Public trust went up against voter responsibility, and fiscal responsibility took on fiscal irresponsibility Monday night at the first of two meetings El Paso County Commissioners hosted on term limits.
Nearly 60 people crowded into the hearing room at Pikes Peak Regional Development Center to address both sides of the contentious issue that erupted after last November’s election.
Angry voters venting displeasure were the first to speak and used such words as “hoodwinked,” “tricked” and “manipulated.”
More than 60 percent of voters approved extended terms for most elected county officials last year, including the five-member board of commissioners. But some say the ballot question was misleading and unclear, causing them to cast a vote the opposite of what they had intended.
Although she has two college degrees, Theresa Nielsen, leader of voting precinct 391, said she had to read the ballot language five times to comprehend the question, which did not use the word “extend” and did not say that a limit of two terms existed and that a “yes” vote meant approving three terms in office.
“Voters should be able to fully understand in simple language what they’re voting on,” she said. “People’s votes are sacred; it’s what allows us to remain a constitutional republic. Do the right thing.”
Others called for commissioners to “bring this issue back” and “let the people vote.”
Michael Schlierf noted that the county attorney had said the question was worded like successful term extensions in other counties, which caused mistrust among voters.
“Government will do what is best for government. Some say voters should have been more responsible, but that’s really not the point. You know our weaknesses as voters, and you exploited it,” he said. “We deserve better. Let us have a chance to re-create the trust.”
Some mentioned that two seated commissioners, Dennis Hisey and Sallie Clark, will benefit from the proposal they referred to last year’s ballot by being able to run for a third, four-year term next year and suggested they placed it on the ballot to protect their jobs and earn more pension.
“Nobody should have a job for life,” said Ed Jones, a former county commissioner and former state Senator.
“You three have won races before and you have lost races before and you are great commissioners – don’t be afraid to put it back on,” he said, referring to Hisey, Clark and Chairwoman Amy Lathen, who were on the commission when the issue went to the ballot.
Both sides mentioned the cost of placing the item on the November ballot, which Lathen said would be about $300,000.
From Kyle Fisk, a conservative activist and lifelong Republican: “I think this is important enough to spend the money. There’s no question it was misleading.”
And former City Councilman Sean Paige: “What dollar figure can you put on restoring public trust?”
But those who favor leaving the issue alone said it would be a waste of money that should be spent on job creation or other ways to help the economy.
“I hear countless stories of people out of work, I’d ask you to please consider that when you’re considering spending $300,000,” said Stephannie Finley, who’s with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce but said she was speaking as a private citizen.
“Please don’t spend my tax money on a do-over. I found these ballot issues to be incredibly easy to understand, and I don’t want you to throw away my vote,” said Jessica McMullen.
Lois Landgraf said she was concerned that a revote would send the message that anytime people didn’t like the outcome of an election, they could re-do the question.
“Somebody finds something on the ballot that’s confusing in every election. What issue will be next?” she said. “As far as public trust, what about trusting the over 114,000 people that voted for this?”
Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who has pushed for the public meetings, asked for a show of hands for a revote. About seven people indicated they did not want the item on the ballot again.
Clark said she didn’t “necessarily agree with a hand poll.”
“I think the best poll we see is when people cast the votes at the ballot box,” she said.
After the second public meeting on Thursday, which starts at 9 a.m. at the county office building at 27 E. Vermijo Ave., commissioners will have three choices: Put a re-worded proposal to extend term limits on the Nov. 1 ballot; wait until next year’s General Election to revisit the question when the cost would be less, or let the extension that passed last year stand.