Littleton City Councilmember Carol Fey responded to criticism of her silence during a February study session on potential future ballot measures seeking to increase local taxes, saying she “got …
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Littleton City Councilmember Carol Fey responded to criticism of her silence during a February study session on potential future ballot measures seeking to increase local taxes, saying she “got very uncomfortable” at the prospect of a “vote” on a timeline to pursue the measures.
Council discussed several proposals at the Feb. 9 study session, including potential ballot measures asking citizens whether to raise the city's sales tax rate, whether to create a first-ever lodging tax and whether to increase city taxes on retail marijuana.
Despite discussion among other councilmembers, Fey remained silent throughout the meeting.
Watch the Feb. 9 city council study session.
Toward the end of the meeting, Mayor Jerry Valdes polled councilmembers on when they felt council should pursue the measures: as soon as this fall, or in years to come. The poll was intended to guide City Manager Mark Relph in planning efforts for more detailed ballot measure proposals in coming weeks.
Mayor Valdes pressed Fey for her opinion, leading to an odd exchange in which Fey repeatedly rebuffed him.
“You're the only one who hasn't given direction,” Valdes said.
“Correct,” Fey said.
“You're choosing not to participate, or what's going on here?” Valdes said.
“I have no comment on this,” Fey said.
“Is there a reason you don't want to participate?” Valdes said.
“Nope,” Fey responded.
Fey's abstention briefly caused a tie among the other six councilmembers on whether to pursue a sales tax increase this fall, prompting Mayor Pro Tem Scott Melin to call for a short break in the meeting. Upon resuming, Fey continued her abstention. The tie was broken when a majority of remaining councilmembers decided to ask Relph for information on pursuing tax increase ballot measures as soon as this fall.
Fey's silence drew criticism at the Feb. 16 council meeting from former city councilmember Kyle Schlachter, who in public comment called for Fey's resignation.
“Having input from all of you regardless of your stance is vital to good governance,” Schlachter said. “Clearly councilmember Fey is not willing or able to contribute to important conversations and seems not prepared to serve as a councilmember anymore. I think the residents of Littleton would be best served by Ms. Fey's resignation.”
Listen to Schlachter's full comments.
In a followup email to Colorado Community Media, Fey said she wasn't ready to weigh in on the timeline.
“I was surprised with where the conversation went and wasn't expecting a discussion or vote on something that wasn't on the agenda,” Fey wrote. “When the mayor asked repeatedly, I got very uncomfortable to be voting in a study session. When these issues come up again and are on the agenda, I will be ready to share my opinion.”
The council packet for the Feb. 9 meeting does not expressly call for a poll of councilmembers on a ballot timeline, although it does include two potential timelines for ballot measures: one for 2021 and another for 2022, along with pro and con lists prepared by staff on the two timeline possibilities. A presentation by city staff on the two timelines concluded with a slide reading “Do you agree it is time to act?”
The proposal to ask voters to increase sales taxes has appeared in biannual citizen surveys since 2016.
In a followup email, Fey said she needed more information before weighing in on the ballot timeline at the study session.
“I wasn't expecting that we would 'vote' and thus make such a strong statement about a ballot issue for 2021 that we know very little about,” Fey said. “I was expecting more of a conversation to ask staff to advise us before advancing to the ballot. I for one need much more information before going that far.”
Fey declined to respond to Schlachter's call for her resignation, saying “The statement that council starts meetings with about Colorado Open Meetings law not allowing council to respond to citizen comment guides me not to respond to Kyle.”
The statement read at the beginning of public comment periods at council meetings by Assistant City Manager Samma Fox says that council is not authorized under Colorado open meetings law “to discuss, comment or take action at this meeting on any issue raised by public comment that's not part of tonight's agenda.”
City Attorney Reid Betzing said the vote held during the study session was within council's rules.
Council rule II(D) states “Council may look for a majority of opinion to give direction to staff,” Betzing said.
“The direction that Mr. Relph and staff needed was whether the City Council was in support of a sales tax increase, and if so, when?” Betzing wrote. “That direction was not indicative of a vote for or against.”
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