August 27, 2010
El Paso County commissioners may refer three questions to the November ballot next week asking voters whether they want to extend the terms of commissioners and other county officials who hold elected office, including the district attorney, treasurer, clerk, assessor and surveyor.
“What we’re asking for is the ability to run again in an election for one more term if we choose to,” Commissioner Sallie Clark said Friday. “It leaves the option open and gives the electorate the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
Rick Wehner, head of SpringsUnigroup, a citizen’s organization, questioned whether it is the right time to put the measures on the ballot.
“Considering the number of issues going on the November ballot, is this a wise time to put a term extension matter on a ballot when the public is already displeased with local politicians?” he questioned in an email to County Administrator Jeff Greene.
If the trio of questions is approved for the ballot, it would be the first time since 1994 that county voters will have an opportunity to decide whether commissioners and several other officials who hold countywide offices should be allowed to run for three consecutive terms, according to data from Colorado Counties, Inc. In 1994, Colorado voters approved term limits.
In 2001, voters eliminated term limits for the Coroner’s Office provided the coroner is a certified forensic pathologist. But, in 2006, when residents were asked if they wanted to extend the terms for clerk, sheriff and treasurer, voters approved an additional four-year term for the sheriff only.
El Paso County commissioners, who are paid about $87,300 annually, serve staggered four-year terms and are limited to two terms. If voters approve the extension, it would not apply to county officials whose terms are ending, Clark said.
County officials who are currently finishing up eight-year terms include commissioners Jim Bensberg and Wayne Williams, Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink and Treasurer Sandra Damron.
If the questions are approved, commissioners Clark and Dennis Hisey, who will conclude their second terms in 2012, could run again, as well as the other elected county officials.
“Every time there’s an election, people already have the ability to remove somebody they don’t like,” said Hisey, commission chairman. “But they don’t have the ability to keep somebody in office that they do like.”
Amy Lathen, who represents eastern El Paso County and is in her first elected term, acknowledged that the ballot questions could be viewed as self-serving. But unlike city and state offices, in which citizens can petition to get issues onto the ballot, the only way county issues can get on the ballot is through a vote of the board of county commissioners.
Term limits, Lathen added, actually limit the voice of the people. “Sometimes people in office are doing a good job and there’s no way to retain them.”
District Attorney Dan May represents the 4th Judicial District, which encompasses both Teller and El Paso counties. Since his office straddles two counties, the ballot question has to be submitted to voters in both counties.
Teller County Commissioners this week approved the question for the ballot, said Cathy Fabiano, deputy administrator for Teller County.
El Paso County Board of County Commissioners meeting
9 a.m. Thursday
County Office Building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave.