Coming out of the 2010 general election, one nagging issue stood out in El Paso County as having the best chance to affect our county commissioners' credibility with the voters.
Term limits, of course. Yes, more than 60 percent of voters approved adding a third four-year term for commissioners as well as the district attorney, county clerk, treasurer, assessor and surveyor. But, obviously, a large portion of county residents felt bamboozled. The ballot language made no reference to increasing the number of terms that elected officials could serve, instead saying they would be limited to three terms.
The post-election uproar sent a clear message: Lots of people were convinced that county leaders had taken advantage of them. If they added up to 12 percent of the voters, that would've changed the results.
To his credit, new Commissioner Darryl Glenn (just coming over from City Council) had the right idea: Let's decide immediately to put the term-limits issue back on the ballot for 2011. Then the controversy fades away, commissioners can go about their other important business, and constituents will be satisfied.
That must have made too much sense.
Oh no, said commissioners Amy Lathen and Dennis Hisey at a recent meeting, we can't talk about a ballot issue this early in the year. People would feel like they were not allowed to participate in the debate. (Never mind that the commissioners avoided public participation last year.) Sallie Clark hasn't spoken out either way, which for now has to be interpreted as probably not supporting a re-vote this year.
Granted, if the county put something on the ballot, that would mean sharing in the off-year election's cost, likely between $150,000 and $300,000. Wayne Williams, just elected as county clerk — with a personal stake because, at the moment, he's set for three terms and 12 years — warned that the November ballot might be thin, meaning a higher bill for the county.
Again, Glenn was on target, saying in that meeting that the cost of undermining leaders' credibility should far outweigh any other concerns, adding that "on this issue, the community feels that something underhanded happened." As for the cost, Glenn now says if that "is going to be used as an excuse to not place this on the ballot, I am more than willing to work with any group willing to help fundraise to help defray the cost."
Anyway, that November ballot looks healthy, since Colorado Springs will likely put forth some city issues (with a new mayor and Council), plus Manitou Springs, Fountain and almost every school district taking part.
Yet, now we're hearing fresh whispers that commissioners might not send the term-limits issue back to voters until 2012.
That would be wrong. The outcome wouldn't take effect until 2013, so Clark and Hisey could go ahead and run for a third term in 2012. Once again, that looks devious. Especially when compared to giving voters another shot at term limits as soon as humanly possible, which means this year, before anyone could benefit from the 2010 vote allowing third terms.
Glenn agrees: "I believe that this issue must be resolved in the November 2011 election before anyone is eligible to run for a third term. ... I personally feel that ignoring the public outcry over the interpretation of this question is unacceptable. I believe there is a clear conflict of interest to vote against placing this issue on the ballot under its current scrutiny, and then run for re-election for a disputed third term."
Glenn insists he won't give up this fight.
"I have every intention of bringing this issue up again prior to the deadline to refer a question to the November ballot," he says. "This is not a partisan issue. This is about doing what's right."
And this is not a time to hide behind soft arguments, such as giving the public more time for input, or fearing how much the election might cost. This is the same group that, just last year, didn't flinch at financing $50 million-plus for new and reshuffled county office space.
Also, as the city learned with its U.S. Olympic Committee deal, ignoring your problems doesn't make them go away.
It only makes them worse.