Current home-rule charter: blank paper

Dear Editor,
As a candidate for the home-rule commission, I decided to write this letter to clarify some issues I felt were not fully understood.  I have spoken with a lot of members of the community and candidates as well.  There are a number of misconceptions out there and I thought I could address some of them.

First and foremost, the election in January will not make Salida a home-rule city.  It will not put a city charter in place.  What it will do is decide whether or not a charter should be written for the people of Salida to consider.  Which leads me to the second misunderstanding.  There is no charter yet, nothing has been written.  There is no provision to increase taxes, no provision to spend 6 million on a rec center, no easing of the requirements to raise city fees. There is nothing currently but a blank piece of paper.
If we decide to have the citizens, not the City Council or administration, write a charter, then that charter will be put up for a vote, and you will get to see what it is long before there is a vote on it.  If it increases taxes or fees or spends 6 million on a rec center, you will know before you vote on it.
Can the charter increase taxes?  I’m not sure.  What it cannot do is take away the TABOR requirement that all taxes be approved by a popular vote.  The city is subject to the Sunshine laws, and the charter can’t do away with those.  The charter could enhance both of those things.  Right now, TABOR requires a majority vote to raise taxes.  We could all decide that the threshold has to be a 60 percent supermajority.  What we can’t do is make it easier.  Some people say that cities with charters have higher taxes.  That may be true but they also have more freeways.  One does not necessarily follow the other.
Here are some things that I would like to see the charter commission discuss.  I am not saying we should include all of these in the charter, or that I would vote for a charter that includes these, but I think the discussion would be great.
I have spoken to a number of people who are angry about how Vandaveer has been handled, including some folks on the City Council. I see two issues with Vandaveer.  The first is the ability of the city to buy property without the approval of the citizens.  This applies to the Touber building as well.  Currently, as a statutory city, the city can buy all the land it wants without asking the citizens.  Under certain conditions, but not always, the city has to ask to sell or give away land.  So I would like to see the charter commission discuss under what conditions the city should be able to buy and sell, or give away land.
The second issue that Vandaveer gives rise to is the 6230 corporation.  The city has created a private land development company that competes with local developers.  The city subsidizes it, the City Council appoints the board, and they use city resources.  Right now, we have no right to know who they hire, how much money they borrow or where it goes.  Is that something we want to allow again in the future?  Is it something we want to allow to continue now?  That would be an interesting discussion.
There are other great issues that the commission could, and in my view, should discuss.  Some people think we should have at least some of the City Council elected-at-large.  I’ve heard a lot of people complain that we send hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to Glenwood Springs for a city attorney.  Others have brought up the city’s forays into the private sector, like the SteamPlant or pool, that they feel should be done by private business.  I think those are all great topics for discussion.
What I don’t think we should do is forgo these opportunities for discussion because people fear the outcome.  I think we should welcome the opportunity as a community to get these issues out in the open, let people hear all sides, let the commission draft a charter and then vote on it.  I may end up voting against it.  I won’t know until I see it, but whether I like it or not, I’ll let you know why.

 

Bill Smith

Salida

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.

14 Responses to “Current home-rule charter: blank paper”

  1. Mike Harvey

    Thanks Bill. Just so it's clear...there is no evidence that home rule equals higher taxes. In fact there is evidence (a CU student's dissertation available on this site) that there is no difference between a statutory and home rule community when you control for factors like population.

    The Citizens for Accountable Government CAG are explicitly making this claim but have not presented any data that suggests it's true.

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  2. Mike Harvey

    http://www.jasonstilwell.com/dissertation

    The dissertation I referenced.

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  3. Billy Carlisle

    Dear Bill and Mike, The rates are higher. When you argue that revenue stays the same you are proving my point. Affluent people shop on on line and in other communities to avoid the higher rates. Seniors who are less likely to travel outside the community or shop on line wind up paying the higher taxes to subsidize your ammenities. Seniors and working families take up the slack. It is a selfish game. You don't come out ahead because revenues stay the same, but people on fixed incomes take it on the chin. The same is true for working families. You argue based on one statistical analysis that revenues do not seem to change and you ignore the fact that sales tax rates go up. You know the truth but you try to tap dance around it. This seems all too obvious to me. You can keep saying it, but that does not make it true. I will speak up whereever I see your statements.

