It appears it will take a citizen-led effort to get on the ballot the question of whether the Jeffco Board of Commissioners should be expanded from three to five members.
Ray Goodhart, a member of the Jeffco5 citizens group that is working to expand the board, said the group would start to prepare for a signature drive next year to put the issue on the 2014 ballot.
Commissioners Don Rosier and Faye Griffin say expanding the board isn’t a good idea because of the cost and because more commissioners would not provide better representation for residents, while Commissioner Casey Tighe says the issue should be put to voters.
The trio expressed their opinions before an Oct. 9 telephone town hall meeting that looked at the 2014 budget and expanding the board.
At the end of the phone-in meeting, 62 percent of the 363 callers answered “no” to a question about whether they would support increasing the size of the board.
Callers were informed it would cost about $325,000 per year for two additional commissioners. There also would be a one-time $420,000 cost to add more office space.
Goodhart said Jeffco5 also has requested the commissioners have a separate hearing on the proposed expansion because the issue wasn’t fairly represented at the phone-in meeting since it was lumped in with a discussion of the proposed 2014 budget.
Colorado law allows for the size of county commissions to increase to five once a county’s population exceeds 70,000. Two public votes have been held on expanding the county commissioners, once in the ‘70s and once in the ‘90s, both of which failed.
Issues with the issue
Goodhart said the discussion during the phone-in meeting didn’t include any information his group wanted to supply about the possible benefits of expanding the board.
“Somebody hearing this for the first time and taking without context that the budget is so tight that it wouldn’t be the proper time for it to be included, I don’t think they would have gotten a fair representation of the information to make a decision,” Goodhart said. “What I’m getting at is between the moderator and the points that were raised that we weren’t allowed to counter, they weren’t hearing about the positive points. Just the general statement.”
Goodhart believes the commissioners’ resistance comes from not wanting to see their power diminished.
“They’ve constantly denied the airing of this issue,” Goodhart said. “They’re the ones that would benefit from not having it on the ballot because (an increase in commissioners) dilutes their authority.”
Rosier said is skeptical that adding two commissioners would improve the level of representation for county residents. He said many Jeffco residents are represented by both the county and their own city governments.
Given the cost, Rosier said, he doesn’t support adding an additional layer of government.
“I’m not a supporter of going to five commissioners. Like I brought up in the town hall, a majority of residents in Jefferson County are represented by local city government, and that’s the purest form of representative government,” Rosier said. “What we saw with voting is there is not the demand. We saw that in previous voting.”
Rosier also said the quality of representation depends on who is elected to the commission, not the number of commissioners.
For Griffin, it’s a matter of the county’s tight budget. Given the Jeffco’s current fiscal situation, Griffin said, she’d rather the county address the idea when its finances are in better shape, possibly after 2016.
Griffin also said adding two additional commissioners would mean increasing the number of bosses county employees have from three to five, which would put additional demands on the employees.
“They have three bosses, three different personalities they have to work for, and if you have two additional ones, I think it would be harder on the employees,” Griffin said. “I’ve worked here long enough to know our employees are the most important asset we have, too. But every election, it could mean totally different people to work for and work with.”
Tighe said the issue eventually should be put to voters.
“If people think because our population has gotten so big that we should expand the board, I think that’s a good question to ask the voters,” Tighe said. “(The phone survey) is a piece of information that we have to consider, but it also wasn’t a statistically valid opinion survey.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22.