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 firstname.lastname@example.org (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.
Mayor Don Stephens