As Jeffco municipalities prepare for this year’s elections, there will be some early discussions on potential ballot initiatives involving county affairs for 2014.
A grassroots organization known as the Jeffco 5, founded by Golden resident and former Councilwoman Karen Oxman, has been proposing an increase of county commissioners from three to five and a possible redistricting of the county.
She said her initiative was first presented to Jeffco commissioners more than a year ago. The proposal was most recently discussed at the county commissioner level during the Aug. 27 commissioners’ staff meeting.
The initiative presents two possible options for voters — county districts would increase from three to five districts, and residents within each district would vote for a county commissioner from that district; or to keep the county in three districts, but residents would elect one county commissioner from each district, and elect two at large commissioners for the whole county.
According to state statue, when a population of a county is more than 70,000, a county may increase the number of county commissioners from three to five — no more, no less.
The United State Census Bureau’s 2012 estimate reported 545,358 people living in Jeffco.
Differences in opinion involving adequate representation and transparency have been points of debate between some of the county commissioners, and members of Jeffco 5; with county commissioners making the argument they are representatives of all of Jeffco, and handle requests accordingly, with Jeffco 5 members arguing that county commissioners are stretched thin when handling matters for a large population.
“What’s broke?” said Dan Rosier, county commissioner for district three, whose opposition has not changed since he first talked to Jeffco 5’s founder, Karen Oxman.
“I’ve asked on multiple occasions what’s broke … and I don’t get a response back of what is broke,” Rosier said. “I get a response back from individuals of it will increase representation for the county, well, is that a problem right now, is that an issue?”
For Oxman, and other Jeffco 5 members and supporters, representation is precisely the issue.
“I think it’s very difficult to represent an entire county of over 500,000 people,” Oxman said. “I don’t think that you can have connectivity with the entire county the way you would if you had a district that you were representative of, and were able to communicate with a smaller group of people more regularly,” she said.
So far, county commissioners have been requesting county administrator Ralph Schell to find information for clarification on certain in-depth topics, and to perform research on the effectiveness, procedural and cost for adding two more commissioners based on other counties who have increased the number of commissioners such as Adams, Weld, El Paso and Arapahoe counties.
Currently, Jeffco’s three commissioners are unable to discuss issues outside of public meetings. By adding two commissioners, discussing matters outside of public meetings between two random commissioners would be allowed. This change in policy creates an issue with transparency, argues commissioner Griffin from district one.
“Isn’t it really a better idea to have more input that all of us will be discussing and hearing at the same time?” said Griffin, who added that outside discussions could create conflicts of interest and favor-for-favors politicking.
She also noted that by electing three commissioners and two at-large for the county that the two at-large commissioners could all still come from just one or all of the three districts.
Commissioner Rosier shares Griffin’s view having said that changes in discussion would create more “behind the doors lobbying.”
“I really have a problem with that,” Rosier said. “My fear is, and I’ve seen it happen with other counties that have five, decisions are made before you even walk into the hearing room,” he said. “It’s not transparent to the voting public.”
In the end, it is not representation that is an issue said Rosier, but a lack of awareness of who the county commissioners are and what they do.
“To understand what we do as county commissioners is a great point,” Rosier said. “Very few people contact me.”
Oxman finds it hard to disagree with Rosier on that.
“I agree with Don there is not enough awareness of what the county commissioners do and how they connect to residents,” said Oxman who would like county commissioners to remedy the problem. “I’d like to see something moving forward on that.”
Although county elections for 2014 seems far off in the distance, Jeffco 5’s efforts to place the measure on next year’s ballot begins now, with Jeffco 5 setting their deadline for December for county commissioners to either willingly place the measure on the ballot or have Jeffco 5 petition for 25,000 signatures.
“I think five commissioners would be more transparent, Oxman said.
“There would be more communication about an issue, not lobbying about an issue,” Oxman added. “Jeffco 5 is not criticizing individual commissioners, what Jeffco 5 is saying is that we have a population of over 500,000, we could have a board of five, and we feel that we should have a board of five and we feel that the commissioners should not make this choice … this should be a vote of the people.”