During the election on Tuesday, November 6, Littleton citizens will be asked to consider five amendments to the City Charter. The charter is a guiding document that defines the City, powers, functions and essential procedures of our local government. The charter was first adopted in 1959 and has been amended eight times over the years to adapt to community changes and needs
Ballot Question 3A
“Shall Sections 23 and 29 of the Littleton City Charter concerning council membership qualifications and rules be combined into one section and remove language pertaining to judicial review, which is a right that independently exists pursuant to court rules?”
The proposed ordinance amending city charter section 23 combines two separate sections in the charter on qualification of council members (sections 23 and 29) into a single section and remove language pertaining to judicial review, which is a right that already independently exists pursuant to court rules.
If voters approve the question in November, both sections would be moved to section 23 and the reference to judicial review would be removed.
Ballot Question 3B
“Shall Sections 54, 55, and 57 of the Littleton City Charter concerning city attorney appointment, duties and special counsel be amended by placing all into one section of the charter, removing qualification language that is more appropriate in the city code and clarifying special counsel appointment, and deleting Section 56 regarding lawsuits?”
The current provisions in the charter pertaining to the city attorney do not reflect current practices, and warrant clarification. The proposed charter amendment recommends the following changes:
- Place all duties of the city attorney in a single section
- Remove qualification language, which is more appropriate for placement in the city code
- Replace the language regarding assistants (the current language dates back to a time of employing part-time assistants who maintained their own private practices, rather than the current practice of employing a deputy city attorney who is an employee of the city)
- Clarify the selection process for outside counsel and its funding through the annual appropriation and budget process
The proposed changes reflect current practices and update these sections to clarify the language and intent.
Ballot Question 3C
“Shall Section 58 of the Littleton City Charter concerning the establishment, appointment, qualifications, term, etc. of the municipal court judge be amended to include the term ‘presiding judge’ and for appointment of associate judges by the presiding judge?”
If approved by voters, these changes would bring the charter into conformance with the recognition of separation of powers and the operation of the judicial branch as a separate part of city government.
- The city charter provisions concerning the municipal court refer to a judge of the court, a provision that dates back to a time where a sole, part-time judge performed municipal court duties. Currently, the court has a presiding municipal judge who oversees the court functions as a separate branch of government.
- The charter currently states that council appoints associate municipal court judges. This implication is contrary to State constitutional provisions that require separation of powers and the recognition of the court as a separate branch of city government.
The proposed charter amendment uses the correct term of “presiding municipal judge” to refer to the judge in charge of the court and its operations. In addition, the proposed charter amendment provides for the presiding municipal judge to select associate municipal judges, subject to confirmation by city council, for two-year terms. These changes would bring the charter into conformance with the recognition of separation of powers and the operation of the judicial branch as a separate part of city government.
Ballot Question 3D
“Shall Sections 117 and 118 of the Littleton City Charter concerning revocable licenses and permits be combined into one section and give city council authority to delegate the city manager to grant revocable licenses?”
The proposed amendment would grant the city council the power to delegate this responsibility to the city manager. This is appropriate, as it places this administrative responsibility with the officer responsible to the council for the day-to-day administration of the city.
- Unlike easements, licenses do not convey a right or interest in real property, but instead are a limited right to use property subject to all of the restrictions and requirements placed on the license by the City as the owner.
- Current charter provisions suggest that licenses and permits involve a property right, which they do not. In addition, they conflict with the provision that the city manager is the administrative head of city government. Issuing licenses and permits is an administrative decision.
Ballot Question 3E
“Shall Section 27 of the Littleton City Charter be amended concerning meetings and providing for executive sessions to consider items confidential under state and federal rules; provide instructions on buying and selling property; consider appointment, evaluation and discipline of the City Manager, City Attorney and Presiding Municipal Judge; to receiving legal advice from the city’s attorneys on legal issues and to require all formal action occur in an open public session of the council?”
The proposed amendments permit the council to hold executive sessions for evaluation of council appointees; instruct negotiators on the purchase and sale of property and to receive legal advice from the city’s attorneys. However, all formal action must occur in open public session.
As a result of voter approval of a 2013 ballot initiative, the council may currently only have an executive session for information that is confidential under federal or state statute, or to discuss actual litigation filed in a court. These restrictions prevent the council from having executive sessions for other reasons, such as:
- Personnel Matters
- This current provision forces the city to delegate extensive responsibility to outside consultants in order to maintain confidentiality of the interview process. The current process is expensive, and actually diminishes transparency and openness, since the public is not aware of the delegation to and discussion with outside consultants.
- Extensive discussion with individual council members denies the council as a whole the input of each other and increases the likelihood of serial meetings outside of public view.
- In addition, the ability to hold executive sessions does not foreclose public input to hiring decisions, as many cities – including Littleton -- traditionally provide for public meeting and greeting of potential candidates, followed by the actual appointment being made in an open council meeting.
- Providing Instructions on Buying or Selling Property
- Currently the council does not have the ability to go into executive session to discuss the purchase and sale of real and personal property, or to obtain instructions for negotiations from the council as a body.
- The council does not act as individuals, but as a body. The current practice of having staff hold one-on-one meetings with council members deprives the body as a whole of the discussion and thought processes of the members.
- Engaging in discussions in open session raises the problem of negotiating with a seller to buy property and telling the seller at the start of negotiations how much the city is prepared to pay.
- If approved by voters, formal action regarding all such matters would be required to occur in open session.
- Receiving Legal Advice from the City Attorney on Legal Matters
- Currently, the council may not seek and receive legal advice from its attorney in executive session. This raises a number of issues:
- The attorney has an ethical duty in every state, including Colorado, to maintain the confidentiality of his or her advice. However, there is no way for the attorney to provide advice to the body (council) in a council meeting open to the public, and maintain its confidentiality.
- On decisions that belong to the client, an attorney may only act based on the instructions of the client, which in the case of the city is the council as a body. Under the current charter provision, there are no means for the attorney to obtain instruction from the client except in an open public session.
- This charter provision conflicts with the attorney’s duty to protect client confidences. The current one-on-one discussions between an attorney and council members do not resolve this issue, as the attorney is deprived of the client’s instructions from the council as a body. More importantly, such one-on-one consultations with council members are at odds with openness and transparency, since the public is unaware that the members of the public body are consulting with their attorney.
- The proposed language is more restrictive than Colorado law; it limits executive sessions to discussions with an attorney to formulate legal questions and to receive legal advice, and contains protections for the public’s right to know of the outcome of such discussions.
- Emergency Protocols Training
- Currently, the council may not have an executive session to plan for protocols for dealing with an active shooter in the council chamber or Littleton Center. The lack of education can result in a lack of knowledge on how to respond and panic should such an event happen. Education and training in such areas is one of the best ways to prevent panic and save lives.