Mt. CB considering changes to council to attract more people

Relaxing term limits, more incentives

By Kendra Walker

During their April 4 meeting, the Mt. Crested Butte town council discussed potential changes to future council elections, including reducing the size of the council, eliminating or changing term limits and offering financial incentives to candidates.

The council will have four open seats in the next election in November 2024. Mayor Nicholas Kempin and councilmember Janet Farmer are both term limited, having served two four-year terms, and will not be able to run for re-election. The seats held by councilmembers Michael Bacani and Dwayne Lehnertz will be open and both are eligible to run for re-election. 

The council hasn’t had a competitive election since 2008, according to town manager Carlos Velado. Since then, vacancies have been filled by appointment because there were not more candidates than seats to be filled. In an effort to encourage more competitive elections or allow those willing to serve more flexibility, town staff presented the council with three charter amendments for consideration: 1. Reduce the council size from seven to five, 2. Ask the voters to waive the term limits entirely (this was placed on the ballot in 2021 and was not approved) or 3. Ask the voters to extend term limits to three or more consecutive terms.

Reducing the size of the council

The council has discussed the idea of reducing its size from seven to five members in the past. The idea would be to reduce the number of vacancies that must be filled, encouraging more people to run for office and increasing the likelihood of competitive elections and more debate on public issues. However, the council agreed that the composition of seven members allows for more diversity of opinions, and with the town growing and several large planned unit developments (PUDs) coming down the pipeline, they decided against a size reduction at this time. 

Eliminating or extending term limits

Eliminating term limits would allow council members to serve for an unlimited number of terms. This would give voters more candidate choices and allow knowledgeable and experienced council members to continue serving the community. However, reducing term limits was on the 2021 ballot and was ultimately turned down by voters. The council said at the April 4 meeting they felt that the ballot language was difficult for voters to understand, and it wasn’t explained well to the community ahead of time. 

“I felt like it hit the ballot with very little messaging or community understanding of why,” said councilmember Steve Morris. Bacani agreed, “I don’t think any message really got out. I don’t think voters understood why. I think if that got out ahead of time, it would get more consideration.”

Velado noted that there is a chance it might be too soon to bring the same ballot question back to voters. “If you come back with the same question two years later after it was voted down, think about what your electorate would think about that,” he said.

Another option would be to extend term limits to three or more consecutive terms to increase the candidate pool for each election. Staff explained this was a compromise between current term limits and eliminating them entirely. Overall, the council was open to either eliminating or extending term limits, which would have to be approved by voters on the November 2023 ballot. 

Other incentives

Councilmember Roman Kolodziej suggested other ideas that wouldn’t require a citizens’ vote, such as offering benefits like higher monthly pay or health insurance. These types of benefit changes would be voted on by the council, and then enacted with the next elected council. 

“$600 a month for your average Buttian is not a ton of money,” said Kolodziej. “If you have to work a lot, we’re eliminating someone with a good perspective. Perhaps adding health insurance or some other benefits to the position could add more incentive. We’ve got options.”

“It’s actually not that uncommon [to add benefits],” said Kempin. “Towns here in Colorado do offer benefits. That’s certainly a tool that we haven’t discussed as much.”

“I like the idea of creating an incentive, a perk that inspires somebody to engage,” said Lehnertz. 

“I would like to point out the irony of the challenge of how to increase participation of town council when the majority of this council made it more difficult to participate,” Kolodziej said, noting the council’s recent decision to not let council members participate or vote via Zoom during their meetings. “That vote made it more difficult for somebody to participate.” 

Still mulling over their options, the council agreed to revisit the potential charter amendments in May and decide whether to place a ballot issue on the November 2023 ballot. Town staff also agreed to research benefits and incentives for the council’s review. 

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