Citizen groups have divergent views of ballot issues
Supporters of Citizens for Rational Development, which officially registered as an issues committee this year, have been beating the streets to get the word out about two initiatives they petitioned onto the upcoming ballot, both of which they believe will give Littleton residents a stronger voice in local government.
“An open and transparent government is the best kind of government for our citizens,” said Carol Brzeczek, who sponsored the initiatives along with Frank Atwood, Betty Harris, Jose Trujillo and Mary Bradford.
Not everyone is so sure. Citizens for Littleton’s Future, which registered as an issues committee in 2007 and lists local real-estate agent Stewart Meagher as its representative, is opposed to both initiatives, saying they are more stringent than state law. Additionally, Councilor Jim Taylor tried unsuccessfully to get council to approve competing ballot items.
“I wanted to counterbalance what Carol put on there to limit us to very restricted things we can do,” he said. “I was trying to get before the voters an alternative that says this is what we do, and compare that to what her proposal was. It was just to let the public see what the differences were and make a decision. It would have given them a choice.”
Brzeczek says voters do have a choice — yes or no.
Ballot initiative 301
CRD’s first proposal is to limit city council’s use of executive sessions. If it passes, council could only meet behind closed doors to discuss matters state and federal law require be kept confidential, such as personnel matters and lawsuits that have actually been filed. It would prohibit council from turning off the recording when receiving legal advice, which they are now allowed to do, and require them to keep all tapes until all the councilors are no longer on council.
It would mean that decisions on legal settlements, land and labor negotiations and certain personnel matters regarding council’s direct charges — the city manager, city attorney and the municipal judges — would now be made publicly.
Brzeczek notes that Boulder has done away with executive sessions and is still managing to function.
“But they’ve been cautioned not to do ‘daisy-chaining,’” she said, whereby one councilor calls another who calls another and so on. “I would hope that this council and future councils would work within what voters will hopefully change about how they conduct their business.”
Citizens for Littleton’s Future says not allowing council to instruct negotiators privately restricts its ability to be a good steward of taxpayer money.
“The unintended consequence is that the city staff will become synthesizers of varied input from individual council members, or that the negotiation parameters will occur like playing poker with all the city’s cards face up on the table,” wrote the group for inclusion in the “blue book” election guide.
Taylor thinks the proposed changes are impractical.
“Boulder meets with legal counsel individually sometimes,” he said. “But if somebody disagrees, you have to start all over. In the meantime, what you were trying to buy goes away. This way, at least we know why we disagree and are accountable to each other.”
Brzeczek says she’s particularly concerned about council settling lawsuits behind closed doors, so the public only knows the terms and amount of the settlement if they know the case was filed and submit an open-records request.
“We just should not have to be in a position, as citizens, of monitoring our councils to ensure they are following the law,” she said.
“It will just drive it underground,” counters Taylor. “The bottom line is the settlement was made, and that’s what it is that affects the public, not the process that led up to it.”
Ballot initiative 303
CRD’s second initiative addresses the city’s rezoning process. It seeks to require a two-thirds vote of council to approve a project, rather than the simple majority it takes now, in cases where the planning board has voted against it or if 20 percent or more of the site’s neighbors file a protest.
The proposed legislation would allow anyone within 100 feet of the affected property to object, regardless of whether they are within the city’s borders. That would have allowed Centennial residents to object to the Littleton Village project on the old Marathon site, for example.
“Council wanted to silence that group of people,” said Brzeczek. “Our ballot measure gives the people a voice. It gives them some standing in the decision. We have to be good neighbors. … What a pity it was that they had to stand back and just watch that happen.”
But Taylor notes there are instances where just one person could shut down a project under Brzeczek’s proposal. For example, council in August approved the Meadows at Platte Valley, a 250-unit apartment complex at Mineral Avenue and Platte Canyon Road. Just one person who lives in the adjacent Pinnacle Apartments is within 100 feet; nobody from the upscale Meadowbrook neighborhood across Mineral would have a say in the matter.
Citizens for Littleton’s Future says things are fine the way they are.
“Littleton has done well, and every residence within the city has four representatives on the council: three at large, and their own district council member,” writes C4LF. “The constrained spacing requirement and inordinately narrow percentage threshold negatively impact and constrain real property ownership and use rights.”
Election Day is Nov. 15, but ballots will go out in the mail next week.