A look back at 2013

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Political debates, milestones had their origins in years past

By Ramsey Scott

Political changes from 2012 reverberated into 2013 among the Jeffco commissioners, with an opposing political view spicing debates over several key issues.

The addition of Casey Tighe, the first Democrat elected to the Board of County Commissioners since 2006, gave Commissioner Don Rosier a sparring partner on several issues, including whether Jeffco should raise taxes and whether the county should be on the record as opposed to new gun laws. 

Meanwhile, 2013 also brought the first civil unions between same-sex couples in Jeffco, and the county had to decide if it wanted to allow the new retail marijuana industry within its borders. 

What follows is a recap of 2013’s major events in Jeffco and a look at what developments might be coming in 2014. 

The gun-control debate comes to Jeffco

The statewide battle over new gun regulations found its way to Jeffco this year as two new measures before the county commissioners sparked intense public debate. 

In February, the commissioners approved a resolution new gun-control laws at all levels of government. Led by Rosier, who eventually was supported by Commissioner Faye Griffin, the board approved the resolution after spirited debate. 

A public hearing on the measure was the setting for intense exchanges by members of the public and from the commissioners themselves. Tighe argued against the resolution, saying it would muzzle public debate. 

“There’s a strong statement that the Second Amendment protects our rights to keep and bear arms. But there can be some reasonable common-sense restrictions, and that has to be a discussion we have,” Tighe said during the public hearing on Feb. 5. 

Yet in the end, Rosier and Griffin won the day. 

But Rosier wasn’t 100 percent successful in keeping the county from placing some new restrictions on guns. 

In May, Sheriff Ted Mink proposed restricting the open carrying of firearms in county buildings, sparking another round of debate. The proposal came after two separate incidents in which people openly carrying guns created a disturbance. 

“In some cases, I’d rather see that an individual is carrying a firearm and/or a big Bowie knife or anything else. Because I know firsthand, boom, that they’re there. That doesn’t say that they’re going to harm me or not; they’re just executing their Second Amendment rights,” Rosier said when the measure was introduced.

Despite Rosier’s objections, the commissioners approved the measure on a 2-1 vote. 

Mink, an outspoken proponent of gun rights, was put in an unusual position arguing against Rosier for the need to restrict the opening carrying of firearms in county buildings. 

Mink agreed with Rosier that signs do nothing to stop a crime from occurring, but said an ordinance would prevent an openly carried firearm from frightening staff or customers, as well as prevent his deputies from having to guess the intent of a person carrying a gun.

Jeffco and Littleton say no to retail pot

When it comes to retail marijuana, both Jeffco and Littleton decided to pass on pot. Retail sales of pot, that is.

Colorado’s local governments spent much of 2013 deciding if they wanted to be among the first in the state to allow retail marijuana sales. While places like Boulder and Denver decided to allow retail sales, Littleton and Jeffco both approved moratoriums on retail marijuana sales in 2013. 

Jeffco’s moratorium is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2015, while Littleton’s expires on Oct. 1 of this year. 

Despite the allure of a new source of tax revenue, Jeffco and Littleton decided the unknowns involved with retail marijuana sales outweighed the potential revenue. 

For Littleton, it seemed like retail sales were on their way to being approved by the City Council. In study sessions, a majority of the council members had said they favored retail sales. 

Yet a late-night vote on Sept. 4 switched the council’s position and put Littleton in the anti-pot camp.

Council member Bruce Beckman changed his vote after becoming concerned that Littleton would be the sole municipality in the south metro area to allow retail sales.

“All the communities around us have either banned retail or put a moratorium on it. Frankly, that’s caused me to reconsider the whole thing,” Stahlman said during the first vote on the moratorium on Sept. 4. “I don’t think it’s in the community’s best interest to be the only community in how many square miles that’s got a retail presence.”   

Meanwhile, given discussions among the county commissioners and other Jeffco officials during 2013, there wasn’t much question about retail marijuana being banned in unincorporated Jeffco. 

Yet the commissioners didn’t vote for a permanent ban, instead opting to revisit the issue in 2015. 

“We need to be watching what’s going on with other jurisdictions, watching what’s going on with legislation ... and about how this implementation is going and what other problems other jurisdictions are having and what successes they’re having,” Tighe said after voting for the moratorium in June. “And based upon that information, decide if we think this is something Jefferson County wants to do.”

The first retail marijuana stores in Colorado will open this week.

Budget woes continue for Jeffco

The financial difficulties faced by Jeffco in 2012 were still  waiting for the county in 2013. 

The commissioners grappled with the same challenge in 2013 that they’ve dealt with for the past several years: how to provide more services with less revenue. 

To help, the commissioners voted 2-1 to reinstate 1.5 mills of the county property tax, ending a temporary reduction enacted years before. The board also approved a 3 percent merit raise for Jeffco employees, their first raise since pay was frozen in 2009. 

The higher levy will cost the owner of a $350,000 home a total of $720 annually, about $42 more than this year, and will generate about $10.4 million in additional revenue. 

Yet Jeffco still had to dip into reserve funds for $20 million to fully fund its $350.5 million operating budget for 2014. The county now has only about $25 million in reserves.

The continued reliance on the reserve funds sparked some heated debates between Tighe and Rosier, who voted against the 2014 budget.

“The failure to address the horrible financial situation of the county in the 2014 budget and to kick it down the road until 2015 only makes the issues worse,” Rosier said after the vote. “Small problems will become big problems, and big problems will become insurmountable. By not taking a holistic and strategic approach to the 2014 budget, we are penalizing our employees, nonprofit partners, and citizens of Jefferson County.”

