Reduce from seven to five?
[ By Kendra Walker ]
The Mt. Crested Butte town council is considering changing term limits for council members and possibly reducing the number of councilors, due to a consistent lack of interested candidates.
The last election for the Mt. Crested Butte council was held in 2008. In 2018, not enough people pulled a nomination petition and the town had to advertise the unfilled seat. In 2020, the exact number of people per open seats pulled petitions, and were all existing council members.
Town manager Isa Reeb asked the council during their June 15 meeting if they wanted to consider reducing the number of members from seven to five once some of the members’ seats expire in April 2022. Those members include Lauren Koelliker, Steve Morris and Roman Kolodziej.
“There haven’t been a lot of people who have run in the past and sometimes that leads to a seat being unfilled and you have to have a special election,” said Reeb.
A reduction of council seats would have to go on the November ballot for the public to vote on it. The deadline for the ballot decision is July 23, explained Reeb.
“I’ve pushed it to doing it later in 2024 when Nick and I go off so it’s just a natural reduction of the council,” said mayor Janet Farmer. Both Farmer and Kempin cannot re-run after their seats expire in 2024, per the town’s current term limits.
Council member Michael Bacani was in favor of keeping the count at seven, noting the growing Crested Butte Community School and general growth in the valley. “Reducing while the population continues to grow, that contradicts each other. I like the number seven. Some of the things we’ve done lately, if it was a five-member council we could be building on Brush Creek this year,” he said, referring to the controversial development proposal from Gatesco that had county-backing but needed either Mt. CB or the town of Crested Butte to approve in order to move forward. “That was a 3-4 vote,” said Bacani.
“Gunnison only has five,” said Farmer. “Why do we as the smallest of the regional communities have seven when the largest is five?”
“We’re more representative of our constituents then,” said Bacani.
“The fact is that we can’t get people to be on town council because it’s pretty thankless and all you do is collect enemies and spend your evenings in meetings,” said Koelliker.
“Maybe we could actually have elections and people could actually have a platform and explain to the community what platform they’re running on. If we have competition for an election then it makes the process more functional I think,” she added.
“We have two people out of the meeting right now, you throw in a recusal or something like that and you start getting into quorum problems,” noted Kempin. “I think we’re a growing community with more complex problems it seems than we used to and so I think seven is a really good number. It’s more representative and I think it allows for more nuanced discussions with more perspectives,” he said.
Regarding term limits, the current council term is four years, with the limit that no councilor is eligible for election if they were previously elected to serve for two consecutive four-year terms. Staff proposed a potential change that would instead limit a member to serving a certain maximum number of years. A change to term limits would also require a public vote.
“The issue is if somebody serves two consecutive terms they are forever term limited. That’s a lot of resources and knowledge that is limited,” said town attorney Kathy Fogo. “Seven is a big number to fill in a small group of people that are qualified to serve.” She also noted that seven is often a difficult number to get consensus, and makes for an inefficient process of getting items moved forward.
“If we really want more competitive elections I think removing part or all of the term limits would provide a larger pool of qualified people,” said Kempin. “I’m in favor of keeping the seven but looking at the term limits to increase our pool of qualified councilors.”
Councilors Steve Morris and Roman Kolodziej were absent from the meeting and the council picked back up on the discussion during their July 6 meeting. Both were in favor of changing to no term limits. “I think we’re going to have an election next time, that’s my gut,” said Morris.
The council agreed they’d like to change the term limits but were still undecided on whether to reduce the number of members. They voted to add a ballot measure to this November elections cycle for addressing term limits and possibly composition for council members. The council will now have until September to consider the ballot language and come to a consensus regarding specifics around the term limits and possible reduction in members.