In a drawn-out and contentious meeting Thursday, the El Paso County commissioners voted to revisit term limits for county elected officials in the 2012 general election. The ballot language includes a controversial "grandfather clause" that permits incumbent commissioners Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey to run and serve for a third term beyond 2012, even if more restrictive limits are adopted by the voters.
County voters will be asked whether to limit elected officials to two terms, or to retain the three-term limits, which were approved last November.
The 4-1 vote came after political activists of both right and left complained that the November vote was tainted because ballot language led voters to believe that a "yes" vote would institute term limits, not loosen them.
Before voting on the issue, the commissioners rejected both an amendment that would have accelerated the vote to November 2011 and an amendment that would have removed the grandfather clause.
Kyle Fisk, a conservative political consultant who managed Brian Bahr’s mayoral campaign this spring, spoke in support of removing the clause.
“There’s only one distinction between the (proposed issues),” he said, “and that’s whether or not Commissioners (Sallie) Clark and (Dennis) Hisey should serve another term. It’s very stark — and best practices at every level of government have clearly been that elected officials make those decisions for those who come after them. That’s the right, fair, and ethical approach.”
Speaking as representative of Americans for Prosperity, former City Council member Sean Paige issued a not-so-thinly-veiled warning.
“We will let our members know about this,” he said. “That’s not a threat ... it’s just what we do.”
Clark accused AFP of being motivated not by principle, but by ancient political grudges.
“Is AFP calling me out because I didn’t support (current AFP Colorado Director) Jeff Crank for Congress?” she asked.
Newly elected Commissioners Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton supported an immediate revote in 2011, as well as removal of the grandfather clause, while Commissioners Amy Lathen, Hisey and Clark supported waiting until 2012.
Opposing an immediate re-vote, Sheriff Terry Maketa tartly observed that “every ballot issue is confusing” and suggested that the commissioners wait a few years before re-submitting the question.
His comments led to a puzzling Q&A session with Glenn, who tried to trip up Maketa and catch him with a self-contradictory statement. Glenn was no match for the wily Maketa, who easily deflected all of Glenn’s rhetorical traps.
Before the vote, Clark spoke on her own behalf.
“I feel like I’m watching a tennis match,” she said, “and a couple of commissioners are the ball. It’s hard because I’m talking about myself here.”
Recapitulating her long career in local politics, Clark spoke of saving Fire Station 3, of her work preserving open space, and of her tireless work on behalf of her constituents.
“It takes a long time to get things done,” she continued. “I’m always at the table — I attend an average of 800 meetings a year. If ... I decide to seek re-election, let my constituents decide.”
After nearly six hours of testimony, parliamentary maneuvers, and testy exchanges between individual commissioners and members of the public, the final vote was 4-1, with Darryl Glenn the lone dissenter.
This decision won’t be the last word, according to some opponents.
“There are state issues, constitutional issues,” said Lee Milner. “It’s a long way from being over.”