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Term-limit battle lines drawn

Between the Lines

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Darryl Glenn thought he was doing a favor to everyone, inside or outside government, at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Along the way, merely by pushing for a simple timeline, Glenn brought sharper clarity to the question of putting term limits for county officials on the November 2011 election ballot.

Apparently, it might not be just about right or wrong, or responding to constituents' wishes. Instead, it's more about which commissioners will be out of town in July. Really.

After Tuesday, we know that Glenn and fellow rookie Commissioner Peggy Littleton want to give voters another shot in November at deciding term limits. They agree the ballot language as passed in November 2010 — asking voters whether they approved limiting officials to three four-year terms, rather than increasing limits from two terms to three — was confusing.

We also know that two commissioners, Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey, will be attending a meeting in Portland, Ore., on July 14, which Glenn's timeline sets as the last date the group can have its second reading and final decision about putting term limits on this ballot. (That's because commissioners only meet once a week during July, on Thursdays.) So even if they were supportive, which they don't appear to be, Clark and Hisey wouldn't be available for the second reading, according to Glenn's possible timeline.

Putting anything on the ballot requires the approval of at least three commissioners, even if only three are present at the time. That leaves Amy Lathen, chair of the commissioners, as the likely swing vote — and the target for those (including many Republicans) who feel the issue deserves a re-vote.

Lathen isn't saying where she stands, but she gave a strong hint Tuesday. She said she wouldn't decide until she has "a better idea of what the cost will be," adding that she felt it was commissioners' duty, "as stewards of the county," to factor in the financial impact.

So even though we'll have an election regardless, and the county clerk and recorder's office has budgeted for it, Lathen might vote against having any county-level ballot issues just to save money.

In other words, don't be expecting that re-vote to happen.

It appeared that no minds were changed Tuesday, even though more than a dozen residents showed up — and many spoke — to make their case.

"The public needs to decide in a more honest manner," said Lee Milner, who's heading the citizen effort, Springs Unigroup, in urging commissioners to "do the right thing."

Another speaker, Michael Schlierf, was more pointed in condemning the previous ballot language: "Only in George Orwell's 1984 could an extension be called a limit."

As for Glenn, he gave not only the proposed timeline — public comment from June 20 through July 6, first reading on July 7, second reading on July 14 — but also possible motions. They centered on these words: "Shall all persons who currently hold or in the future are elected to [different offices] be limited to serving two consecutive terms, a reduction from the current limit of three consecutive terms?"

Nicely done. But will it matter, even if Glenn compresses that timeline? (He might ask to move up that July 14 meeting to July 12.)

We jumped into this battle last fall, as soon as we saw the shrewd wording for the November 2010 ballot. But unfortunately, each issue of the Independent only reaches about 125,000 readers at most, which means that many thousands of El Paso County voters weren't aware.

But all discussion aside, why not give the voters another chance now, with clear wording and lots of unbiased publicity?

This issue will not fade away. If the commissioners decide against putting term limits back on the ballot this year, it'll come up again and again. It also will erode the public's trust, and hamper their credibility when they have other issues and ballot measures to bring before voters.

Glenn knows, and he talked Tuesday about the danger, from his own experience. Colorado Springs City Council in recent years, he warned, "lost so much of the public's trust that the people changed the form of government."

It's hard to imagine a new form of government for the county. But it's easy to see how being stubborn about term limits now could haunt the commissioners for years to come.

routon@csindy.com

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