A new Littleton City Council will go about its business under a new set of rules, thanks to the results of the Nov. 5 election.
Littleton voters approved two changes to the city charter: one restricts when the council can go behind closed doors for an executive session, and the other makes it more difficult to rezone property.
Citizen Initiative 301, which was approved by voters by about a 3-1 ratio, limits the reasons the council can go into executive session. The new rules allow closed-door sessions only to discuss matters required to be kept confidential by federal and state law or to confer with an attorney regarding a legal action already filed in court.
Along with limiting the reasons to go into executive session, the measure requires that all executive sessions be recorded and kept on file at the city.
“The discussion and decision will be public, and it should be. Why shouldn’t the public know how each of our tax dollars are being spent?” Paul Bingham, one of the residents behind the effort get 301 and 302 on the ballot, said via e-mail after the election. “On personnel matters, there are only three direct reports to council; the city manager, the city attorney and the municipal judge. They accept the job knowing that they are accountable to the public. Any matter of concern with these three positions should be public.”
Under the previous rules, the council could go into executive session to discuss the purchase or leasing of property, to receive legal advice, to discuss confidential matters, to conduct negotiations, and to discuss personnel matters.
City Manager Michael Penny said that despite the new restrictions, residents shouldn’t expect to see the council move all discussions into its public meetings.
Penny said it will be against the city’s best interests, and the taxpayers’ best interests, to discuss how much the city would spend for a piece of property in a public exchange.
“We’re talking about the public dollar and the risk of the public dollar. The more you have it in public, the higher that risk is,” Penny said.
Bingham said the new process would benefit the public in the long run.
“If property is being considered for purchase or for sale, a fair price should be established, and it will either be accepted or rejected …,” Bingham said. “Any further discussion on the matter is of importance to the voters, and voters will now have a complete picture of the representation each council member is providing. We will be a more informed electorate.”
Penny said some council discussions that would have been in executive session will now take place in confidential memos between the city attorney and individual council members.
While any meeting between public officials where a quorum is present must be open to the public, one-one-one and two-on-one meetings between council members and the city attorney can still be held in private.
Despite the complications, Penny said the city would work diligently to follow the will of the voters.
Along with the changes to executive sessions, voters approved more stringent standards for rezoning property.
Under Citizens Initiative 302, all rezoning requests in the city must be approved by five members of the city council if 20 percent of property owners within 100 feet of the property, or 20 percent of property owners in an area up for rezoning, file a protest 24 hours before the rezoning hearing.
It would also trigger a two-thirds-vote requirement if the city’s Planning Board voted against the rezoning.
This brings the city’s zoning rules in line with state statute on rezoning applications. Littleton, as a home-rule city, doesn’t have to follow state statute when it comes to issues like rezoning.
“(It) provides citizens a mechanism to protect the quality of life in their neighborhood. Members of council have complained that a few citizens would be able to impact a rezoning. We currently live in that environment with the decision in the hands of 4 council members,” Bingham said. “We believe citizens directly impacted should have a strong voice in matters that impact them directly.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22 and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.
Election vote counts
The city’s voters re-elected Councilmen Bruce Stahlman and Bruce Beckman to their at-large seats. The two incumbents overcame challenges from John Watson and James Dean.
In the final unofficial count, Beckman had received 4,318 votes; Stahlman, 4,002 votes; Watson, 2,755; and Dean, 2,342.
Councilman Phil Cernanec in District 3 and newcomer Randy Stein in District 1 ran unopposed. Stein will be serving for the first time on the council; he replaces Councilman Jim Taylor, who was term-limited.
Littleton voters approved a 3 percent sales tax on any future marijuana sales. The tax would be added to the statewide tax approved by voters Tuesday.
The city tax, in the unofficial tally, received 5,502 yes votes and 3,117 no votes.
A proposed lodging tax that would have placed a 3 percent levy on all hotel and motel stays under 30 days in Littleton was voted down, 5,415 to 3,128.