15 November 2007

Colorado Government 101

Federal Elected Offices and Judges

Colorado has seven representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives elected from seven single member Congressional Districts to two year terms, and two Senators elected at large to six years terms (2004 and 2008 are Senatorial election years in Colorado). Colorado elects a slate of Presidential nine electors to the candidate receiving a plurality of the at large, statewide popular vote in each Presidential election year every four years (2008 is a Presidential election year). All of these races are partisan.

All Congressional Districts in Colorado include at least one full county, and at least parts of more than one county. Congressional districts are drawn by the state legislature subject to court review, and to court imposition of districts if the legislature cannot agree on a plan.

Colorado is home to the United Stated District Court for the District of Colorado, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado and is one of the states in the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit which conducts most of its business in Denver. 10th Circuit and District Court Judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. The District Court also has magistrates with most of the powers of a judge, appointed by the judicial branch.

State Offices and Appellate Courts

The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are elected on a single ticket statewide to four year terms. The Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State Treasurer are also elected statewide to four year terms. These partisan elections were last held in 2006.

The State Board of Education has seven members (one from each Congressional District) who are elected to staggered six year terms in partisan elections in even numbered years (the 1st and 3rd CD in 2008, the 5th and 6th in 2010, and the 2nd,
4th and 7th in 2012).

The University of Colorado Board of Regents has nine members (one from each Congressional District and two at large) who are elected to staggered six year terms in partisan elections in even numbered years (The 2nd, 6th and 7th in 2008, an at large, the 1st and the 4th in 2010, and an at large, the 3rd and the 5th in 2012).

There are 35 state senators who are elected from single member districts in partisan elections to four years terms, with elections staggered so that roughly half face election in each even numbered year.

There are 65 state representatives who are elected from single member districts in partisan elections in each even numbered year to two years terms.

State legislative districts are drawn by a blue ribbon commission, rather than by state legislators.

The state supreme court with seven non-partisan appointed judges, and the state court of appeals which also has non-partisan appointed judges, serve the entire state. They are subject to staggered "retain or do not retain" elections in even numbered years.

County and Judicial District Offices and Courts

There are 64 counties in Colorado, including the two consolidated city and county governments. A statutory structure governs 60 of the counties, providing for an elected board of county commissioners, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, sheriff, surveyor and coroner although two (Arapahoe and El Paso) have five county commissioners instead of the usual three, and some counties dispense with an elected surveyor. Pitkin and Weld counties are home rule counties (each with five elected commissioners and an appointed county surveyor), and Denver and Broomfield have unique and different City and County governments. County officers have four year terms. Most, if not all, counties which are not also cities, elect members of the board of county commissioners at large.

There is a district court in each of the twenty-two judicial districts in the state (although operationally, litigants deal with district courts only in the part of the district court in and for a particular county), and each county is in exactly one judicial district (the judicial district that consists of Denver divides the jurisdiction of the district court between a district court, a probate court and a juvenile court). Each county also has its own county court. These judges are subject to staggered "retain or do not retain" elections in even numbered years.

There is a district attorney elected at large on a partisan basis to a four year term in each judicial district. The next election for district attorneys (they are not staggered) will be in 2008.

Regional Transporation District

The Regional Transportation District, which includes all or part of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson and Weld counties has a fifteen member, non-partisan elected board of directors (whose districts are denoted by letters), who serve staggered four year terms and are elected in even numbered years. Eleven of the board districts include parts of more than one county.

Municipal Government

There are 270 active municipalities in Colorado. They come in several types, ranked below from most powerful to least powerful.

* Consolidated City and County Governments: 2 (Denver and Broomfield)
* Home Rule Municipalities: 87
* Territorial Charter Municipality: 1 (Georgetown)
* Statutory Cities: 13 (Brush, Centennial, Cripple Creek, Federal Heights, Florence, Idaho Springs, Las Animas, Leadville, Ouray, Rocky Ford, Salida, Victor, Walsenberg)
* Statutory Towns: 167

Generally, the cutoff for town status is that the municipality have fewer than 2,000 residents as of the last census.

