Could Glenwood Springs see a rollback of policy or politicians?
Glenwood Springs city attorney talks referendums, recalls
Not all decisions are final, and when residents feel their elected officials have misrepresented the will of the community, two legal pathways stand out for overturning those decisions — referendums and recalls.
Referendums can repeal ordinances and legislative actions, such as Glenwood Springs’ recent annexation of more than 16 acres in West Glenwood.
Recalls provide voters the opportunity to remove elected officials from office, said Karl Hanlon, Glenwood Springs city attorney.
Threats of referendum have been tossed about regularly in recent months as Glenwood Springs City Council deliberated on hot button topics such as cutting the Municipal Airport runway short, annexing the 480 Donegan property and introducing an attractions tax.
Article 5 of the Glenwood Springs city charter grants city residents an opportunity to petition for a referendum within 10 days of the city publishing the final approval of a legislative action, Hanlon said.
“A legislative action for a town or a city is usually enacted via ordinance,” he said.
A City Council’s administrative actions, such as resolutions, setting fees or calling for elections are not typically subject to referendum, unless they are mixed with legislative actions.
If a resident files a notice of intent for referendum within 10 days of the city publishing the action’s final approval, the city clerk has two days to verify the notice and draft a summary of the ordinance for the petitioner to circulate.
Once verified by the clerk, Hanlon said the petitioner has 21 days to collect signatures from residents registered to vote within city limits. The petition for referendum needs to be signed by a number of registered voters equal to 5% of the number of residents who voted in the most recent previous regular election; however, Hanlon clarified the signatures do not need to be from residents who cast ballots in the previous election.
With the signatures secured and returned to the city, the clerk has 15 days to verify the signatures, and if any issues are identified, the petitioner is granted 15 days to rectify problems identified by the clerk. If returned after the 15 days, the clerk has another 15 days to verify the rectified signatures before presenting the referendum to the City Council at its next meeting.
“When the referendum comes back to council, they have two options,” Hanlon said. “They can overturn the ordinance, or they can put a question of whether or not to overturn it on the next ballot.”
If a notice of intent for referendum is not presented within 10 days of the city publishing the legal action’s final approval, there is no clear legal path for residents to repeal local ordinances, he said.
While only a small window exists to overturn elected officials’ decisions, Colorado statute provides voters with the ability to remove officials from office at nearly any point, Hanlon said.
Glenwood voters can recall their elected officials after the officials have served six months in office, according to the city charter.
To recall an official, a petition must be filed by a registered voter within the official’s jurisdiction.
Five of the Glenwood Springs City Council members are elected from each of five wards, and two members are elected at large by the entire Glenwood Springs electorate.
If residents wanted to recall a member elected within a ward, the recall petition would need to be submitted by a voter in that ward. The petitioner would go through a submittal process similar to that of referendums; however, they would have 60 days to collect signatures from a number of voters within that ward equal to 25% of the total number of ward residents who voted in the past election, Hanlon said.
The clerk would have five days to verify the signatures, and if problems were identified, the petitioner would have 15 days to rectify the signatures.
For recalling at-large members, the process is the same, except any resident registered to vote within Glenwood Springs can file for recall, and they would need signatures from registered voters equal to 25% of all city residents who voted in the previous election.
After all the necessary signatures have been verified by the clerk, the city has 30-60 days to host an election, in which the affected electorate — either members of the ward or the entire electorate for at-large positions — would be asked whether to recall the official.
Opponents can campaign and appear on the recall ballot, which would ask whether to recall the incumbent, and if so, which candidate to replace them with.
If no opponents are added to the ballot, the official could still be recalled, and the remaining council members would be tasked with appointing a new member to fill the empty seat until the ousted member’s term limit ended.
Though referendums and recalls are tossed about casually in recent conversations surrounding local politics, Hanlon said neither are common occurrences in Glenwood Springs.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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