AURORA VOTE 2019 — 5 vie for taking the reins of a growing city as mayor

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AURORA | Five candidates, with a range of political experience, have elevated the Aurora mayoral race to the national spotlight with endorsements and national issues seeping into the historically non-partisan election.

The five candidates are: Ryan Frazier, who served on the city council over a decade ago, current Ward III city councilwoman Marsha Berzins, former Ward II city councilwoman Renie Peterson, former Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican who fell to the so-called “blue wave” in 2018, and Omar Montgomery, a college professor and president of the local NAACP chapter.

Scroll down for detailed information about each candidate.

Tiffany Grays, a longtime Aurora resident, is also a certified write-in candidate. She didn’t meet the required number of signatures needed to be on the ballot, according to city staff.

The Aurora mayor typically serves as the voice of Aurora, only having a say on the dais when a vote requires a tie breaker. But candidates have been weighing on what direction they’d like to see the city take on issues ranging from public safety and gun violence to gentrification and a growing population.

Watch the televised 2019 Aurora mayoral candidate debate

Montgomery was endorsed by gun control advocate Gabby Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in 2011, and her group, called “Giffords.”

“One thing we focus on is gun violence and what our elected officials can do, and when we were looking at this mayoral race we saw the contrast between the candidates,” said Giffords managing director Robin Lloyd. “It’s inspiring to hear (Montgomery) talk on this issue and the stark difference to Mike Coffman, who was in the pocket of the NRA and did nothing to address gun violence.”

Coffman, who said there was no place for national politics in the non-partisan mayoral race, said he believes the best way to reduce gun violence in Aurora is through strong enforcement of existing state and federal laws. Likewise, Peterson said “Unfortunately, the major problem is that people who do not follow the laws will always find a way to get guns.”

Frazier said in an editorial published in the Sentinel he’d create a commission on gun violence to “delve deeper into local solutions.”

Coffman has the endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, the bargaining union for the city’s police officers, while Berzins earned support from the Aurora Police Association early on in the race.

One of the chief jobs of the mayor will be uniting a divided city council.

“I truly think I can get along with just about anyone who is on city council,” said Montgomery, adding that he wants to be able to get council members to separate feelings from city business on the dais.

Coffman told the Sentinel the job of mayor is more about managing the political process.

“Some of the reality is to say look, ‘There are people on council that will move on and so you’re going to have to recognize that and give them some license and bring forward the issues that aren’t necessarily related,’” he said.

On being a voice for the city, Coffman said it goes beyond talking up Aurora, it’s pointing out the good in the local school districts, particularly Aurora Public Schools, too.

“I think one thing the mayor can do is to speak about the positive things that are happening in the school district all the time,” he said. “I’m not going to get into education debates, that’s for the school board. But I want to be a positive friend to what they’re doing because it’s important for the mayor to do that.”

Berzins and Peterson, who have both served on recent city councils, say the mayor’s job is to bring opposing points of view to common ground.

“As mayor, I will stress communication between councilmembers. We all want what is best for Aurora but (are) going about it in different ways,” Berzins said. “I will urge respect and decorum. Our actions and words should reflect the wishes of the residents we represent, not a political party. I will be happy to be a liaison between councilmembers to help settle disputes.”

Meet Marsha Berzins

Marsha Berzins
Marsha Berzins has been a resident of Ward III, which she currently represents on the city council, since she moved there in 1979. A short time later she was married and started a family. Berzins, who attended the University of Alabama and Park College, has worked in a number of industries, including airline, retail and property management. She also helps run a family business in Ward III. Berzins was first elected in 2009.

Berzins: Policy questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

A good start would be stiffer sentences for crimes involving guns. We have some pretty tough guns laws already on the books, then when it comes to sentencing, felonies often are plead down to misdemeanor. As Mayor, I will convene a Task Force of top-level people from APS, Police, Cherry Creek Schools, Mental Health Center, moms and dads and others to specifically study the problem of school shootings. Our first responsibility as policymakers is to help make everyone feel safe in their schools, homes, work and traveling. Passing feel-good gun laws without collecting experts’ opinions is politically expedient, but it’s not good policy-making.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial 'Worth Discovering' image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

I really don’t think it’s an either/or decision. I like the Worth Discovering campaign. I think it’s been effective at helping improve our image as a small city. I also agree we have core problems in Aurora that need be resolved before we can do better at attracting more tourists, businesses and new families from inside and outside Colorado. I believe addressing real problems and burnishing our image are important.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

Incentives to attract relocating businesses are actually pretty limited. Offering financial incentives is one way to entice companies to move to Aurora and provide jobs so our residents can find employment without having to leave Aurora to do so. As Mayor, I will advocate that those incentives to be connected to job training so our workers can get those jobs or change jobs. I will also push to have the incentives tied to wages and benefits benchmarks.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

I am all for transparency, and I do believe Aurora is ripe for reform in some areas. I voted against the lobbyist ordinance because it was bad policy for Aurora. I will be happy to work on a common sense lobbyist ordinance to provide that transparency.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

