By Sallie Clark
Recently, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners placed several questions on the November ballot. Since state law doesn’t provide a petition process at the county level, placement by the commissioners is the only method county questions can be referred to the voters. One initiative gives voters the option to decide on term limits for county elected offices. It is actually three separate ballot questions limiting service to three terms for the 4th Judicial District Attorney (serving El Paso and Teller counties), the county commissioners, the assessor, the clerk and recorder, the treasurer and the surveyor.
If approved by voters, those county offices would be consistent with the three-term maximum for the Sheriff’s Office, which was approved by voters in 2006.
A 1994 Colorado state constitutional amendment established two four-year terms as a limit, but gave local voters the option to modify or eliminate those limits. The majority of voters in 56 of Colorado’s 64 counties have extended or eliminated term limits.
This is the first time El Paso County voters have been asked to consider changes for the assessor, district attorney or the board of county commissioners.
Colorado counties are an arm of state government. Most of their funds are restricted for the support of services mandated by state and federal laws. Counties are greatly impacted by decisions made at higher levels of government and as residents of Colorado’s largest county, we have a lot to gain from having experienced local office holders representing our interests full-time on state and national committees which set policies for everything from public safety to elections.
Experience is often the deciding factor in successfully advocating for sensible legislation and defeating unfunded mandates which are passed on to local taxpayers.
County government is somewhat different from municipal government in that elected officials are directly responsible for the delivery of mandated services to include administration and employee supervision. Commissioners develop and implement a budget of over $230 million annually with the largest chunk of that budget going directly to public safety through the Sheriff’s Office, the district attorney’s office, the coroner’s office and the operation of county facilities required for support of the courts.
The funding and regulations of agencies like the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services are complex and also are tied directly to state and federal policies. There is no substitute for experience in dealing with child protection, public health, elections, parks, taxes, transportation, courts and the jail.
A consistent three-term limit for officials in Colorado’s largest county gives our residents more influence over state and federal policies by creating a level playing field with other counties in Colorado and nationally.
The extension of one term would allow county representatives to see more projects through to completion while keeping government bureaucracy in check.
It would empower voters with the option to take advantage of experience in office without limiting the power to make a change at election time.
In business, we look to hire and keep experienced employees and as a comparison, this change simply gives voters more options to take advantage of institutional knowledge and the potential for proven representation.
Clark, a Republican, is an El Paso county commissioner representing District 3. She is serving her second term after having been re-elected in 2008.