Stavney: What does Eagle’s home rule charter change?
There is still time in January for public input for Eagle’s Home Rule Charter Commission to make amendments before sending it to the Town Board. After that point it can only be edited through a public vote. Here is a quick overview of key differences between how the town has operated as a statutory town vs. how it would operate after the adoption of the proposed charter with an April vote.
Article I: This article preserves the “town” vs. “city” designation. It clearly states the town is to be operated in a council/manager form of government. The details are in subsequent articles. Though the strong manager (vs. full-time managing mayor) has been the norm, this is not so for all statutory towns. Some have an elected mayor as the town administrator. This article allows town to dispose of property that is not park or open space to be sold without a vote of the people, which is important for expediting economic development.
Article II: This moves elections from April to November of odd years. This will allow for combined elections with greater participation. Odd years are important to avoid the extreme politics of presidential election years. Recall elections can only occur after six months in office.
Article III: This changes the name from the Board of Trustees to Town Council. It preserves the current status of an independently elected mayor and six trustees. It sets term limits at two. It establishes a two-year wait before candidates can run again. There was much discussion of a mayor being appointed from among council. This article clarifies that the council “manages” town solely through the town manager. It dictates that the council must adopt a vacancy process and stick to it.
This is an improvement. Like a few other similar dictates, this “shall” was a compromise to not “overwrite” detailed processes into the charter. In the past, vacancies have sometimes been filled quickly and quietly at the whim of the council with predictable issues. This article clarifies that one cannot be on the board while being employed by the town. It also dictates that all council members must vote on all matters unless one has a bona fide conflict (eliminating “chickens—” abstentions). It dictates the council shall adopt a code of conduct and ethics that expands upon basic conflicts of interest and establishes penalties. Again, this is an improvement while avoiding “overwriting.” As with the vacancy process, the commission has made recommendations about this code of conduct. It adds clarity to entering an executive Session.
Article IV: This continues the legal and ceremonial role of mayor, while allowing the signature powers for many documents to be delegated to the town manager. This will expedite “red tape” without sacrificing oversight. It clarifies emergency powers and chain of command. It clarifies roles of and the ability of council to appoint manager, judge and attorney at will, but without defined terms, and makes the clerk a hire of the manager instead of appointment of Town Council. These are strong improvements.
Article V: This clarifies how a board or commission may be established or abolished.
Article VI: This accelerates the effective date of ordinances from 30 to 10 days, again accelerating the ability to do business.
Article VII: This establishes a municipal court.
Article VIII: This defines the budget process and form of budgets which will be familiar, but dictates the adoption of a long-range capital program, and expands options for municipal investments.
Article IX: This expands the ability to establish municipal utilities to include broadband and clarifies expectations for franchise agreements.
Article X: This will allow the town to collect and locally audit sales taxes, which is one of the greatest advantages may municipalities note about home rule.
Article XI: This raises the bar for initiative and referendum to require 10% of registered voters. Initiative is a new legislative idea brought forth by citizens to take a matter directly to a vote. Referendum is when citizens want to overturn a decision of the council. The charter expands the initial period to file a petition from 30 to 45 days. Recalls must wait six months from an election to be filed and require 25% of registered voters, which is higher than statutory government, and don’t allow for a second recall in the same term without 50% of signatures. These are standard higher bars for most home rule communities.
Article XII: These are miscellaneous provisions, mostly legalese.
Article XIII: This establishes how the transition will work from statutory to home rule, most notably in changing from an April to November election cycle. The current and newly elected council will have slightly longer terms than current and later councils.
The charter commission is a group of impressive and experienced locals who have debated nearly every change. Mostly, the default has been to not change the way town has done business unless it needed changing or should diverge from state statute.
My viewpoint serving on the charter commission has been unique as one of two who previously served on the Town Board, and the only member who was either mayor or manager of the town of Eagle. The 30-page document is not too cumbersome or prescriptive and provides clarity with some incremental improvements to how the town will do business without dictating in too great a detail processes. Some details will be adopted by ordinance or by rewriting powers and limitations of town Governance. Where these exist and are better defined in current or future state statutes, they defer to those parameters.
The charter does not change town’s relationship with Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It does define some sideboards for governance and allow for an expedited town process without deferring too much power to the Town Board over the will of the citizens. For all the hours of discussion, it is an improvement on how the public will is defined through the deliberations of Town Council. It puts places some needed sideboards on the council.
Jon Stavney is the executive director of the District 12 Northwest Colorado Council of Governments who has served as the mayor and town manager of Eagle. To read Eagle’s proposed home rule charter, visit https://www.townofeagle.org/878/Charter-Commission.