and take sides? Not so common.

Whatever Buck’s most recent ruminations about running for another political office closer to home, he evidently hasn’t lost interest in Colorado politics.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 4, 20175min1139

True confession: It wasn’t until Complete Colorado‘s hard-charging investigative reporter Sherrie Peif reported on a Weld County ballot issue this November to abolish the Weld County Council that we realized one even existed. Perhaps it’s because the five-member, non-partisan, unpaid, elected governing body is unlike any other in the state. As Peif explains:

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.

In other words, it’s sort of a built-in, quasi-independent county watchdog. Peif reports that a recent performance audit the council conducted on the Weld County Commission may have spurred their move to dump the council. It’s being advanced by four of the five commissioners, who voted to place the proposal on the ballot.

Now, Peif finds, assorted citizens, including political notables, are pushing back. They’re questioning the wisdom of the proposal itself — as well as the motives of the commission majority that’s behind it:

Those against the issue say this is a power grab by commissioners Barb Kirkmeyer, (Julie) 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.

The proposal has its proponents, too:

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.

Peif then dug deeper into the issue to see what some other prominent pols in the county think of the idea.  Almost all of those she was able to reach said they were voting “no”; they included Democrats, like state Rep. Dave Young of Greeley, as well as Republicans, like former Weld Sheriff and now state Sen. John Cooke. 4th Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, of Windsor — he’s the former Weld County D.A. — is a “no,” too.

Our thanks to Peif for doing a whole lot of heavy lifting to flesh out this story — and for teaching us a thing or two about Weld County we didn’t know. However the vote turns out in Weld, wouldn’t it be ironic if the publicity prompted some other counties — where citizens may be disenchanted with business as usual — to establish county councils of their own?


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 14, 20175min887

As often is the case, the Colorado Municipal League is the go-to source to explain complicated issues that we untrained reporters struggle to fully grasp. That’s the case with the tax bugaboo that has Gov. John Hickenlooper working on plans to call lawmakers back to Denver for a special session next month.

The mistake was introduced when the legislature hurriedly passed Senate Bill 267 at the end of the last session to reclassify the state’s hospital provider fee. The aim was to get it out from under a constitutional spending cap in order to drum up money for rural hospitals and transportation without — only technically — a tax increase.

For special districts, however, it was a significant tax decrease, which was never lawmakers’ aim.

In July CML’s deputy director, Kevin Bommer, wrote the clearest, most definitive explanation to date that Pulitzer Prize-winning publications in Colorado could only admire.

A critical part of the deal was an increase in marijuana taxes that will fund other portions of the deal, such as a business personal property tax credit. However, the decision to exempt marijuana from the state’s base sales tax and increase the special sales tax rate was made on the fly. The resulting fallout has become a cautionary tale for many in the state that blame local sales taxes for being complicated but fail to look at state policies that muddy the waters.

Bommer cited some reporting from the venerable Denver Post, but noted the state’s newspaper of record wasn’t the first to take a shot explaining the legislative quagmire. He’s right. The driver of this political conversation was Sherrie Peif of Complete Colorado. The Post rode her reporting coat tails four days later.

“As a general rule, changes in the state sales tax base automatically apply to statutory entities – statutory municipalities, counties, and special districts,” Bommer explained in his July 24 blog. “With over 80 different state sale tax exemptions on the books and legislation every session that propose more, the Colorado Municipal League is perennially busy ensuring that the state’s decision to exempt something from its own base does not automatically exempt it in statutory municipalities. (Home rule municipalities are thankfully unaffected by state exemptions, and such decisions on exemptions are purely local)

“The process was no different for SB 267.”

Read Boomer’s excellent Legislative Matters blog here.

Special session in the works to fix error in hospital provider fee bill

There were critics that the compromise was being rushed through at the time. One of the most clear and notable was Michael Fields, Americans for Prosperity’s Colorado clutch man who urged lawmakers to slow down and think deeply instead of swiftly on far-reaching tax policy. For years, the GOP has been resistant to reclassifying the hospital provider fee, because it represented monkeying with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the constitutional amendment that conservatives revere like Reagan because it caps state spending.

Fields enjoyed an I-told-you-so moment Wednesday night after Colorado Politics was the first to report that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s staff is working on dates for the special session.

He said on Twitter: