Denver City Attorney Dan Muse is a smart guy, but his recent home town comment about city council and term limits was astonishingly dumb. Good thing Dan wasn't refereeing a prize fight.
Muse was quoted by Denver Rocky Mountain News columnist Peter Blake as suggesting term limited Councilwomen-at-large Cathy Reynolds and Susan Barnes-Gelt could run in 2003 for a council district seat and the ten term limited council men and women could qualify for the two at-large council seats. "After all" he told Blake, "you'd be running for a different office and representing a different constituency."
Much as I dislike term limits, they are constitutional in Colorado except as to federal elections. There are three separate sections in the constitution. One deals with state legislators, another with state wide officers such as the governor, and the third deals with local nonjudicial elected officials.
State senators are limited to two consecutive terms (eight years) and members of the House to four consecutive terms (again eight years). A term limited senator can run for the House and vice-versa.
Legislators meet in the same building, but in two separate chambers. Each group elects its own officers and each group votes separately. A bill can pass the House 65 to 0 and be killed in the Senate. Each has separate rules of procedure and sometimes they don't even like each other.
The provision governing officials of a "county, city and county, city, town, school district, service authority, any other political subdivisions", etc. does not spell out the titles of officials covered, such as mayor, auditor, council, county commissioner, treasurer, clerk and recorder, coroner, and on and on. "Official" is meant to be generic, and Denver, as a home rule city, is specifically included in the term limitations.
In the Denver city council, there is one chamber. All 13 members sit at the same table and vote on the same bills. Barnes-Gelt and Reynolds can't kill a bill approved by the other eleven council members. They are (unlike the House and Senate) part of the same voting process.
The point is, it isn't where you came from, it's where you go. If Muse were correct, and he admits to not having researched the issue, then the same ability to skip term limits would apply to the Denver school board, with two at-large members and the rest elected from sub-districts.
The twelve term limited council members would be wise to look at other possible offices. If, in the year 2003, the Denver Election Commission would certify Councilwoman Reynolds to run for the council seat presently held by Happy Haynes, there would be a quick court battle and the decision would be easy...."6,7,8, and you're out."
Dan Muse has performed a lot of good public service as city attorney. Please, Dan, don't leave public service wearing a dunce cap.
Jerry Kopel writes a weekly column for the Colorado Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
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