Thornton term-limits case heads to Colorado Supreme Court

Luke Zarzecki
Posted 3/21/22

The case regarding Thornton’s term limits is on its way to the Colorado Supreme court, according to an order issued by the state’s highest court. 

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Thornton term-limits case heads to Colorado Supreme Court


The case regarding Thornton’s term limits is on its way to the Colorado Supreme court, according to an order issued by the state’s highest court. 

The order includes the rule C.A.R. 50 which, according to Colorado Judcial Branch’s website, comes into play when a decision is time sensitive and has broad impact. That’s why it skipped the state Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court decided to hear it, said Todd Barnes, a spokesperson for the city of Thornton. 

“... the Court’s primary role in reviewing such decisions is to set precedent that develops and clarifies the law on important issues of broad impact, it grants review in a small percentage of cases. The Court has no set number of certiorari petitions it will grant, but it typically grants around 5 percent of the petitions filed each year.” 

The Adams County District Court’s decision came a bit in favor of both sides. Because Mayor Jan Kulmann did not finish her full term as a city councilor, the judge granted her the option to serve as mayor until 2023. However, that will be her final year.

The suit alleged that it was illegal for Kulmann to seek re-election, and the city argued that council positions and the mayor position are different. However, the court ruled they are not. 

Denver attorney Robert McGuire filed the complaint in Adams County District Court on behalf of plaintiff Cherish Salazar. When she filed the suit, Salazar said the issue is something she has spoken up about for two years now. It specifically names Kulmann but includes the entire city council and the city.

“Before her (Kulmann’s) name went on the ballot, I tried to present my argument at that point,” Salazar said, referring to the 2019 election when voters elected Kulmann as mayor.

Ward 4 voters first elected Kulmann to a four-year councilor term in 2013. She won a re-election bid in 2017 and then ran for mayor in 2019 and won. 

According to an interpretation of the Colorado Constitution and the Thornton city charter, the complaint argues that a councilor and the mayor are legally one and the same, pertaining to term limits.

“All nine seats on the Thornton City Council (mayor plus the eight ward council members) constitute a single 'office,’” the suit states.

The suit also says the Colorado Constitution only allows city councilors to serve two, four-year terms. The city argued that because the mayor and the councilors have different duties, they are two different seats, Yellico told councilors.

Amicus brief 

The Colorado Municipal League will also offer a legal opinion on a Thornton lawsuit regarding term limits, the sitting mayor and City Councilors.

Thornton’s Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren, who is also the secretary-treasurer of the Colorado Municipal League, told her council colleagues during a Feb. 1 planning meeting that the league voted unanimously to provide an amicus brief regarding Thornton’s appeal in their term limits case.

An amicus brief is meant to assist a judge in the decision of a case, said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the municipal league. It is to inform the judicial process with perspectives and often cites prior case law. It also, he said, advocates for an outcome. 

“If the court of appeals was to be making a decision interpreting constitutional language related to, for the first time ever, the impact of the constitutional language on municipal term limits, then it’s one of the potential bread and butter issues for the league to weigh in as to what the impacts would be on,” he said.

‘Actual and Factual’

According to Todd Barnes, a spokesperson for the city of Thornton, a webpage called Actual and Factual was created to provide residents with facts due to misinformation circling on the internet. He said there has been a lot of misinformation about the term limits case. 

The webpage provides information on the case including the order of the court, notice of appeal and Kulmann’s answer to complaint. 

“The appeal is in no way an effort by the city of Thornton or Mayor Jan Kulmann to change the form of Thornton’s city government. Thornton’s appeal, which had to be approved by a majority of city council to go forward, is meant to clarify the application of term limits for the elected positions of council member and mayor under Thornton’s Charter,” the webpage says. 

Barnes pointed to one page that is raising money to “stop Jan Kulmann’s abuse of Thornton City Charter.” On the page, it says “The City of Thornton, City Council, is attempting to change how Thornton is being governed without voter input!! This effort is spearheaded by Mayor Kulmann, who has exceeded her term limit per state statute.”


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