Charter Review Committee Citizen Minutes – 18 Dec 2013

Citizen Minutes                                Charter Review Committee                                   18 December 2013

Citizen Comments

Carol Brzeczek noticed that the agenda showed the finalization of the finance portion of the charter.  At the last meeting the city manager reminded the committee that they were not to work on specific language changes but policy questions for the council to consider.  Brzeczek noticed that there were no policy questions – just specific language suggestions and asked if there were going to be policy questions.  Sally Parsons, chair, said sometimes there will be language changes and it will be up to the council.

Pam Chadbourne told the committee that there is no reason not to post and publish all meeting notices; costs of doing both are negligible.  14% of the population does not have access to the Internet at home.  She also reminded the committee that the Charter is for the people – please represent us!  It is good to get information from the staff but the charter is to constrain the staff – keep the citizens in mind.

Norm Brown revisited Section 78 of the charter that requires a super-majority to approve the appropriation of money collected for one purpose and then spent on something else.  He cited the new technology fee that will be added to every traffic ticket, business improvement districts, urban renewal and TIFs as possible scenarios.  He had given this some thought and mentioned a business improvement district in Englewood that was being dissolved and they were not in complete agreement what to do with the remaining funds.  He does not see a problem leaving the super majority requirement in the Charter and requested that this be reflected in the minority report to council.

Section 98 Local Purchases – staff recommended the deletion of the section and Brown thought it should remain since we encourage citizens to shop local the city should do the same.

Post vs Publish Discussion (the question is whether or not to publish meeting notices in a newspaper of record in addition to posting online and in various public places)

Wendy Heffner read from an ordinance passed in 2007 that states:

“For the purpose of this charter and this code, except where publication in a newspaper is specifically required by the charter, an ordinance or state statute, the terms “publication”, “publish” or “published” shall mean a minimum of two (2) of the following three (3) methods: a) posting on the city’s website; b) physical posting at the Littleton Center, Bemis public library and the Littleton municipal courthouse or c) publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the city.”

She said it may not be a big deal since it is already defined in the code.  Tom Wooten said he did not think it was appropriate to “pick a horse” and forever memorialize it in the charter.  Susan Thornton was in total agreement saying who knows what it will be like in 20 years.  Brian Vogt said it is already here – he reads the newspaper online. Brown disagreed.  The charter has been edited many times since 1959 by citizens and by council – it has been changed with electorate approval.  It is not written in concrete or stone.  Posting in a location can be an issue if you don’t drive.  He liked the time stamp a newspaper provided.  Vogt thought the local paper would yield a small penetration.  Don Schiff said the point was to make the information available.  We don’t have to create a charter for generations and there is nothing wrong with using three methods.  Wooten thought councils should have a choice to abandon using a newspaper when they are no longer relevant.

Kim Field said she saw the pros and cons and did not think it was inappropriate to publish electronically, post notices physically and publish in newspapers…a lot of people still read the newspaper.  Error on the side of accessibility.

Leonard Rice said the city council and the staff should make every effort to get the word out to all.  The goal is to modernize the charter.

Schiff said the information should be widely distributed to as many as possible.  Two out of three does not maximize the opportunity.

Penny said everyone agrees that the notice should be broad reaching but the language in the charter should be enabling and include a “shall to the extent possible” in the language.  Council will determine the best way to get the notice out.

Vogt said that resonates with him but he does not want it to be done on an ad hoc basis but determined every two years how each type of notice will be handled.

Attorney Kristen Schledorn told the committee that council has to make a determination each January about posting requirements as required by the Open Meetings Law.

Brown suggested meeting notices be mailed out to those that make a request – as we age we are less mobile; especially at night if council decides not to publish.  Schledorn said she would prefer that a requirement such as that not be in the charter; it could lead to a challenge.

Heffner told the group she does mail out notices.  (The Open Meetings Law actually requires meeting notices be mailed to those that make such a request.)

Vogt thought the council should have the market data for the meeting in January so they could make a decision based on market penetration.

Brown noticed that it would be difficult to know how many people actually see the meeting notices posted in the entry way of the city center.

