Home rule for DougCo? Commissioners bring up questions

Mike McKibbin

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L-R: Douglas County Commissioners George Teal, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon. |DouglasCounty

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] Should Douglas County adopt a home rule charter, not much would change right now.

But Commissioner George Teal argued that might change and he wants the county to be ready.

The commissioners discussed the lengthy process of switching from a statutory county to a home rule county during a Monday work session.

County Attorney Lance Ingalls said county home rule does not allow the options municipalities have if they become home rule.

“The Colorado Constitution says home rule counties are still bound by state statutes,” he told the commissioners. “Home rule municipalities charters supersede state statutes.”

Only 2 of Colorado’s 64 counties — Weld and Pitkin — are home rule counties. Eagle County recently asked its voters to approve a home rule charter but was rejected twice.

Commissioner numbers, salaries among possible changes

Among the changes home rule counties can adopt are the number of commissioners, their terms in office, salaries, whether other elected officials are voted in by voters or appointed by the commissioners. Another change can be allowing citizens to file ballot initiatives to potentially overturn land-use decisions.

A charter would be drawn up by a 21-citizen commission over 240 days and presented to voters for approval. If voters deny a charter, the county can ask for approval again.

Teal talked about being able to potentially avoid a mandate of collective bargaining by county employees as a reason to explore home rule. The state legislature passed a bill this session allowing collective bargaining in most county governments, which the commissioners had opposed.

Commissioner Abe Laydon asked if statewide mandates such as those issued during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic would apply if the county were home rule. Ingalls said they likely would since home rule counties are bound by statutes.

Teal noted Weld County was exempted from a pandemic-related bill by the state legislature when the county voiced strong opposition.

“I think this is an opportunity to come together and think outside the box,” he said. “It’s a step to preserve our ability to act in the future and have a bargaining chip with the legislature.”

Teal also stated the makeup of the legislature may change after the November midterm general election. Republicans might be the majority party in either the state Senate or House.

“Let’s go for it,” Teal added. “Going to home rule is preparing for the future.”

Many unknowns in process

While acknowledging being “bruised and battered” by legislative exceptions for home rule counties, Laydon said he still saw the process resulting in “a remarkable amount of brain damage to rely on the whims of the legislature.”

Teal responded a home rule county could avoid “having things forced down our throats by Denver.”

He added the state constitution has been changed by voters and could again.

Commissioner Lora Thomas was concerned about having no control over the 21-person charter commission.

“It could be a true Pandora’s box in terms of what goes forward from that group,” she stated. “There’s just too much unknown right now and a huge majority of counties in our state are not home rule. If we do this, I think we need much more study.”

Laydon, as commission chairman, halted further discussion to move to the next agenda item. The issue could be brought back for further consideration.

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Mike McKibbin is an independent journalist on Colorado's Front Range and covers Douglas County for NewsBreak.

Denver, CO
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