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Friday, October 05, 2007

The Costs Of Elections

Some astute visitors to my site voiced their concerns about the possibility of a costly special election to backfill a city councilmember seat. As some of you have probably read, three current council members are running for Mayor. If Roger Lange or Karen Benker win, their seat will become vacant and since there is a specified amount of time left in that position, another election must be held to fill it. This could cost between $50k and $100k at a time when we’re hearing about shortfalls in revenues and cuts in services in the city.

The third councilmember running is Doug Brown, who is being term-limited out of office. (Campaign Manager hat on: Doug, how often can politicians say they’ll save you money and/or save some city services if you “vote for me”, and really mean it, and can deliver on it? Okay, hat off). If Mr. Brown wins, basically the city saves a bunch of money. But there’s a two thirds chance we’ll be forking out for a special election. Since I’m sure it’s part of the city charter, there’s not much we can do about it. The only future options are to not allow current council members to run for Mayor, or to not backfill vacant seats, whether due to promotion (to Mayor), sickness, or death. I don’t see either of those options as realistic, so we’re stuck with what we have.

This got me to thinking about another costly ballot situation: The Union/LifeBridge annexation issue. Here we’re being asked, no, told, that we must pony up somewhere between $60k and $100k to put on the ballot a question of overturning a city council decision to annex this development into Longmont. This is not an up/down decision on whether it should be built, just if it should be part of Longmont. That’s an important distinction. I’ll assume the petition gatherers made that clear to the people who signed it.

One of the petition gatherers said “the buck and a half it would cost per voter is a rare bargain to have the community speak on so significant a question.” Up until now I was pretty much staying out of this issue, but some of these people’s comments and tactics can’t go unchallenged (and no, I’m not a member of Lifebridge). Where to begin with this claptrap. First, 6,000 people signed this, that’s what, less than 10% of the population in Longmont? Yet they have the right to charge the rest of us a “buck and a half” for anything? Who died and declared you…well I better not say “God” that might offend them. How about we divide the fee amongst the 6,000 petition signers, that’s only somewhere between $10 and $17 each, what’s the problem?

Second, that’s not just a charge “per voter”, that’s something everyone who pays sales and use taxes will pay for. People complain about elected officials unfairly raising taxes, how about a small minority of unelected citizens? Is that okay?

Third, although I may at times disagree with council votes on issues, they were legally elected to represent us. How long has this been going through all the processes required? This wasn’t just sprung upon the poor, unwitting citizenry. And the vote wasn’t even all that close, 6-1. But some people didn’t like it. Well, I don’t like a lot of decisions they make, does that give me the right to force the rest of the city residents to pay for it? I don’t think so. Lastly, I suggest you Google “union annex”, and visit both sides’ websites and educate yourself. Check the maturity level, and if you’re easily offended, don’t bother. That is, unless they start deleting.

I’m not saying you should vote for or against this ballot question, I’m just pointing out that IF this makes the ballot, the damage’s already been done financially to an already weak city budget. I better not hear these same types complain when the city cuts another $60k to $100k worth of programs and services. At least we know in part who to thank.

6 comments:

AJ said...

Thanks for this post, I've followed your posts for sometime and always figured you would side with the stop Union Annex people who frequent your blog. But you've shown integrity in standing up for what will probably prove to be an unpopular opinion. Kudos to you.

(and, fwiw, I am not a LBCC member, a Longmont or BOCO Resident, and have 0 opinion on the issue, I just wanted to say kudos to somebody for sharing an articulate, though probably unpopular, opinion)

KERRY BENSMAN said...

Wrongmont, couldn't disagree with you more?

Did each individual elected officials in Longmont run on a platform as to how they would address the Union Annex when they got elected? I doubt it since it probably wasn't on the table at the time. Plus it looks like without the petition, the annexation would have gone through. That would have been irreversible.

So the opponents can't just say that they'll vote the council members out during the next election because the "damage" would have been done. Too late then to deal with the issue.

As for the money aspect, goes with the territory. Unless someone is spending a lot of money on independent polling, no one knows until a vote is taken as to how the majority feels about this.

