Westminster City Council interviewed candidates for a seventh councilor who will potentially be a tie-breaking vote on water rates and other issues the council has been evenly split on. Eight …
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Westminster City Council interviewed candidates for a seventh councilor who will potentially be a tie-breaking vote on water rates and other issues the council has been evenly split on.
Eight finalists faced off at a June 1 special meeting, each by answering a series of rapid questions in a lone seat below the council dais. The interviews explored a variety of topics, but the ones discussed the most were water rates and utilities infrastructure.
Not only is the water rates issue arguably responsible for council's current predicament, but it will be the first big-ticket item the new councilor will have to vote on after their appointment. There is a vacancy on council because former Mayor Herb Atchison resigned after a recall campaign against him over water rates successfully triggered a recall election. Anita Seitz filled his spot, leaving her seat vacant.
Atchison said his decision to resign was based on a physician's recommendation, not the recall.
The current six-member council is split on water rates. Half want rates lowered, a position the recall group also supports. The other half has not publicly criticized recommendations from city staff to raise rates in 2022. In a soon-to-come meeting, after the seventh councilor has been appointed, the council will vote on the 2022 water rate recommendations.
Several finalists directly addressed this reality during their interviews.
“I know that council is currently split on what to do (about water rates). But I believe a solution exists somewhere and it's going to take collaboration,” said finalist Obi Ezeadi.
Ezeadi, who has also been campaigning to run in the November municipal election, said the city should make rates more affordable, especially for lower-income residents.
The other finalists are Patrick Rock, Don Fiddes, Wayne Anderson, Miguel Mendoza-Hall, Mike Tylka, Mark Clark and Larry Dean Valente. Their opinions on water rates varied.
“Yes, people are at the center for all those items and yes, there are people that are impacted that are struggling to pay if costs are increased and passed on to the users … But we cannot impede the long-term delivery of clean water,” said Tylka.
Tylka, Rock and Fiddes were most direct in their support for the city's existing rate model.
“I do believe the city is on the right track … Westminster cannot continue to grow at a rate of 6.5 percent since 2018 without updates to these systems,” Rock said.
Meanwhile, Clark and Valente were the most explicit advocates for lowering water rates.
“We cannot have citizens wondering, `Do I water my lawn or do I get food or medicine?' We need to be smarter and work harder and push the staff to find solutions and think outside the box,” Clark said.
Valente, a public proponent of the recall, went another step and brought up the political strife.
“We have seen multiple recall efforts. That's not how I want my city to run. I think if there are problems, we need to be working to address them more and I think we need to be active listeners,” he said.
In a similar vein, finalists talked about how they deal with disagreement and conflict. Anderson, who previously served on Broomfield City Council, said, “We have disagreements on a regular basis. It's part of what we do. But I believe I have a natural ability to not only listen to people and understand what their side is.”
Aside from the front-and-center political debate, finalists answered questions about policing, for example. Clark, who is president of the Westminster citizens police academy alumni association, said the city should do as much as possible to properly resource the police department. Mendoza-Hall agreed that funding shouldn't be withdrawn from the department but said more dollars can be used on community outreach.
Mendoza-Hall highlighted his background and service on the city's inclusivity board. “The conviction for me is that I can represent potentially underserved communities from my networks. I live in the south part of Westminster, so I think I bring a set of diverse perspectives to the council.”
Council hasn't decided on a final pick and is set to deliberate at a June 7 special meeting.
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