Vogt said 97% of the people are not interested – the people that are will look.

Part IV.  Purchases and Sales

Schlendorn suggested deleting the entire ethics portion of this section.  There are personnel policies, ethic policies, and statutes that deal with the acceptance of gifts and prohibit employee’s interest in contracts.  She told the group that the personnel policies are not on-line but available to the public if they should ask to see them.

Rice said if it is not easily accessible by the public then it should be left in the charter.  Penny said it would be easy enough to have an “ethics” link on the web site for the citizens.

Vogt asked if there was a monetary threshold for gifts.  Schledorn  said our code talks about substantial value and the personnel policy talks about minimal value.

The language in the code that has been suggested for deletion is:  It shall be cause for dismissal for any City employee to accept gratuities or gifts from a person or firm doing business with the City under this Section.

Kevin Kostoff said he did not like the black and white language – it could be used against an employee.  Wooten agreed saying he would be afraid of dismissal for a Starbucks.

Rice said the intent of the committee is to modernize and clean up the charter.  The Colorado Revised Statutes, municipal code, procedures and standards should be stated in the Charter that they will be adhered to.

Stew Meagher said he had not problem taking the language out.  Brown asked staff to bring back language and a list of references to other documents.  He also said the charter is not for the employees.

Kent Bagley said the ethics are not just for purchasing – it goes beyond purchasing in the ethics policy.  It would be much more beneficial to refer to the ethics policies.

Sally Parsons changed the subject somewhat by saying there is not a way to chastise an errant city council member.  Bagley wanted a definition of censure.  Parsons said she did not think a planning commissioner should be removed for no reason – and it has happened.  Penny cautioned them –  appointments are made by council.

Vogt wanted to address the selling of city owned assets.  Detroit has filed bankruptcy and has asked the art museum to sell off items to help bail the city out.  He mentioned the Denver Water Board contract that was renegotiated that netted the city $2 million without a public vote.  There will be more cities in financial trouble and it will be tempting for cities to look at assets to sell off.  He would like to see strict provisions.  The water contract was very valuable and had huge consequences.

Penny said open space has to go to the voters and he would look into that section.  Vogt thought there might be a threshold for this too – $2 million.  Penny said $2 million today – tomorrow??

Section 11 – Election Commission

The charter creates an election commission consisting of 2 qualified electors and the city clerk.  The suggestion has been made to increase the 2 to 5 and make the city clerk a non-voting member.

Brown backed up to Section 10 that states, in general terms, how elections will take place.  Westminster includes a hierarchy of guiding documents in very clear language.  Heffner liked the Westminster charter language.

Schledorn brought up the different type of voters mentioned in the charter and called the members attention to the differences in each section to make certain that the correct language is being used.  (Qualified voters – voters who live in the city limits but have not registered to vote; registered voters  are voters who have registered and are allowed to vote in our elections.)   Heffner did not think there was a difference between a qualified voter and an eligible voter.

Brown preferred registered voters on the election commission instead of a qualified voter.

Section 16 – Voting

Current language states that the election commission will determine the method of the election.  Heffner did not think 5 citizens should make that decision but the 7 council members should.  Meagher thought the council would provide a larger forum for the decision.  Rice thought it might give the council too much power in relationship to a recall election.

Penny said good point – maybe the decision should be diluted by adding more people to the election commission

Section 20 – Districts

They will suggest adding language to look at the population distribution every 5 years

Section 21 – Salaries – staff suggested that the section be deleted.

Section 22. Terms

Current language calls for the terms of the newly elected council members begin at 8 pm on the second Tuesday following the election.  The specific time is a problem.  If there is an election challenge then they would be unable to swear new members in at 8 pm as provided.  Meagher said one city has the newly elected sworn in in January giving them time to get focused on business, get oriented and get comfortable with expectations for the job – especially with the election of new council members that have no experience on any board.

Wooten said you could have a disgruntled council member that lost re-election – that would be a legislative purgatory.

Bagley agreed with Meagher – that is what happens on the RTD board.

Penny restated – it was the 8pm hard start that was the problem.

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