Jeffrey Evans: Guest opinion
September 7, 2009
In September 2007, the undersigned approached the Pitkin County Finance Department for assistance in drafting a road improvement debt and tax increase petition based on Pitkin County property tax sources. This effort began in anticipation of a city of Aspen vote on a four-lane highway solution for the Entrance to Aspen resulting from citizen initiatives in that jurisdiction.
Tom Oken informed us that although he could assist in generating the numbers involved, the exercise would be moot because the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter prohibits initiative petitions on tax issues. However, this charter provision directly contradicts the Colorado State Constitution.
A six-month conversation ensued between petition representatives, your office, the county attorney, and several other parties with whom you reportedly spoke. This exchange included your rejection of our proposed petition in a letter dated Feb. 20, 2008, and a subsequent reiteration of that rejection on April 1, 2008.
We did not pursue the matter further at that time due to delays encountered in the city of Aspen process to place the entrance questions on the ballot. In order to avoid too much repetition of the previous discussion, we will simply resume where we left this matter.
In your April 1 letter to Jeffrey Evans, you stated that, “You were informed on Nov. 26, 2007 and again on Feb. 20, 2007 (sic) that your initiative does not comply with state or county law. This was confirmed through the Pitkin County Attorney, the Colorado Commissioner (sic), Inc. Attorney, and the Secretary of State Election Office.”
We do not believe that either Colorado Counties, Inc. or the Colorado Secretary of State Election Office ever informed you that provisions of a county home rule charter supersede the state constitution. Neither of these entities, or anyone serving them, should have been cited as a source of support for your decision to violate the state constitution, and you should retract any claim which even implies such support.
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In regard to the Pitkin County attorney, it is the job of the attorney to represent the county commissioners, and in this case John Ely provided you with the best legal argument he would be able to muster to defend the commissioners’ desire to block this initiative. His contention was that since home rule counties may establish “procedures” for petition circulation, that this extends to limiting the constitutional scope of the power of initiative. This is obviously absurd, and even John realizes that he will not be able to find a law dictionary to support this interpretation, let alone a judge. Regardless, he was just doing his job by representing his clients with whatever argument he could dream up.
In your April 1 letter, you also stated that, “All future correspondence sent to the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Office regarding your initiative will be forwarded and dealt with in the Pitkin County Attorney Office.”
State law designates the clerk of the jurisdiction in which a petition will be circulated with the authority to reject an initiative which does not propose constitutionally defined legislation. You alone are responsible for your decision, and for satisfying your oath of office to uphold the constitution. You cannot delegate this responsibility to the county attorney.
Your previous reason for rejecting the petition was so completely unfounded in law that it seems necessary to remind you that you work for the people of Pitkin County, not the county commissioners. The county’s own ballot question for road improvement taxes, which the commissioners apparently wanted to protect from any competition on the ballot, was rejected by the voters last fall. The proposal contained in our initiative is structured so that however much money can be derived from other sources for the Entrance to Aspen, that much more money will be available for county roads. Consequently, you may find that the commissioners are no longer as averse to this plan as when it was first proposed.
In any event, if it is your intention to force this issue into the courts for whatever motive, it is difficult to fathom how you intend to run for re-election while simultaneously depriving your constituents of their constitutional rights.
So that you might have a chance to reconsider your prior action, we are submitting a slightly revised version of the Road Improvement Debt and Tax Increase petition, along with a separate copy of the proposed citizen-initiated resolution. This action is pursuant to C.R.S. 31-11-106, and we look forward to your approval within the statutory five days.
Upon your approval, we intend to withdraw the petition for further revision, but unfortunately this step is necessary in order to access the assistance of the county finance department in drafting a final version.
for Curtis Vagneur and Courtney Keller, petition representatives