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Five commissioners makes sense

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Jefferson County, with a population of approximately 550,000 people, is Colorado’s fourth largest county. A three-member Board of County Commissioners, who are elected at large, governs it. Large portions of the more densely populated areas of the county exist in unincorporated areas that receive urban services directly from county government.

A group of county residents has recently begun looking into changing how we’re governed by increasing the number of commissioners from three to five and having them be elected by district instead of at large. The idea has merit, and county voters should decide whether to make the suggested changes in the November 2014 election.
Jefferson County is a diverse, highly populated county. As illustrated by the spectrum of opinions legislators from Jefferson County hold, residents of this county see the world in a variety of ways. Being represented by only three commissioners, who are all elected at large instead of from the districts they represent, creates a situation in which our elected officials at the county level are elected in a manner that does not assure they will represent the diversity of those opinions.
The two counties, El Paso and Arapahoe, that are larger than Jefferson County (Denver is a city and county and under a different governance structure) have long been represented by five commissioners elected by districts. I’ve seen the structure work up close and personal, as Arapahoe County is one of my clients. The benefits of this arrangement are many. The variety of assignments that must be shared by commissioners are more reasonable, as there are two additional commissioners to share the work. Commissioners are better able to represent their constituents, as the communities of interest that live in different areas of the counties elect commissioners that represent their views and those commissioners have fewer constituents to represent. And five voices provide a more robust discussion on issues and problems and the best way to respond than three voices can.
Jefferson County voters have the ultimate responsibility to decide whether we should have three or five commissioners and whether they should be elected at large or by districts. Adams County, which is the next most populated county after Jefferson County, referred this same question to voters in 2012, and they determined five commissioners were best for their county by a comfortable margin.
Both in a discussion about the number of commissioners in August and a telephone town hall meeting that included this issue, among others, in October, two current county commissioners expressed skepticism about the proposed change. While our current commissioners may not be sold on the idea, they must recognize that Colorado law makes county voters the ultimate arbiters of this question, and placing the question on a regular election ballot can be done with little cost to taxpayers. Regardless of what they personally believe, the commissioners should refer this question to the 2014 ballot and let the debate begin.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.