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Residents urge do-over vote on term limits

June 14, 2011

In a show of early fireworks, a parade of people on Tuesday called for El Paso County commissioners to place two issues on the November ballot.

Commissioners made no decision on either request presented during the meeting’s public-comment period: to reword a measure to extend term limits for some elected officials, and to increase sales tax by 0.15 of a cent to pay for park maintenance countywide.

Commissioners Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen reiterated what they had said shortly after last fall’s election: that the board would hold two public meetings this summer to gauge public sentiment about extended terms for the job of El Paso County commissioner.  

In last year’s election, voters approved, with more than 60 percent of the vote, proposals to give commissioners and several other elected county officials three, four-year terms instead of two. But some voters have claimed the issue passed only because the wording of the question was deceptive.

“Only in George Orwell’s 1984 could an extension be called a limit. Increasing the trust of the people in this government is key — let’s put it back to the people,” small-business owner Michael Schlierf told commissioners.

Joan Lucia-Treese, one of the few opponents of rewording the measure, said that voters have “a duty and responsibility to study the ballot” before casting a vote.

“For those saying they did not understand the question on the ballot, my question to them is, why was this question not asked prior to the election? The wording was there — it did not magically appear on Election Day,” she said.

The measure read: “Shall persons elected to the office of … be limited to serving three consecutive terms, a modification of the current terms permitted.”

Under the approved extension, two current commissioners, Hisey and Sallie Clark, could run for a third term in the November 2012 election.

“Did they do it with a purpose to win? Yes. The county attorney admitted it,” Lee Milner said after the meeting. Milner is a local real estate broker and member of Springs UniGroup, an organization that formed with the goal of getting term limits back on the ballot.

County Attorney Bill Louis said at Tuesday’s meeting that his office “looked at other jurisdictions to see what form of question they used that had been successful.”

Sherri Brunzell, a resident who was at the podium at the time, then asked Louis: “So the issue was very carefully crafted?”

To which Louis replied: “Everything my office does is very carefully crafted.”

Brunzell asked Hisey whether he’d heard enough public input to decide whether he would agree to refer a new question to the Nov. 1 ballot.

Hisey said he would not take any position until after the public meetings.

Commissioners Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton, who were elected in November, said on the campaign trail that they opposed extending terms.

Since taking office in January, Glenn has pushed for a revote, and on Tuesday presented new wording options and a timeline for commissioners to consider.

Regarding public questioning of the commissioners’ integrity, Glenn said, “I hold these people (commissioners) with a great deal of respect. There was absolutely no intent to deceive voters in this community.”

Lathen said she wants to know how much a revote would cost the county. In a coordinated election, costs are shared by the entities that present ballot measures, such as school districts and municipalities.

No ballot measures have been confirmed, Williams said recently, although one school board recall effort is under way and several school districts are expected to have board elections.

The next step, Lathen said, is for commissioners to schedule public meetings, which Glenn asked to be held between June 20 and July 6.

Opponent Lucia-Treese said she’s concerned that if the issue goes back to the voters, it will set a precedent that any time voters don’t like election results, they will call for a “do-over.”

“This issue is already taken care of — if you decide to seek another term, voters in your district will decide the outcome,” she said.

Commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council will discuss the parks initiative, dubbed Great Parks-Great Communities, at a joint meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. It is open to the public. The Trails and Open Space Coalition will bring the issue to commissioners on Tuesday, said Bill Koerner, advocacy director.

“We’ll ask them to put this on the ballot, and if they don’t, I’m not quite sure where we’ll go,” he said.

Under state law, only commissioners can put a question on the ballot for a countywide vote.

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