Tighe said the county was moving in the right direction and that raising the levy was essential to making Jeffco more fiscally sound. He also pointed out that the county desperately needed to give its employees a raise to retain qualified staff. 

“Although retention is important and the cost to train employees has been well documented, the merit-based pay increase is about more than attrition and retention,” Tighe said during the vote on the budget. “Most Jefferson County employees are doing a great job providing excellent services to the citizens of Jefferson County. The county needs to recognize and reward the hard work of staff.”

Civil unions a reality in Jeffco

The historic scene in Jeffco was repeated across the state.: two people in love, signing their names on a civil union license and making history.

When the law allowing civil unions between same-sex couples took effect the morning of May 1, several couples made their way through a late-season snowstorm to finish the long journey to gain legal recognition for their relationships. 

It was a milestone many had thought they’d never see. 

“Never in a million years did I think it would happen,” said Tana Trejillo, who went with her partner, Jennifer Whitton, that morning to make their union official in the eyes of Colorado. “It gives me a lot of hope.”

Theirs was the first same-sex civil union in Jefferson County. The civil union law, approved during the 2013 session of the General Assembly, provides the legal framework to grant unmarried couples, both gay and heterosexual, rights similar to those of married couples. Those rights include transferring property, making medical decisions, adopting children, and qualifying for health insurance and survivor benefits. 

After failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, the law was passed in 2013 and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 21. 

The historical importance of the day wasn’t lost on the Jeffco clerk and recorder’s staff.

“It’s kind of exciting. I feel like I was in an important part of history,” said Kathy Lenger, a land records specialist who helped fill out the paperwork for Whitton and Trejillo. “It’s also nice to see how happy the couples are doing this.”

DeAngelis announces retirement

Columbine High School said a bittersweet goodbye in 2013, as principal Frank DeAngelis announced he would retire at the end of the current school year. 

DeAngelis, who spent 35 years at Columbine, including 18 as its principal, helped guide the school after the 1999 school shootings that left 12 students and one teacher dead.

“It’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. This truly is a family to me; it’s been a part of my life. I was young once; no longer. But we’ve been through so much together,” DeAngelis said during his retirement announcement in August.

In the aftermath of the shootings, DeAngelis promised to remain Columbine’s principal until he handed a high school diploma to every student who had been in an elementary school during the shootings. 

The impact DeAngelis had on the school was visible during his retirement announcement. More than one faculty member, including DeAngelis, had to fight back tears during his speech. 

“All these people sitting and standing over here (referring to a group of teachers at the announcement), they could have bailed after the shootings,” DeAngelis said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. I knew all I had to do was walk down the hallway and there was a hug, or they knew they could come into my office. I’m so proud they allowed me to be a part of their life. Words cannot explain the feeling.”

Paula Reed, an English teacher at Columbine for 27 years who was at the school during the shootings, said it was a bittersweet day for her and the rest of the staff.

“It’s emotional. We knew that it was coming; it had to eventually, right?” Reed said. “Frank understands how important every kid is to this school.”

Littleton’s development issues

Much of the focus of the Littleton City Council in 2013 was on how the city should develop and whether large apartment complexes are compatible with Littleton’s character. Several large-scale complexes proposed in 2013 sparked public outcry during council meetings. 

One major target of ire was the Broadstone at Littleton Station development at Bemis Street and Littleton Boulevard. Citizens expressed concerns over how the large apartment complex would change the character of Littleton and about the loss of commercial space to large residential developments. 

The original plan for a six-story, 350-unit apartment building was scaled back throughout 2013 to try and assuage the concerns of neighbors. Yet even a smaller 4-story, 250-unit building couldn’t win support from neighbors or the City Council.

In the wee hours of Sept. 4, after seven hours of debate, Broadstone at Littleton Station was rejected by the council. 

The number of large-scale developments in the city prompted a group of Littleton citizens to push a ballot initiative to change how property is rezoned. 

Citizens Initiative 302, approved in November’s election, requires all rezoning requests in the city to be approved by at least 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 also triggers a two-thirds-vote requirement if the city’s Planning Board voted against the 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,” said Paul Bingham, one of the citizens behind the initiative. “We believe citizens directly impacted should have a strong voice in matters that impact them directly.”  

Summerset Festival a washout

After a bone-dry summer in 2012, South Jeffco got the rain it needed and then some in 2013. 

Incessant rains in September that caused flooding in the mountain areas of Jeffco and other parts of Colorado forced the cancellation of the Summerset Festival in Clement Park. 

The cancellation, the first in the event’s 29 years, was a painful moment for the Foothills Foundation, organizers of the event.  

“We made a really, really tough decision to cancel the event. In 29 years, it’s never been canceled. It was a decision that had to be made, but it’s a no-win for everyone,” said Laura Knowlton, executive director of the foundation.

The festival typically draws about 30,000 visitors to Clement Park over three days in September and is the main fund-raiser for the Foothills Foundation. That proceeds are used to support Foothills Parks and Recreation District programs and events. 

“It’s a considerable amount of our fund-raising. All of the years I’ve been doing Summerset, we had one year several years ago where our net was less than $10,000. And then another year our net was just under $50,000,” Knowlton said. “It’s a wide range. Any outdoor event can be at the mercy of the weather.”

Despite the loss of the Summerset Festival, the Foothills Foundation still was able to give Foothills Parks and Rec a check for $5,000 in December. 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.