GREELEY - Three Greeley attorneys are questioning whether Weld County commissioners have the authority to initiate the 51st state movement, calling on the Weld County Council to investigate the issue.
In a letter sent on Monday to Don Mueller, chairman of the Weld County Council, the three attorneys - Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson - say the Colorado Constitution gives citizens the authority to alter their form of government, but no such authority is granted to county commissioners.
"We have reviewed the Colorado Constitution, the statutes of Colorado and the Weld County Home Rule Charter," the letter states. "We can find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County from the state of Colorado."
Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher said those claims are "totally baseless."
"We obviously wouldn't be doing it if we didn't have a legal basis to do it," Rademacher said.
Witwer, one of the attorneys who signed off on the letter, said commissioners' proposal to secede from Colorado is their most recent action in a number of instances that he said don't necessarily fall under their authority. He said no state law or county charter outlines commissioners' authority to focus on issues outside of county affairs.
Weld commissioners have said they were approached by a group of residents who asked them to start a secession movement. But Witwer said the fact that constituents approached them still doesn't grant commissioners authority to start the movement.
Witwer said the November ballot question asking voters whether they would like to secede isn't an official action, but more of a poll. He said that kind of initiative has no real legal base.
Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker acts as legal counsel for commissioners and the Weld County Council, so the letter asks the county council to seek a neutral attorney to investigate commissioners' authority.
Mueller said on Tuesday he had not seen the letter and wished to comment after he had seen it. Barker also declined to comment until he has discussed the letter with county council members.
Witwer said he agrees with the sentiment that started the 51st state proposal, which is that state legislators are not tending to the concerns of rural Coloradans.
"It isn't that I reject the idea that there is some dissidence among the rural community," he said.
But Witwer said he feels there are a number of logistical issues, namely water rights, that pose too many difficulties to allow the creation of a new state.
He said the letter came about after he and Ruyle struck up a conversation about the 51st state movement, and the three attorneys decided a letter to the county council, which oversees commissioners, was the best way to express concern.