Proposal to expand county commission won’t be on November ballot

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Jeffco 5 group unable to gather enough signatures

By Ramsey Scott

A grassroots effort to add two members to the Jeffco Board of Commissioners has failed to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Jeffco 5, a nonpartisan group that favors increasing the number of commissioners from three to five, was able to gather only about 10,000 signatures of registered voters before the June 30 deadline. Some 17,444 valid signatures were required. 

“As we were getting closer to the deadline, we realized we could come up short due to the fact that the time was limited. There was a quite a push toward the end in the last few days,” said Ray Goodhart, a member of Jeffco 5. “We kept plugging away. We got to the end, and that was the verdict.”

Colorado law allows commissions to have five members once a county’s population exceeds 70,000. Two public votes have been held on expanding the Jeffco board, one in the ‘70s and again in the ‘90s, and both failed. 

Proponents of an expanded board believe that five commissioners would better represent the county’s half-million residents and more effectively grapple with its urban and rural issues. 

Some also believe that commissioners elected by individual districts — rather than at large, as the three current positions are now selected — would improve representation.

‘No paid circulators’

Goodhart said Jeffco 5 didn’t pay people to gather signatures, as some groups pushing ballot initiatives do. 

“We had no paid circulators,” Goodhart said. “We wanted to specifically make sure it was a grassroots effort in every sense of the word. The support we got was genuine.”

Karen Oxman, a member of Jeffco 5 and a former city councilwoman in Golden, said the group also lacked the financial resources to pay signature gatherers. 

“We did not have that kind of money, and we never wanted it to be anything but a grassroots effort,” Oxman said. “We all knew about the issues; we knew the reasons why (we should add two commissioners). We were able to talk one on one, and I was in awe of our petition gatherers. 

“We were able to use the opportunity to make a difference with these people who didn't know anything about our county government. People were interested and listened.” 

Jeffco 5 originally asked the county commissioners to put the question on the ballot. Republicans Don Rosier and Faye Griffin were opposed, citing the increased cost to the county for two more commissioners, estimated at $325,000 per year. There also would be a one-time cost of $420,000 to add more office space.  

Commissioner Casey Tighe, the lone Democrat on the board, was one of the first to sign the Jeffco 5 petitions. Tighe believes county voters should decided whether or not to expand the size of the board.  

“I think it’s just a matter of time before this issue gets to the voters. As Jefferson County continues to grow, people want more of a connection with elected officials and in their district,” Tighe said. “They just didn’t have enough organization to get the thing signed. I feel bad because they worked very hard.”

The next chance for the issue to make the ballot would be 2016, unless the current commissioners take action, Oxman said. 

“They could put it on the ballot next week,” Oxman said. “(Even if it’s not on the ballot), it’s not a dead deal. It’s critically important for our county to have more eyes on a huge budget. … 

“We’ll have to keep talking it up to our friends and neighbors and keep people excited about it.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.