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Town election to focus on council seats, charter amendments

On April 3, registered voters in Pagosa Springs will be considering a ballot loaded with more than the usual candidate roster and stray ballot measures.

Aside from voting for candidates to fill three at-large seats open on the Pagosa Springs Town Council, voters could be asked to vote on numerous amendments to the town’s Home Rule Charter.

Up for grabs are three seats currently held by trustees Bob Hart, Stan Holt and Shari Pierce. Pierce and Holt were elected to their seats during the last at-large council election in 2008. Hart was appointed to his seat last spring following the resignation of Jerry Jackson (Hart was the only applicant for the position).

As of press time, no one has notified the Pagosa Springs Town Clerk of an intention to run for any of the open seats. Any registered voter residing within town limits, who has not been convicted of a felony, is eligible to run for a council seat. A council seat has a term of four years.

At last Thursday’s mid-month council meeting, the first reading of Ordinance 767 was approved that will, if passed upon a second reading, refer amendments to the town charter to town voters.

As presented at Thursday’s meeting, those amendments will be offered to voters in three ballot questions.

In the first ballot question, voters will be asked to consider changes to sections 3.1, 3.2, 3.10, 6.5, 10.4, 10.5 and 12.14 of the charter. Essentially, amendments in the first ballot question address matters of housekeeping — “Update language, delete obsolete language, clarify language, make language more uniform with other provisions of the charter and the Colorado Revised Statutes, correct typographical errors, and correct grammatical errors,” as was written in Ordinance 767.

A copy of that ordinance is available at the Pagosa Springs Town Hall. A copy of the town charter is also available at Town Hall or can be downloaded on the town’s website at www.townofpagosasprings.com by clicking on the “Documents” tab on the left side of the page.

Ordinance 767 states the second ballot question asks voters that the charter, “Be amended to update the duties, powers, qualifications and responsibilities of the Town Council and Town Manager, and the procedures for filling vacancies of the same, and to amend the procedures of Town Council meetings and adopting ordinances,” and amends sections 2.1, 2.3, 2.8, 3.1, 3.2.5, 3.9, 6.3, 6.6, 7.1, 7.2, 7.7, 10.7, 11.1 and 12.19.

Obviously, the second ballot question is not merely a matter of housekeeping, but makes changes (whether minor or substantive) to the administration of town business by either paid staff or elected officials.

For instance, section 11.1 asks voters to weigh whether council can consider modifications to a comprehensive plan (for land use and development, facilities and services) “when determined appropriate by the town council” rather than “at least annually” as is currently stipulated in the charter.

Amending that section stands to reason — if no modifications to a comprehensive plan have been offered during the past year, an annual review of that plan seems little more than busy work for the council.

However, a proposed change to section 12.9 — allowing council to “purchase, sell, exchange, receive by donation, enter into a lease greater than two years, or dispose of any interest in real property including easements,” by resolution rather than by ordinance, represents a substantial change to administrative procedures.

By charter, resolutions require just a single vote by council, whereas an ordinance requires a first reading and a second reading — at least 10 days following the publication of an ordinance passed on its first reading. In short, an ordinance doubles the chance of public input on the matter, as opposed to a resolution (which requires just 24 hours between initial publication and a vote by council).

The extent of those changes and the inclusion of 14 proposed amendments into a single ballot question raises an interesting question: What if a voter doesn’t agree with one proposed change, but is fine with the other 13?

It appears that town voters facing that quandary will have no choice but to either accept the change they are dissatisfied with in order to approve the others, or vote against all changes so to prevent the passage of a change (or changes) they find disagreeable.

Certainly, placing every proposed change into its own ballot question would make for a very long ballot (with a total of 32 proposed amendments in all). Nevertheless, the potential for conflict between acceptable and unacceptable amendments included in a single ballot question could raise some difficult issues with town voters.

The third ballot question, amending portions of the charter that, “update the municipal election, initiative, referendum and recall procedures,” includes proposed changes to sections 4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.7 and 5.9 of the charter.

Section 5.2.E refines language that created confusion prior to a 2010 referendum that asked voters to repeal a decision by council (by ordinance) in 2009 that scrapped certain parts of the town’s Land Use and Development Code that placed restrictions on proposed developments exceeding 40,000 square feet — so-called big box regulations.

At that time, the petition for referendum was thrown into question due to language in 5.2.E that currently refers to petitions “filed by the applicant” — leaving open the question of exactly who can submit a petition. The change proposed in ballot question three would specify, “filed by the petitioner, who shall be a registered elector of the town.”

Another proposed change provides petitioners some clarification, and a little latitude, when seeking to pursue a voter referendum. As currently written, a petitioner has 13 days following the publication of a subject ordinance to provide written intent to file a petition, then 14 days following that filing to submit the completed petition.

The proposed change would retain the 13-day deadline for submitting written intent, but scraps language that stipulates submission 14 days after the filing and instead states, “no later than thirty (30) days after the publication following final passage of the subject ordinance” — effectively giving petitioners an additional three days to complete and submit a petition for referendum.

Again, however, substantive changes have been proposed to the charter that address procedures for elections, petitions and referendums that, when included with the other changes in the ballot question (11 total) could create a quandary for town voters — especially since those changes deal directly with the process by which town voters are given a direct choice in how the town conducts its business.

Ordinance 767 has been published in today’s edition of The SUN. As the charter currently stands, a second reading of the ordinance will be heard by council at the Tuesday, Feb. 7 meeting (5 p.m. at Town Hall).

At that meeting, council could decide whether or not April’s ballot is long or short. With the dearth of potential candidates for open at-large seats, that ballot could be very short. However, if council decides on Feb. 7 to break up ballot questions as they have been presented and put those proposed amendments into numerous questions for voters, that ballot could be very long indeed.

jim@pagosasun.com

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