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  4. Bill Smith

    Billy:

    You contatly ignore the fact that rates only go up when there is a TABOR election to raise them. This has nothing to do with whether or not a city is home rule.

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  5. Billy Carlisle

    There is no evidence I have seen that shows me how a home rule charter can constrain a council. They still have the authority to pass ordinances. More often those ordinances will hold up because the state is not likely to over rule them. I think if anything the council would be harder to restrain with any home rule charter. That is at least how I am interpreting the information I am reading. The governing body, Council, can even amend the charter, you can find this on page 14 of the hand book, "An Overview of Municipa Home Rule" a hand book for municipal officials. How will a council be constrained by a charter that is designed to be flexible and one which they can amend by ordinance. That one section at the bottom of page 14 and the top of page 15 is pretty clear to me. The only way to constrain council is to get involved to influence the council and to get involved at the ballot box to change the people on the council. Government and politics are messy but it is a better system than no system or chaos. Look at the bottom of page 17 and the top of page 18. This is all about flexibility and latitude for the governing body. Home rule will be less constraining on the governing body, and the state will give diffrence to the home rule charter as much as possible. This means as a citizen the local governing body will have more control over your life and not less. The ways to control or restrain your local governing body is through the ballot box and legal recourse. Legal recourse for citizens will be weakened by any home rule charter because courts in Colorado will be less likely to rule against a home rule government. They will defer to the local municipalities rights to tax, fine, make ordinances and penalize citizens. I have read everything I can on home rule and I believe it will inpinge on citizens rights and reduce citizens ability to influence their local government. The local control means more control for the governing body, and I am convinced it will mean less control for the citizens. Read the handbooks and do your reasearch on line. The council is trying to sell you a bill of goods.

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  6. Bill Smith

    Billy:

    You are wrong. Dead wrong. A city council cannot amend the charter. They can, by ordinance, ask for a vote to amend the charter that they want to see, but they cannot amend the charter without a popular vote,

    I suggest that you, of all people would be willing to go to the source of the law, in this case CRS 31-2-210, rather than rely on someone else's interpretation of it. (Unless of course, that interpretation fit your rhetorical needs of the moment.)

    It is that same thing with raising taxes. You seem remarkably unwilling to acknowledge that any new taxes have to be voted on by the people whether or not the city is home rule. I guess that fact doesn't fit your rhetorical needs either.

    You say people should do their research, and I agree. You should do yours as well, or are you trying to sell a bill of goods?

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  7. Billy Carlisle

    Bill, I think I know how it works. I could go back to the ordinance, but I have seen it explained the same way in a few places and think I know how it works. I get it. You are advocating dueling ballot initiatives. Do you want to do them at Christmas or on Mother's Day. Back to what I was saying, do you want a flexible charter like the CML hand book advocates, or do you want a restrictive one to prevent the council from doing all the things you don't like? Do you want a lot of silly ordinances or just a short list of your personal favorites? I really do not want to find myself in a legal battle with a home rule municipality run amouk. The two main purposes of home rule charters are: 1. to more tightly regulate citizens and 2. Raise more funds for pet projects for the ruling class in the community. Working people do not want to fight with you over an endless list of intrusions into their lives through ballot iniatives, ordinances, and fees. We would like to be left alone to our work and activities. The people who will feed at the public trough have more appetite for this stuff than the average salt of the earth citizen. I hope I can reach enough of those salt of the earth people to let them know their way of life and their very existence in this community is under serious threat.

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  8. Bill Donavan

    Wow. "Our very existence in this community is under serious threat?" "...Ruling class?" As my salt of the earth midwestern parents used to tell my siblings and I while growing up "Raise your pitchforks! There is injustice! Revolt!" Their sarcasm helped to illustrate that our impassioned pleas were less effective than calm discussion. My pop used to explain that it was better to show the benefits and pitfalls of our positions. Humility and reason are often more persuasive than threats.

