Power to petition isn’t so easy
“The electors of the county shall have power to propose any resolution or ordinance to the board in accordance with the provisions of this article, except those concerning the annual operating budget or annual budget appropriation or amendments thereto, levy of taxes or any land use or development approval or denial, including without limitation zoning and rezoning.”- Eagle County Home Rule CharterAn editorial I wrote last week was guilty of the same rhetorical flourishes and stretched logic as I’ve railed about the opponents of the Eagle County Home Rule Charter committing.Depending on how you read the passage from the charter above, voters would not have an easy time calling elections on county commissioners’ decisions about paving the Colorado River Road, starting new and expensive child-care programs or any other decisions that have spending attached to them.I don’t read “budget” in decisions that lead the county in new directions. I view budget as budget, as in approving the county budget and supplements for spending on established programs. Decisions to start new programs are distinctly different, at least to my reading, than the decisions about how much to fund them. But I can see – with the help of a couple of e-mails following last week’s editorial about the logic (?) of whining about commissioners’ decisions AND voting against a home rule charter that provides a means to do something about that – that it would be very easy to claim all those decisions are “budget” decisions and therefore outside the people’s reach.I used bad examples, in other words. Not impossible arguments, but awfully thin straws. Like the ones about the county administrator not answering to the county commissioners and the commissioners racing to make a state secret of campaign contributions and the “protect your rights” baloney on law signs recycled from the last election.The more likely – but by no means easy – scenario to citizens indeed having the clear power to second-guess such decisions is amending the charter, in an election, to improve the clauses about citizen petitioning.Citizens have no power to do that under the current model of strict state control. A charter – much like a constitution – that partially emancipates the county from the state thumb provides the means to petition for elections on some commissioner decisions. And the charter – like a constitution – can be amended, too.I’d advocate for amendmends that clearly make the distinction between strictly budget decisions and ones that take the county down new roads. I’d also advocate for the people to be able to call referendums on development decisions, much like most towns have.It’s possible with a home rule charter. It’s not possible under our current means of one-size-fits-all state control, which has become archaic in modern times.I think I did stretch the case, fighting fire with rhetorical fire and getting a little carried away. The point that the commissioners can be challenged and charter amended glossed over the fact that this would never be easy.I believe decisions such as adding child-care programs can and possibly should be subject to challenge. But the likelihood of it happening, even with the home rule charter, would remain exceedingly low.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org.