Mayor addresses home rule, sunshine law

An open letter to the fine citizens of Salida,

I am rarely compelled to respond to letters or other events that I disagree or otherwise have an issue with, but a few recent events require a response.

First, a letter titled “Educate yourself about home rule” appeared in the Mountain Mail recently that contains a significant inaccuracy. Let me be clear:  Home rule in itself does NOT  “expand the power of municipal officials to tax, set fees, spend, and incur debt almost without limit.” I do not know any simpler words to address the author’s comment. The charter commission will decide what the council has power to do or not do.  I wish the authors had considered educating themselves as they suggest the rest of us do, rather than spread misinformation.

The second incident occurred at our most recent city council meeting. Billy Carlisle, a Salida resident, for the second time this month, publicly accused the council of violating sunshine laws, a very serious allegation.  He believes council is secretly meeting to brainstorm ways to make sure the ballot question passes.  I explained that no such violation occurred, and if he continues to raise this baseless accusation, he will not be welcome to speak at the podium in council chambers (by the way, Mr. Carlisle was allowed to finish his prepared statement, which was an opinion entirely devoid of fact).

I am a huge proponent of the First Amendment; it is the main tenet that sets us apart from much of the world. But when baseless criminal allegations are directed at the council it becomes slander. I will not tolerate this at our meetings, I respect the sunshine law in every sense, and I take offense with the baseless accusation.  Further, council is intentionally taking a non-partisan, hands off approach to this to ensure the process remains citizen driven.

Here is a quick review of the process: Two questions will appear on the special election ballot in January, and both will be addressed simultaneously. The first question is shall the City of Salida form a home-rule commission to write a charter? The second question is who shall make up the commission?

If the first question results in a “NO” vote, the second question becomes moot. If 11 candidates do not apply to be a part of the commission, the issue will die with no need for an election. If the first question results in “YES,” then the 11 highest vote tallies will determine the commission. The commission will craft the version of the charter that will appear about 6 months later to be voted on for approval by the citizens of the City of Salida. If that vote is “YES,” then the people have embraced and approved that charter as our chosen form of government. If the second vote is “NO,” then we will remain a statutory city and the issue dies.  The timeline for this process is determined by state statute, not by the city council.  The questions will be answered by the citizens, not the council.

Mr. Carlisle has picked up a petition to get onto the ballot as a charter commissioner. At the Colorado Municipal League home rule presentation, Mr. Carlisle freely stated he seeks this position with the sole intent to sabotage the charter. To do so for this purpose is incredibly disrespectful to the citizens and the process.  I have faith that his actions will be rebuked naturally through the process.

He is also associated with a group that has taken the acronym of STRONG, who, apparently, are all opposed to even putting this issue to a vote of the people.  Most of what council has heard from this group against home rule is opinion without any supporting facts.  Consider that many members of this group frequently attend council meetings to “keep an eye” on council and they supposedly support the democratic process.  To attempt to eliminate a vote of the people on this issue of self control is an affront to democracy and borderline hypocrisy. Others in this group have also picked up petitions, and should the question pass, it is possible the charter will be in the hands of individuals with dishonorable intentions (Mr. Carlisle is the only individual I have heard publicly announce his agenda). The citizens and the process deserve more respect than that.

This charter is akin to a constitution, as it would dictate our city government. I cannot imagine anything more honorable and exciting to participate in than the most basic form of democracy that this country was founded upon. State law works fine for the most part, but to be able to create policies that suit our needs better can only be an improvement.  If the home-rule question fails at the polls, I will be happy knowing the will of the people has been affirmed, ditto if it passes.

It is of the utmost importance that anyone seeking a commission seat put their full and bonafide effort into the charter, or the entire exercise will be a waste of time and resources.

I encourage anyone interested in writing an historical, citizen-driven guiding document to pick up a petition at City Hall, located at the east end of the Touber Building at 448 E First St. in Salida. There is a submission deadline of November 7 you must meet to be placed on the ballot, so time is short.

Please feel free to contact me at (provide a phone number!) if you would like to discuss this letter, the process of home rule, or other issues.  I will not advocate for or against the home-rule question.  The rest of council has expressed their willingness to impartially discuss the process as well, don’t hesitate to contact any of them.  My experience is that they do have an open ear, especially regarding this topic.

Best Regards,

Mayor Don Stephens

The Citizen is happy to provide a forum for comments and discussion. Please be civil, truthful, and relevant. Please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. Real names are appreciated.

9 Responses to “Mayor addresses home rule, sunshine law”

  1. jan sebastian

    who is slandering whom?
    Name calling those who disagree with your agenda ("hypocritical", "undemocratic", "dishonorable") is not only counterpoductive but not worthy of the office Mayor Stephens holds.

    Here's an appropriate quote taken from Bill Hudson's post on this site: "without the willingness of complaining people to place themselves in the path of seemingly unstoppable political decision making, we will all end up on the floor."
    - Jan Sebastian ( one of those people who attend council meetings to "keep an eye on" his local government's actions)

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  2. Trey

    Electing someone who wants to sabotage the process would be like hiring a plumber who intends to leave your plumbing leakier than s/he found it.

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  3. Ed Castellon

    I appreciate Mayor Stevens candor, and don't see any slandering. If the elected Mayor has concerns about groups attempting to sabotage the democratic process, or misinformation, I'm glad he has voiced them. He's made it quite clear he and council are making their best efforts at impartiality.