    Below is a comment posted elsewhere on The Citizen by Bill Smith (a dirty elitist who used to drive trucks for a living before moving on to become a money grubbing raft guide). Last time I checked he was frustrated by certain decisions made by the City of Salida and or decisions by past and present city councils. These seem like fairly "salt of the earth" reasons to explore home rule.

    I appreciate your passion, but your verbosity and defense of the status quo may be curious for the patriots in the room. I guess I'm just a simple man and the words below appeal to my rural Wisconsin roots Mr. Carlisle.
    --------------------------------------------------
    Here are some things we can write into the charter. These come from a variety of sources, and I don’t support them all.

    - Require a vote of the people before the city purchases or disposes of any real property (See Vandeveer)
    - Require a vote of the people before the city council can approve additional debt for its enterprise funds
    - take away the city’s ability to create 63-20 corporations
    - require that the current city council all be members of the Board of Directors of the current 63-20
    - require that the current 63-20 comply with Sunshine Laws
    - require the city attorney to live in Chaffee County
    - prevent the city from taking advantage of any additional taxing provisions that are available to non-statutory cities
    - Require more than 50% of the vote to raise taxes, say 60% or 67%

    Those are some things, many of which cannot be done under our current status.
    -------------------------------------------------

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  9. Billy Carlisle

    Wild Bill, Your clarity and ideas are great. I often disagree with you. This short rant is some of your best thinking. I am not being sarcastic and I am not talking down. I earnestly mean to say your points are compelling. I strongly disagree with your position on home rule, but your social thoughts were very good. Even your home rule ideas were interesting. I just do not think that home rule is a majic bullet that will accomplish those things you outlined. I think the elected officials will have more power not less under home rule. It is about control and micro managing people. Home rule will be the tool the governing body uses to regulate us more closely, and we will not like it.
    Yes my rhetoric is sometimes over the top. I am holding back, if that helps. I thought my words were measured; at least, that had been my intent. It is hard to pull your punches when you feel strongly about something. Speaking in muted tones when you feel strongly can be a sort of dishonesty. The thoughts I communicated may seem harsh, but they reflect my true feelings. I have talked to a few folks (a small hand full of folks) I consider elitist, and who I felt were looking down their nose at Salida as they advocated for home rule. I am not saying this with a broad brush as a way to attack the opposition. They are some of the prime movers behind this home rule initiative, by the way. The vigor of my response against home rule was a small fire that has been fanned by some of the folks who have talked down to Salida Citizens in general and on occasion to the opponents of home rule. The folks who have talked down to Salidans have evoked a viceral response from me. I take your words of advice realizing that they are sound, and I remain unapologetic in my fight against home rule.
    Most of the proponents for home rule are speaking in platitudes. Few have been as specific as you just were. They are praising home rule as a cure all. The problem with that is that with home rule elected officials will have a stronger hand, particularly in the courts, and citizens will be more tightly controled. Fighting city hall will be more often a costly legal process and the courts will defer to the home rule municipality. Your short rant was the most concise pro home rule arguments I have heard yet, but it does not bring me nearer to thinking home rule is a good idea.
    Those possibilities that you suggest do not offset the down sides like higher fees, taxes, and more rules. Also, all of the objectives you have can only be realized, if you have folks on the council who are committed to transparency and accountability. This would be the case in a statutory city or a home rule city. The real test will be to see who stays involved after this home rule ballot initiative is voted down. I think there is a long list of issues and problems that should be discussed in public hearings, and I do not believe a home rule charter will help with that. The public needs to get involved and get the right people in office, not in a home rule writting committee, but rather in the governing body itself. I am not advocating recalls, by the way; I think we have some decent folks in office. They will come around with appropriate citizen pressure. The future for Salida will involve more competitive races for mayor and council, in the normal election cycles. I would be very reluctant to advocate for recalls because they, like this home rule initiative, would be costly for the city. I do not want to see this community devolve into a bunch of factions with competing ballot initiatives. You realize the council can play this initiative game too and they have already proved they think $15,000 for an off year off cycle ballott initiative is fun. Made even more fun, if you can schedule it right in the middle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with no ground work and a short time frame to research the issue and make decisions. This is the future for Salida, if we choose home rule, and more of it. You bragged on the CML presentation at one point. Your rant above was one of your best writtings. Your comments about the CML presentation were on the other extreme. Sam M. answered 6 out of 15 relavant questions and those were answered poorly. The information and time for community dialog on home rule has been woefully absent. No sane business person allows himself to be crowded into decisions with bad information and tight deadlines for decision making that do not leave time for informed decision making. Yes I know there are exceptions and sometimes you have to go with your gut and make a quick decision. This is not one of those times. There is no looming crisis that demands us to make an immediate decision. Making a decision about home rule for Salida with the little information and time we have been given would be irresponcible. My conscience demands that I vote no.
    Kind regards, Billy

