Daily Camera (Boulder)


- By Spense Havlick

Just recently, the petitioner­s for the referendum on the Boulder City Council’s approval of the CU South annexation turned in over 6,000 signatures! This grassroots citizen involvemen­t was done by all volunteers who gathered signatures within the allowed 30 days since the Sept. 21 passage of the annexation ordinance. Bravo to all the citizens who gathered the signatures and organized the effort.

It is quite clear that the signers’ motivation­s included a desire to protect the natural areas where the CU developmen­t would occur, no desire to see massive building near flood-prone areas, a hope that the city council will do better and more transparen­t work on the negotiatio­ns. Other reasons include a lost trust in CU taming its excessive growth, being concerned about the traffic jams that would be generated by the huge amount of developmen­t, and so on. There was support for providing protection for the folks in the South Boulder Creek floodplain, but not with a one-sided deal like this.

A consistent theme was that the signers did not trust the city council to do the right thing. They felt frustrated by the lack of citizen involvemen­t and the totally opaque process, and angered by the behind-the-scenes involvemen­t of two city council members. On top of this they felt betrayed by the city council’s actions to pass the annexation “by emergency” just to stop the ballot measure that would require a citizen vote on the annexation terms from potentiall­y going into effect.

The underlying problem appears to be that sometimes people in politics strike an implicit bargain with each other. The deal is, in effect, “I won’t call you on your nonsense if you don’t call me on mine.” Then what happens is that these elected officials become increasing­ly used to not having to deal with inconsiste­ncies, logical flaws, and factual holes in their positions. And so, when challenged by citizens, they retreat and avoid actually engaging with those who are confrontin­g them. Their ability to avoid engagement has been enhanced in recent years by the COVID-19 situation and the resulting change from in-person meetings to online Zoom type events, where ordinary citizens are just images on a screen, and easily dismissed.

This appears to be what’s been going on with the current council. There are far too many votes that are unanimous or nearly so, and far too little needed disagreeme­nt and the resulting serious discussion over issues that are legitimate­ly contentiou­s. Even the final annexation council vote appeared to be heavily scripted with surprising­ly little effort to question or resolve unknown costs, traffic impacts, etc.

Referenda as cited above are often a last resort and yet another concern are campaign finance arrangemen­ts that merit scrutiny. Former council member

Andrew Shoemaker discussed some of the causes of this in his guest opinion on Oct. 15, “Sick of and yet slates?” He sees the groups that support slates of council candidates as one of the causes of “groupthink” and “doctrinal purity.”

One way Boulder’s campaign finance laws attempt to prevent this by stating in BRC 13-2-3(a)(1), “…If more than one committee acts under the authority of or in coordinati­on with a candidate, all shall be deemed the candidate’s official candidate committee and shall file combined reports as required by this title and all shall jointly be subject to the limitation­s of this title.”

Here “committee” could include other candidates’ official committees as well as a separate unofficial committee formed to support slates of candidates. And the “limitation­s of this title” include the $100 individual contributi­on limit, the total contributi­on and expenditur­e limits, and any other obligation­s that come with a candidate receiving City matching funds.

So when a committee does any form of advertisin­g for a group of candidates, the City should be looking carefully at whether or not this group has acted “in coordinati­on with” any of the candidates that they are supporting, for example by checking photos in the unofficial committee’s brochure that may appear to be provided by a candidate, or candidates’ handouts that are designed to fit in the brochure, etc. If concerns exist, the City should actually question the unofficial committee to find out what they did and with whom.

It will get interestin­g if the City determines that coordinati­on did occur, because the City must then require that all funds in excess of what a single candidate committee could legitimate­ly receive be returned. That’s a huge amount of money if multiple candidates are involved. But illegal coordinati­on will stop.

What kind of transparen­cy and citizen involvemen­t do we want in Boulder?

Spense Havlick is a former member of the Camera Editorial Advisory Board and a former Boulder City Council member.

Fur ban

It will hurt my business

Let’s stop the nonsense that ballot question 301 to ban

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