Ten of the 87 active home rule municipalities are in two or more counties, including two Aurora (Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas) and Littleton (Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson), which are in three counties. They are: Arvada (Adams, Jefferson), Aurora, Brighton (Adams, Weld), Central City (Clear Creek, Gilpin), Littleton, Longmont (Boulder, Weld), Northglen (Adams, Weld), Thornton (Adams, Weld), Westminster (Adams, Jefferson), and Windsor (Larimer, Weld).

Ten of the 167 statutory towns are in two counties. They are Basalt (Eagle, Pitkin), Berthoud (Larimer, Weld), Bennett (Adams, Arapahoe), Bow Mar (Arapahoe, Jefferson), Center (Rio Grande, Saguache), Erie (Boulder, Weld), Green Mountain Falls (El Paso, Teller), Johnstown (Larimer, Weld), Lochbuie (Adams, Weld), and Superior (Boulder, Jefferson).

Italics above denote municipalities that are in the greater Denver-Boulder area.

The vast majority of municipalities have a municipal court (sometimes "of record" and sometimes "not of record"), although a few small and less active municipalities may lack of municipal court. Many municipal courts share judges with county courts and municipal courts, so there are fewer municipal court judges than there are municipal courts. Almost all municipal court judges outside Denver are part-time employees.

Municipalities with council members elected by districts or wards draw their own districts subject to legal requirements.

The default structure of a statutory city is to have a strong elected mayor, an elected clerk, and an elected city treasurer (all elected at large), and to elect two members of the city council per ward, all for two year terms. A council-manager form of statutory city is also authorized with a council member at large replacing the mayor, and executive power lodged in an appointed city manager, with a mayor as the chair of the city council elected internally by the council.

The default structure of a statutory town is to have a major and six trustees elected for two years terms at large. Terms can be changes to four year staggered terms (by ordiance), and the number of trustees can be reduced from six to four (and back again) by public vote, and towns may choose by ordinance to elect or appoint a town clerk, a treasurer and a town attorney. The Mayor is largely a first among equals. In practice, many towns elect a clerk, but other officers are usually appointed.

School Districts

There are 178 public school districts organized under state law that cover all of Colorado, each of which provide K-12 educational services. Each district run by a non-partisan elected five to seven member board of directors, elected to staggered four year terms in odd numbered years (except for a small number of districts that use six year terms). The default rule is for all directors to be elected at large, but some districts, including Denver, elect some or all of the directors from five to seven single member, equal population director districts, sometimes with no at large directors, and sometimes with one or two at large directors. School districts with director districts draw their own districuts subject to legal requirements.

Enrollments vary greatly. Two districts have more than 50,000 students. About 107 districts have less than 1,000 students (including 11 with fewer than 100 students). There are 73 with 1,000 to 49,999 students (the data overstates the total by four because it conflates four junior college districts separate from the state governmental Colorado Community College System with K-12 districts). Most, but not all, of the smaller districts are rural.

Some counties have just one school district. El Paso and Weld counties each have more than a dozen school districts. There are 59 multi-county school districts that are not within a single municipality (possibly including some of the four junior college districts).

Colorado engaged in immense consolidation of school districts from 1952, when it had 1,352 school districts, to 1962 when it had 312 school districts, to 1972 when it had 187 school districts. Since then the number of school districts went down by seven and then went up by two. A significant share of the declines post-1972 arose from community colleges joining the state system. So, the basic school district structure in the state has been stable for about 36 years.

Special Districts

There are a number of special district governments in Colorado with their own elected officials, generally non-partisan ones. All but a handful are in only one county or in only in municipality or both. There are 1,414 special districts in Colorado by the federal government's 2002 count (see also here), but that includes many governmental bodies with no elected officials. Special districts that can have elected officials that existed in the state in 2002 included:

* Ambulance Districts
* Conservation Districts (83)
* Drainage Districts (36) (# may include ground water management and irrigation)
* Fire Protection Districts (250)
* Ground Water Management Districts
* Health Services Districts
* Irrigation Districts
* Junior College Districts (4)
* Metropolitan Districts
* Park and Recreation Districts (65)
* Rural Transportation Authorities (e.g. Pikes Peak RTA and Baptist Road RTA both near Colorado Springs, and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority).
* Water Conservancy Districts
* Water and Sanitation Districts (111)

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