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  10. Jay Moore

    All.
    I am, and have been, utterly agnostic as to the outcome of the incipent election. The city has been running under the current Statutory rules for decades and the wondering about "what is the problem that needs to be corrected" has been well circulated.

    Well, from my standpoint the real problem is apathy. Four of five elections in ward 3 since 2005 were unopposed. I was elected unopposed in 2005 after living here 18 months!!! I got more votes than the other individual, a high school teacher who had been here for a while. To put this in to a bit of perspective, when I was working as an Interest/Geritrician, I'd get more phone calls in a weekend than I've gotten in seven plus years from citizens who I represented while on City Council. The 2009 election was canceled because NONE of the four elections (mayor and three city council) were contested. The current conversation has value for our future bacause it seems to have awakened a community wide wareness that local government is maybe, possibly, something to be involved in. And that is why I voted to put it out there.

    If a charter comission were to be voted in, then the freeloading, non attenting paying voters, who do nothing but complain about decisions, might need to actually wake up from their slumber and actually become observant adults.

    Jay

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  11. Billy Carlisle

    Jay,
    Thank you for your observations. I really want to stay with it. Win, lose or draw on home rule I plan to stay involved.
    Diffrent people have diffrent callings. I don't really feel ashamed for staying uninvolved in Salida city government for so long. I had other interests that I thought had equal or more importance. Also, I was not aware of the need in the city government. I still prefer charities; that is where my heart is. I am not sure if it is for good or bad, but I plan to stay involved with Salida city government.
    The first council meeting I attended in late August of 2012 was very rancorous. This may have been the one just before home rule hit the fan. I guess folks were feeling disenfranchised and talked down to in meetings. I am guessing that was not councils intention, but I think some folks feel intimidated by the process and the room. That first meeting made me feel there were some issues that the community needed to deal with to be able to move forward. I think home rule would be a disaster. After this vote, I will begin bringing issues to the council. I think there are issues that need attention and which can easily be handled by a statutory city. I am not sure where that will lead us, but I intend for those to be positive and constructive conversations.
    The issues with home rule became too contentious and I regret that, but I felt like the citizens were being bulldozed on the issue and I felt like I had to step in front of the process.
    Saying that I am ready for reconciliation is a true statement. The other side of the coin is that there have been times when I feel like the council is talking down to the citizens. I have tired of being told I was diseminating disinformation. There have been mistakes and mistatements on all sides. It is hard to have a constructive conversation about so complex a subject when the time table is so rushed. The other side of the coin I am talking about is to say I am ready for reconciliation, and I am hoping that feeling is mutual at some point. The citizens can be constuctive partners and I am hoping this is where the whole conversation goes soon.
    Kind regards, Billy

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  12. Jay Moore

    Billy,

    Thank you, very much, for a civil, written conversation. Have you read that, as a Statutory City, under 39-26-707 C.R.S. the sale of food must be taxed at ordinary slaes tax rates? This is, as I know you know, an utterly regressive tax because all must eat. This comment is not intended a justification for home rule, merely an observation of the problems our legistors create for their cities/towns.

    Jay

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  13. Billy Carlisle

    Dr. Moore,
    Good to hear back from you.
    I had heard that, but not read it. I have a lot of reading to do. I am hoping we wll remain statutory and that I will need to study the statutes and Colorado law carefully. I am hoping I will find many interesting tools in that system. Having only come to this 3 months ago, I am only reading what folks write about Colorado Law. I will start going directly to the the source materials soon.
    Thank you, Billy

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