    I would hope those opposed to home rule have ample opportunity to present their case with logical arguments, rather then fussing about the Mayor's choice of words and being proud of 'complaining'. Complaining is fine, I just saw no solution or positive discussion points regarding the opposing view in the above response.

    If you're 'keeping on eye' on our local government, please remember you're not the only ones looking out for ourselves, but thanks anyway.

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  4. monika griesenbeck

    To Ed Castellon, if you're going to pontificate about the mayor's slanderous letter (my opinion) you might at least get his name right.

    Based on my reading of other Colorado home rule municipalities' charters, I have found the following consistancies: initiation of new fees and taxes, watered down sunshine provisons, adoption of the council-manager form of government (74% of home rule municipalities) and abreviated citizen rights of initiative, referendum and recall provisions.

    Given Salida local government's track record there's no reason our charter will be any different and the real potential to be a whole lot worse.

    Mayor Stephens and council have made no substantive effort to educate this community about the real pros and cons of going to home rule. They have initiated this home rule election in the shortest possible time while trotting out the same old talking points of five years ago, and make no mistake, this is from the top down rather than the bottom up.

    I was dismayed to find how many Salidans had no idea about home rule while gathering my signatures for the home rule charter commission.

    If you are really interested in home rule municipalities you might google the Northern Colorado Council of Governments cost/benefit analisis on municipal home rule.

    And finally, having dedicated a lot of my time to this effort, and considering myself an engaged citizen in our participatory Democracy, I find mayor Stephens' "candor" not only untrue, unkind, but a real disincentive to anyone thinking of giving input at any future council meeting.

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    • Ed Castellon

      My apologies to the Mayor, the misspelling makes all the difference.

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  5. rod & lorene farney

    Mayor Stephens,

    We do understand home rule and that a commission writes the charter. Doesn't it all fall under the title of Home Rule? We feel the community needs to educate themselves on the pros and cons of home rule because the city council failed to do their part A one hour presentation by CML does not justify an education. The council should have taken more time to involve the community in this process before passing an ordinance to put it to a vote.

    We the citizens do deserve more respect.

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  6. Mike Harvey

    I agree there needs to be more community education about the potential benefits to Home Rule. At its core Home Rule is about local control or self government. Salida is currently a Statutory City meaning that many of the ways in which the City government operates are dictated by the State. The voters have two opportunities to make sure this is the right direction for the City to head, the special election this January and then if the voters approve the charter writing process; 180 days later when the citizen lead Charter Commission submits its charter to the Community for an up or down vote.

    I have trouble understanding where all the mistrust and paranoia about this issue come from. I am personally far more comfortable with the prospect of calling one my friends or neighbors who serves on the City Council then I am trying to get any attention at the State level. To me this is the core question: do we want to settle questions of local government locally? Or do we need the State to settle them for us?.

    I disagree with Monika's assessment of home rule coming from "the top down". There was a citizen's task force that explored the issue in 2007 and the citizen's will ultimately write the charter. The 2007 task force has a great summary of Salida as statutory vs. home rule here:

    The City is providing a great deal of information on their website. for other resources.

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  7. Bill Donavan

    I saw Sam Mamet's presentation on Home Rule. He presented the information as a student of democratic process. More importantly, he said he was happy to answer any questions, and we should all reach out to ask him questions via phone or e-mail.

    It's rare to see a political scientist with such a deep knowledge of a topic, not just theoretically, but also anecdotally, considering his knowledge of other town's Home Rule experiences here in Colorado.

    I second Mike's curiosity about the paranoia, it's confusing to me as well, especially when all I have heard from the Mayor, Council and Mr. Mammet is that the primary goal should be to educate ourselves from a variety of sources, and speak with people in other towns.

    But, having lived in conservative NW Montana I will take it one step further and say that I am surprised the constitution toting conservative component in our town isn't leading this charge?

    Ironically, as Mr. Mamet explained, we could replicate the exact (state mandated statutory laws and provisions) we have now. To this point, one goal the charter commission might consider is to replicate the existing system exactly, except for modification of the specific areas that will save us money. Those savings could be put into an education fund offsetting a school bond.

    This is a oversimplified example of the possibilities, intended only to illustrate my desire that the people of Salida elect those who look at the opportunity for home rule optimistically, and in ways that preserve a sense of community and help maintain the solvency of the City.

    Monika, I hope while you and Mr. Carlisle are getting signatures, you are telling people to educate and think for themselves vs. simply giving them your opinion—which appears to be rooted in mistrust. The irony is that the things you don't like about local government might soon be in your power to change.

    I am currently an undecided, clearly it is a complex issue and I have much to learn.


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  8. john holmes

    So the Mayor feels completely comfortable attacking his opposition on a personal level. He has accused his opposition of slander. I reviewed the tapes. There were no accusations, only questions. The questions still linger on a wide range of issues. It is apparent from the MM article on 8/22 that Dara MacDonald and Audrey Gilpen met with citizens on the issue of home rule in non-published non-disclosed meetings three months before the home rule issue came to the attention of the community. The Mayor and some others in the government met with Mr. Mammet several months before the public was brought into the issue. These meetings may not have been illegal but they were certainly not transparent. The citizens are being snowed and bowled over.

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