Term limit question goes to Basalt ballot | AspenTimes.com

Term limit question goes to Basalt ballot

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Basalt voters will be asked April 1 to settle some “gray areas” over term limits for the mayor and members of the Town Council.

The Town Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to place one question with six components on the April 1 ballot. Currently, the town depends on the Colorado Constitution for guidance on term limits. The question proposes that Basalt customize its rules, as have many towns, cities and counties.

The proposal prohibits a person from holding the same office for more than two terms of four years each. It would consider the mayor’s position and council as separate positions. Therefore, a person could serve two terms as a council member and then hold the mayor’s seat for two terms.

The question proposes an overall cap of four consecutive terms — 16 years — in office for someone serving both on the council and as mayor. Terms would be considered consecutive unless they were at least four years apart.

“If somebody can talk to me about what the ambiguity is, I’m willing to listen.”
Councilman Glenn Rappaport, question opponent

Councilman Rob Leavitt said allowing a person to serve four consecutive terms for a total of 16 years in office seems too long. He said 12 years might be a better overall cap.

Councilwoman Karin Teague countered that there is a big “learning curve” associated with holding office. A person could serve two terms of four years each on the council and then be seasoned for the mayor’s job, she said. That person shouldn’t be limited to just one term as mayor, Teague said.

Councilman Glenn Rappaport questioned the timing of the ballot question. He said the “rule” that applied to former Mayor Leroy Duroux in the 2012 election should apply in the next election.

Duroux served as mayor for two terms from 2004 to 2012, and he planned to run for a council seat in 2012. He pulled out of the election because the Colorado Constitution limits office holders to two terms. However, the Colorado Municipal League, an association of cities and towns, considers it allowable for a person to move from a council seat to the mayor’s position, or vice versa, without violating the state provision on term limits.

Town Attorney Tom Smith said it wasn’t “black and white” if a person could move between the council and mayor’s seat without violating the state rules on term limits. He said he advised Duroux in 2012 that it was a gray area.

“Leroy wasn’t told, ‘You can’t run,’” Smith said.

Duroux decided not to run, according to Smith. Duroux issued a statement in 2012 that said, “In haste to meet deadlines to get my petition submitted, I failed to do the proper amount of research to determine if I was eligible to seek the councilor position.”

Many cities and towns eliminate the gray area on term limits by distinctly separating the mayor and council positions via their home rule charters. Basalt is now proposing to join them by amending its charter.

Rappaport said the way the rule was applied in the last election appeared to be “politically motivated,” but he didn’t elaborate.

If the rules remain the same and the ballot question is defeated, current Mayor Jacque Whitsitt apparently won’t be eligible to run for re-election in 2014 if she so desires. Whitsitt served as a councilwoman from 2008 to 2012 and then won a four-year term as mayor. If Basalt voters approve the ballot question, she will be eligible for one more term as mayor and one more term on the council in consecutive years.

If voters approve the ballot question, it will apply in the next election in 2016.

“I’m an advocate of ‘let the voters decide.’ They’re really smart,” Whitsitt said.

Teague also said she wants voters to provide clarity to the term-limit issue.

Rappaport said he doesn’t believe that there is a gray area.

“If somebody can talk to me about what the ambiguity is, I’m willing to listen,” he said.

The question was approved for the ballot by a 5-2 vote with Rappaport and Councilman Rick Stevens dissenting. Supporting the question were Whitsitt, Teague, Leavitt and Councilmen Mark Kittle, and Herschel Ross.