Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running this City would be so much Easier if only... Boulder Ballot Questions 2B, 2C, and 2E

City Council is asking for a few changes to the city charter in this election, changes that they believe are important to the smooth functioning of city government.

Question 2B would, for the first time ever, allow the council to meet in executive session to discuss "sensitive" issues, without the public present, something that is allowed in most other cities in this state. The meetings would require a 2/3 majority of council to approve, and would have to be on one of a few defined topics: property sale, acquisition, or lease; legal advice; security matters; negotiation strategies; and personnel matters.

These seem like reasonable precautions. But the fact of the matter is that the current system has worked fine since the city was founded. I'm not convinced that this new power is really needed.

Question 2C would amend the procedures around recall elections. Because of changes in state law, the recall timelines and procedures in the charter are no longer realistic. The changes proposed here would bring the city's process into line with what is required by the State of Colorado.

Question 2E would amend the charter "to provide that city residents may be appointed to serve on city commissions even if they are not city electors, if they are at least eighteen years old and if they have resided in the city of Boulder for at least one year immediately prior to their appointment." Under the current charter, only "registered electors" (U.S. citizens registered to vote) can be appointed to these positions.

Ignoring the substantive question for now, I find this one confusing and ambiguous. By the sentence above, commission members who are not city electors would be allowed if they meet these new requirements. But it is not clear whether city electors (i.e., citizens who are registered to vote) would have to also meet the age and residency requirement.

I went on a mining expedition on the city's website to try to figure this out. What I discovered was that on August 19 the city reviewed and approved the proposed change (after it had been modified in several previous council meetings). In the approved ordinance, the actual language of the charter would be changed as follows:
Each of such commissions, including the library commission, shall be composed of five electorscity residents, appointed by the council, not all of one sex, who are well known for their ability, probity, public spirit, and particular fitness to serve on such respective commissions and who are at least eighteen years old and who have resided in the city of Boulder for at least one year immediately prior to their appointment to serve on the commission.
So, there is no ambiguity in the actual change. Being a registered voter does not remove one from the requirement to have lived in the city for a year. So despite the comment in the presentation to council that "at the second hearing, a good deal of attention was given to crafting a ballot title that accurately reflects the changes being suggested by the proposed amendment", the ballot title implies an ambiguity that is not in the actual change.

Although the difference may seem trivial, I'm of the opinion that citizens should not have to go on a treasure hunt through public records in order to understand the actual changes being proposed in ballot questions. My reading of the ballot title led me to believe that registered votes would not have to meet the new requirements, but in fact they would.

Now to the actual change. Commission members (who generally advise council but have no real power other than that) would no longer have to be registered voters. Because of that, it would implicitly allow non-citizens (and convicted felons) to be appointed to these positions. Commission members would also now have to be residents of the city and to have been so for a year.

Council could have avoided much of the controversy of this measure if they had added the requirement of being a legal resident of the U.S. (and perhaps not a convicted felon). However, they did not want to impose the burden of actually enforcing these checks on commission members. (Note that they already have to check for legal residency for city employees.)

Convicted felons and illegal aliens are probably among the last people that will apply to these commissions, so the actual impact is probably pretty minimal. But council is giving the appearance that they are not listening to the concerns of the citizens by not addressing these issues.

For all these reasons, I think council should go back and work on this one some more. Getting broader participation in city commissions is a laudable goal, but it's not important enough at this time to ram through a deceptively titled issue that ignores the concerns of many citizens.

Vote NO on Question 2B.
Vote YES on Question 2C.
Vote NO on Question 2E.

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