And if anyone believes that elected officials are omnipotent and fully and fairly informed, do I have news for you.

KERRY BENSMAN said...

P.S. Wrongmont,

29000 folks voted in Longmont during the last election. If 6,000 sign a petition, that is 1 in 5.

If the 6000 all vote against the annexation and the remainder of the 29000 split down the middle, the annex fails big time.

Interesting how the math works sometimes.

Alex Schatz said...

If a question is put to the voters through an enacted process, I think it should be asked. And if it's a bad question, then you hope voters defeat it in a landslide.

The interesting twist on the very similar scenario in Lafayette is that the Council decided to put the issue out to the ballot, they did not make the opponents in Lafayette collect signatures to trigger the Charter provision.

And there is another interesting parallel, which is the manner in which the Lafayette special election on annexation was framed as all or nothing. Not as annexation or no annexation, but annexation plus major commercial rezoning. And, with the ballot title, even the City seemed to be promoting the idea that this was about the intended end use, not the act of annexation.

I've never been able to decode the Union development issue in Longmont. My knowledge is just too limited to have a great grip on the facts. The anti-Union folks have at least abandoned the one-note criticism of Christianity and adopted a more broad-based, and rational, list of risks with the Union development.

The Lafayette Special Election cost approximately $25,000, if my memory serves correctly. If the cost of calling a referendum is directly proportional to the number of voters, I guess the cost in Longmont makes sense. I might vote no in Longmont - I do believe Longmont has some comp plan-based reasons to want control over eastern lands into Weld County - but I don't know that offense can be taken if the opposition has gathered the appropriate number of signatures.

Wrongmont said...

aj: glad I surprised you. Contrarianism for the sake of itself just makes someone a pain in the ass. I have ripped on the city (and friends on Council) when required, and defended them when they were right, even if I personally disagreed. I fully expect to be flamed for what I wrote, but that will say more about the others than it will of me.

There is a cabal here, fairly elitist in nature, and they float from one "action" to another. I can't say with certainty these are the same people, but they use the same tactics. If a cause is just and right, it should speak and stand up for itself without all the negativity and insults. It's nearly a daily thing here in our paper.

Kerry: the money issue is a large one, can't just easily be dismissed as "coming with the territory" as all kinds of popular services are on the chopping block. $100k is substantial. People are calling and writing to the paper about these cuts, it's no small deal.

I'm the last one to say elected officials are all-knowing, but on this issue I'd say they are way out in front of 80% of the citizens of this city, and are probably pretty sick of the issue by now as it's nothing new.

The electoral math isn't as much a factor in this case for a couple reasons. First you're assuming all of those 6,000 will even vote, these weren't all hardcore anti-Union people, many were probably the 50% who never vote. Secondly how this is worded means everything. Will it be a YES or NO vote for the anti-annexation people to win? YES to overturn council or YES to approve annexation, or NO to each. That could evenly split (confused voters), or not.

The money issue was the main point, if it wasn't equal to a major service being cut in the city, not a big deal. And why this needs to cost as much as it does is a question worth asking. But for now, that's the fee, and as long as that's the fee, maybe a question should be put to the voters if as few as 6K people can cost us all $100k, and how often. A couple times and hey, bankrupt the city, bring it to its knees. Snow removal? Sorry, out of money. Wonder who would be the first to start bitching?

KERRY BENSMAN said...

If voters want to remove the right of petition for an annexation, they can do that.

Also if the timing had been managed better by the council, it could have been put on the ballot for this election, at no cost (by the council). Wonder why that didn't happen. Oh, it came up too late to make the ballot. Chuckle. Did the council or your planning department have your hand in that?

I doubt the City of Longmont will go bankrupt. Any Finance Director worth his/her salt puts wiggle room in any budget. And then there is always the issue of priorities and whether something can wait a year or not.

It's always interesting to hear how the 50 plus one should rule over the 50 minus one. Ironically, cities spend tons of money on items that interest only a small group. There is no line item veto power.

Yes, democracy has a cost. The right to let the electorate direct its government is a precious one.
(Oh, those folks are elitists?)