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Town charter in store for changes

Following a Town Charter riddled with inconsistencies and errors, the Pagosa Springs Town Council agreed that the document requires a badly-needed tune-up but decided that corrections, which must be approved by town voters, do not require a special election and can wait for a space on the April 2012 ballot.

Discussing the issue at last Thursday’s mid-month meeting, council received a presentation from Town Manager David Mitchem that included a short list of suggested changes made by Court and Juvenile Services Administrator Candace Dzielak and Town Attorney Bob Cole.

In October 2003, town voters approved Home Rule by a margin of 68 to 27 (a total of 96 ballots cast out of a possible 925 registered voters) along with the accompanying governing charter.

The charter is akin to the town’s Constitution and includes 14 articles covering: general provisions, town council, procedures for the council, elections, initiative, referendum and recall, town attorney and municipal court, town administration, boards and commissions, budget and finance, utilities, franchises and town property, land use, development and districts, legal provisions, and transition provisions.

In Mitchem’s presentation, Dzielak recommended a few changes relevant to Municipal Court functions and policies. Cole, on the other hand, suggested 10 amendments to the charter, pointing out inconsistencies throughout the document.

Among the 10 suggestions, Cole wrote, “Section 3.9 provides the procedure for adopting ordinances. Despite your practice of allowing public comments, there is no requirement for a public hearing in the ordinance adoption procedure. Amend to clarify whether a public hearing is required in the process, and if so whether it should be on first reading, second reading, or both.”

Cole also wrote that, “Article 5 provides procedures and requirements for initiative, referendum, and recall petitions and elections. Several internal ambiguities, internal inconsistencies, and ambiguities with statutory procedures were identified during recent referendum petitions and elections. Some, but likely not all, could be addressed by ordinance.”

Indeed, as reported earlier this year in The SUN, some of the inconsistencies Cole alluded to could have potentially led to a deadlock between voters and an entrenched town council.

Council member Stan Holt stated that Dzielak and Cole’s list was far from comprehensive, however, saying, “There’s other items than what are on this list.”

At first, council had considered making the amendments in time to put the matter before the voters during November’s general election. However, when asked by council member Shari Pierce if Mitchem and town staff could prepare amendments in time for a November vote, Mitchem replied, “If we attempt to do it before September 3 (the deadline for filing initiatives for the November election), we’d be hard pressed to do it.”

Briefly considering a special election next year to present amendments to the voters, council rejected that idea after asking Town Clerk April Hessman how much the special election earlier this year (regarding Big Box regulations) had cost the town.

Hessman responded, “Over $1,500.”

Later, Hessman confirmed that the election cost $1,744, more than the $1,500 budgeted for the election. Hessman attributed cost overruns to the large number of mail-in ballots sent out for the election.

“We’ve lived with the inconsistencies for a number of years,” said council member Darrell Cotton.

“I would agree with that and I don’t think it’s anything stressing, to spend money on a special election,” said Mayor Ross Aragon.

With a consensus from the council to delay an amendment measure for the voters to April 2012, Aragon appointed Pierce and Cotton to a committee tasked with combing through the charter for necessary changes.

Voters will now have a little less than two years to consider those changes. A copy of the town’s Home Rule Charter (in PDF format) is available on the town’s website at www.townofpagosasprings.com/ by clicking the “Documents” link on the right side of the page and then, on the next page, clicking on the “Home Rule Charter” link.

jim@pagosasun.com