The mess at City Hall continues to grow

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 5/24/21

Where does one begin with such a contentious mess facing the Westminster city government? It is making our city government look foolish. Hey, I know there have been problems, issues and even lengthy …

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The mess at City Hall continues to grow

Posted

Where does one begin with such a contentious mess facing the Westminster city government? It is making our city government look foolish.

Hey, I know there have been problems, issues and even lengthy tie votes in our history over the past 63 years since the city charter was adopted by the citizenry. That adoption includes the very framework of how our city government is to function.

It is founded on adopting the council-manager form of local government. It is premised on an elected mayor and city council members who, in turn, hire a professionally trained city manager to be the chief executive. And even more fundamental, the city charter is rooted in the premise that all city officials (elected or appointed) will do what is best for its constituents and the community.

You, the voters will decide that very fundamental point both on July 20 at the recall election as well as the Nov. 2 city general election.

Mayor’s resignation caused a domino effect

So, where do we start? We start with Mayor Atchison. His somewhat surprising announcement on May 3 announcing his resignation, effective that very night, got the ball rolling. He said that the fact that his name had previously been confirmed to be on the July recall ballot had nothing to do with his decision. Hmmm.

His story is that his doctor advised him to resign due to health reasons. While I am not privy to his health status, I can speculate that he did not want the risk of being recalled at the end of his long reign. We all like to go out on a “high note” in our careers and be remembered for our legacies and noteworthy achievements. He basically had two choices — resign or face the recall election.

On a personal note, I don’t like to see long-term public officials end their tenure on a sour note, but Herb did it to himself. In turn, he set the city council ball rolling.

Who is in and who is out?

So, with Atchison gone, that brings in Mayor Pro Tem Anita Seitz to become the head of the elected council.

Remember the donnybrook in 2019 between Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and David DeMott who all wanted the mayor pro tem seat? Remember that she was one of the four who had recall petitions turned in to put her on the recall ballot and that she narrowly escaped being recalled because there were not enough valid signatures? Well, Anita’s persistence paid off, and she now sits with the mayor’s mantle wrapped around her.

So, now Atchison is off the ballot and Seitz has dodged the bullet of likely being added to the recall ballot. Jon Voelz is still on the recall ballot but is protesting the signatures to the special hearing officer. That leaves Kathryn Skulley. The “Water Warriors” garnered additional signatures to attempt to cure the shortfall but fell short by a couple of signatures. So, Voelz will be the lone name on the ballot.

A house divided

Meanwhile at the infamous May 10 city council meeting, a routine item on the agenda was the election of the new mayor pro tem. On the surface, it appeared pretty benign. You need to remember with Atchison gone, there are three councilors who are conservative to varying degrees (DeMott, Seymour and Smith) on one side and Mayor Seitz and two councilors – Jon Voelz and Kathryn Skulley – who are more liberal on the other side.

That equal balance of votes spells the possibility of many tie votes not just for the basic decision to pick a mayor pro tem, but who knows how many important decisions until the six can agree on a replacement for Seitz’s former council seat. Hmmm.

Skipping the ugly details and the snarky remarks back and forth that night, it took 78 votes to decide who would be mayor pro tem. Ultimately, David DeMott was successful in getting one of the “more liberal” votes to be elected.

Now the council has 30 days, starting from May 10, to advertise the opening, interview candidates and select a new city councilor. It reminds me of the situation when Glenn Scott resigned from city council in 1999, and it took city council 58 votes to pick Butch Hicks to fill the vacancy. There were several nights devoted to that endeavor. The weight of requiring a special election was a major influence in Hicks getting the tie-breaking vote. If the council cannot agree on an appointee within the 30 days, it triggers a special election.

Another special election? This city government would be in further chaos.

A need to lead by example

Looking back to the May 10 council meeting, I truly hope in future meetings that Mayor Seitz can set a tone of decorum and respect. As the leader of the council, she needs to set the tone and then practice it.

While she started the meeting with a statement expressing the importance of coming together and doing what is best for the city, she failed to follow her own admonition. She certainly wasn’t alone with snarky exchanges that evening, but the mayor needs to lead the council. Also, she had an obvious opportunity to reach across the aisle and support Councilor DeMott for mayor pro tem as an example of working together, but failed to do so.

A full plate of controversial issues

This city council faces some major decisions before the two elections. Clearly, the outcome of the recall election will have an impact on the council dynamic one way or the other and could lead to Don Tripp’s departure. The 2022 water and sewer rate increases are looming to come up for a decision. The city advertised that would happen May 24. The 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the other “Westminster Forward” components (including the water plan), which will guide the remaining growth (including the issue of how many more apartment complexes will be designated) in our city for the next 20 years will be ready. The Uplands (Pillar of Fire) land development plans are in the wings and will be in front of council by late spring/early summer. Also, there is council chatter about asking voters to extend the city’s Open Space and trails sales and use tax beyond the 2032 current expiration.

City streets are in sad shape

I will throw another key issue into the pot as well: Our streets are in sad shape.

The city staff says they will spend $4.5 million this year on street maintenance. The pavement management analysis they use tells them that they should be spending $10 million a year. Clearly, we see why.

What are city leaders (Manager Tripp, Mayor Seitz and city council) going to do about this continuing decline in the community’s street system and perhaps include the widening of some key arterial streets? In turn, that begs the question where to find additional revenue or how to tighten the city’s belt and reallocate budget dollars. Hmmm.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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