Basalt charter plan hits term-limits snag | AspenTimes.com

Basalt charter plan hits term-limits snag

A committee that is drafting new rules for the way Basalt will be governed has tried to avoid controversy but may have stumbled into it on the issue of term limits.

The committee voted 8-1 to abolish term limits in a proposed Home Rule Charter that will go before voters for ratification or rejection later this year.

That is a reversal of Basalt’s current policy and a departure from the will of the voters in past elections.

Term limits were added to the Colorado Constitution after a statewide vote in November 1994. Basalt officials asked town voters 18 months later if term limits should be eliminated.

Voters overwhelmingly supported term limits in the April 1996 election. Abolishing term limits failed by a 128 to 286 margin or 31 to 69 percent.

Basalt’s nine-member Home Rule Charter Commission was unaware of the 1996 vote when it included the elimination of term limits in the proposed charter, according to commission co-chair Anne Freedman.

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She said she still supports keeping the elimination of term limits in the proposal. She believes residents’ sentiments may have changed “quite a bit” since 1996.

“The town has not had to face the consequences of term limits,” she said.

It soon will. Basalt’s term limits prohibit elected officials from holding the same office more than two terms or eight years. That means incumbents Mayor Rick Stevens and trustees Jacque Whitsitt and Leroy Duroux cannot run for the same positions again in the next election in April 2004. All three candidates have proved popular at the polls.

Commission member Jim Paussa said the elimination of term limits was favored because it is another way of making it easier for residents to participate in government.

Critics of term limits in the small town note that Basalt doesn’t always attract enough candidates to fill all openings. Qualified candidates should be allowed to serve as long as they and voters are willing. Voters will throw out pubic servants they feel aren’t doing a good job.

Tiffany Gildred was the one commission member opposed to the elimination of term limits. Gildred, who was elected to the Town Council in an unopposed race last spring, argued that incumbents have an unfair advantage.

She also objected to the proposed charter’s alteration of an existing town regulation. Gildred insisted throughout the commission’s deliberations that the charter shouldn’t change anything in the way Basalt is governed, it should merely add new features.

Gildred said she would lobby residents to speak out on the issue – not to vote against the charter but to get the charter changed before citizens vote.

When voters decide the fate of the proposed charter, they must vote on it as a whole. They cannot vote on individual items.

The commission is holding a public meeting Sept. 4 on the details of the charter. The hearing will give the board time to make alterations, if they are deemed necessary.

“I would still put [elimination of] term limits in the charter and let people show up at the Sept. 4 meeting and express their opinions,” said Paussa.

Freedman said, “If it looks like that’s going to defeat it, then we can change.”