13 July 2006

Denver's Stealth Ballot Issues

The general public and the state legislature aren't the only sources of ballot issues. Denver has three (or perhaps four) low profile issues awaiting voters: a pre-school funding plan and a charter amendment relating to city finances, likely in November, and a franchise agreement with Xcel Energy is slated for the August 8, 2006 primary ballot. A charter change to revamp the Election Commision also isn't entirely off the table.

But for the franchise agreement issue, the August 8, 2006 primary election would otherwise be utterly irrelevant to even the most diehard in Denver outside House District 1 or Senate District 32 (both of which are centered around Lincoln High School in Southwest Denver), where there are Democratic party primaries.

No other races at the state level or in Denver involve primary contests, so, in the absence of this issue, Denver voters could have skipped the election in good faith. Many will skip the primary ballot anyway, which is probably the idea. A voter rejection of the City's deal with Xcel Energy would be an embarassment, and the City is counting on those who show up to nearly meaningless elections out of a sense of duty to support it.

The proposal to raise sales taxes by 1.2 cents per $10.00 for pre-school education, already mentioned at Colorado Confidential in connection with Denver's State of the City address, is what is sounds like, and will dissolve into the general mayhem of an incredibly lengthy November ballot full of state ballot issues, that is, if the City Council backs the Mayor in putting it on the ballot.

The blog Coyote Gulch has noted that a third issue may also be before Denver voters in November. This one concerning:

a charter amendment or two to reorganize the city's financial accounting functions. Currently accounting functions are performed by both the City Auditor's office and several departments under the Mayor. The city's outside auditing firm recommends the reorganization.

For you election junkies this will be fun to watch. According to City Auditor Dennis Gallagher, the reorganization, "looks very innocent, but it's not." He's concerned with checks and balances within a Strong Mayor form of government.

In the State of the City address, this is apparently what the Mayor is talking about when he states:
We have asked our Blue Ribbon Task Force on Financial Management to assess our current reserve policies and to make recommendations regarding the appropriate size of the City’s reserve and how it should be expended during a recession. The Task Force is also exploring concerns expressed by outside auditors about the decentralized and fragmented nature of the City’s financial structure. We appreciate the Auditor’s involvement in this process as we share the goals of fiscal responsibility and government accountability.

Some changes, like a proposal to create a CFO for Denver, would not be controversial. Others (i.e those that cramp the role of the city auditor) are controversial, and have spurred the city auditor to cast aspersions at KPMG and to warn of the threat of the "ENRONIZATION of Denver."

The proposed changes to the Denver Election Commission, backed by Denver City Council President Rosemary Rodriguez and Colorado Common Cause, would replace the Denver Election Commission with an elected clerk and recorder. The issue is currently being studied in a holding action brokered by the Mayor. Many of the problems leading people to believe that change is needed are summed up in a June 20, 2006 letter from city auditor Dennis Gallagher, and can be summed up as operational difficulties. It isn't clear if a new director will be enough to salvage the institution.

Cross Posted at Colorado Confidential.

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