By Dave Kisker, President
People United for Responsible Government
At a recent meeting of the Weld County Charter Review Committee, a resident inquired about what the enforcement procedures are for the Home Rule Charter and County Code. If an elected official or County employee violates the Code, how are the interests of the residents protected?
In fact, this is not such a far-fetched concern. At least one provision of the Charter, relating to contracts, has routinely been ignored since the earliest days of the Charter, because “it’s inconvenient”.
In response to the inquiry, County Attorney Bruce Barker informed the Committee and the members of the public that the primary enforcement of the Charter and Code would be through a lawsuit, brought by County residents, at their own expense. While this may seem surprising to those who believe in the rule of law, it appears to be true. Nowhere in the Charter or the Code is there any procedure for enforcement if employees or officials violate the Code. (Of course, if a resident or business violates the Code, the County has enforcement capability through the Courts, using taxpayer dollars.)
Further evidence of this reality was recently provided by Mr. Barker, who in a court filing wrote that “there is no obligation on the County to prosecute every person…who may be violating some element of their approved land use”.[Motherlove v. Weld County BOCC, 2015CV30776]
At the Charter Review Committee meeting, Barker also stated that in Colorado, the same status applies to statutory Counties that are not Home Rule—that is, there is no provision for enforcement if officials and employees simply ignore the Code.
I was quite surprised that this might be the case. After all, if there is no enforcement, then why do we have rules in the first place, whether they’re speed limits, stop signs, or County Charters and Codes? After some investigation of the rules in other Counties around the country, I’m beginning to see the framework for enforcement: the County Council!
Now, you may find this surprising. During last year’s attempt by the Commissioners to eliminate the Council, we were repeatedly told that the Weld County Council is unique, not only in Colorado but also in the entire United States. Well, it seems that this is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts. In fact, oversight groups exist around the country. They’re just not called a “County Council”. For example, in Jackson County, Missouri, also a Home Rule County, the oversight board is called the“Ethics, Human Relations, and Citizen Complaints Commission”.
But, can our County Council do this job? Currently, efforts by the County Council have been hamstrung because some Commissioners have been quite hostile, routinely restricting its budget and thereby, its power. In fact, the County Council doesn’t have Bylaws, and their governing procedures document is incomplete, making fulfillment of their responsibilities challenging.
However, at the July 16th Council meeting, a milestone in Council history occurred when Councilman Brett Abernathy drafted and the Council unanimously adopted a detailed procedure for a recall, should it be necessary. While we don’t know what the outcome of the recall effort against Commissioner Kirkmeyer will be, until now, no guidelines have existed to specify how the Council would suspend and replace a recalled official, as the Charter requires. The new procedure solves this problem. And, more importantly, it’s a major step in the Council asserting its role in County government—to protect the interests of the County residents. The Council and the citizens are sowing the seeds of change in Weld County. We believe that broader enforcement provisions will soon follow.