As Mayor, I would be open to considering options for oversight other than our Civil Service Commission. Any review board should be made up of a wide range of citizens in Aurora to get a diverse, cross-section of experience and backgrounds.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

We should review pay, benefits, requirements for promotions and let our first first responders tell us what they need. Right now, the requirement for exit interviews is very small. I would like to know what they think and why they’re really leaving. They should talk to their peers and not all superiors.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

Health and safety interests are a huge concern to me. Aurora is creating a new Oil and Gas Division with five employees who will oversee industry activity within city limits. They will handle planning and inspections. Operating rules have also been put in place to realize best management practices. There will be more inspections and testing of air and water for contaminates.

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Yes, money should be allocated to more bike lanes. The City has received several grants for increased bike lanes and for bike structures. We are in the process of installing the structures and painting lanes on our roads for biker safety. Biking in Aurora and Colorado has become a fun and necessary mode of transportation and I want to make sure it is safe for everyone.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

The City has purchased electric cars and increased charging stations. We have encouraged bike riding and ride sharing. And we are hiring a new employee who will ensure we are maximizing energy efficiency at all of our City buildings and surrounding areas. We must be good stewards and not waste our precious energy or pollute the air and water. We can partner with other municipal governments to create a coalition.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

I want every working person to be able to be self-sufficient and provide for their families. As Mayor, I will be happy to work with the legislature and other Mayors in the metro area on a statewide solution that doesn’t impose more costs on small businesses that force them to downsize and shed jobs. We need our small businesses to hire people, not lay them off. In 2016 Colorado voters passed a statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage. As Mayor I wouldn’t consider a minimum wage increase until we could look at the benefits and consequences other metropolitan cities where minimum wages have been raised.

Berzins: Personality questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Clairvoyance

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you've seen it?

Indiana Jones series

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Businesswoman

Do you have talent most people don’t know I have?

Baking baklava

What would my memoir be called?

Determined & Driven

What time do I go to bed?

11pm-12pm

What was the last book I read?

The Auschwitz Escape

Which restaurant do I eat at the most?

Las Fajitas

Favorite family tradition?

All the family with friends at my home for Christmas dinner.

What would my boat be called?

AttaGirl

One song to listen to forever?

"With a Little Help From My Friends"

Reality TV show would I be best at?

Amazing Race

Most needed invention?

Automated traffic signals to create ideal traffic flow

 

 


 

Meet Mike Coffman
Mike Coffman

Mike Coffman
Mike Coffman grew up in Aurora after his family moved to the city for his father’s military career. Coffman is a Marine and Army veteran who owns a property management business in Aurora. He served in the state Legislature, as Colorado Secretary of State and state Treasurer before being elected to Congress to represent the 6th Congressional District. The former GOP Congressman served in that role for a decade, losing to Rep. Jason Crow in 2018.

Coffman: Campaign Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

No doubt, the City of Aurora should do everything it can to reduce gun violence by encouraging the safe storage of firearms, getting firearms out of the hands of those who don’t have the legal right to possess them, and by aggressively pursuing crimes involving gun violence. However, I think that it is best for Home Rule municipal governments in Colorado to focus on enforcing the laws that we already have, but they can influence the passage of policies to reduce gun violence by formally taking positions on pending legislation before the Colorado General Assembly and the Congress.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial 'Worth Discovering' image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

Surveys have shown that those who live in Aurora, or who visit Aurora, have a more positive image of the city than those who neither live in the city nor have visited Aurora, so the best approach is the city’s current one of highlighting the positives instead of pushing back on the perceived negatives.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

Aurora’s first economic development strategy must always be to make sure that the economic fundamentals, in terms of the tax and regulatory aspects of doing business in Aurora, are positive. The secondary strategy should be to attract major employers who will have a positive economic impact on existing businesses in Aurora. Incentives should always be limited and must always demonstrate a net economic benefit to Aurora.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

The proposal was not well written. If the sponsors of the proposal believe that it is wrong for council members to accept gifts or meals above a certain level then it should be banned, period. Whether or not such a ban is enacted, as your Mayor, I will not accept any gifts, meals, entertainment, or travel from anyone or any group with business pending before the City of Aurora.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

Dr. Barbara Shannon-Bannister, a longtime city employee and civil rights leader in the City of Aurora, developed the Key Community Response Team which acts as an interface between our first responders and the community by bringing together community leaders and first responders, on an ongoing basis and on an emergency basis in response to a specific incident. Individual complaints as well as police officer conduct are investigated by Internal Affairs with the Aurora Police Department and police conduct is always subject to both criminal prosecution and civil litigation.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

For both our Aurora police and firefighters we must be vigilant in making sure that our pay scales are competitive with other jurisdictions. However, for our police, the situation is particularly problematic because their situation is more than just a simple pay equity question; it's a benefits question as well. The police are not in Social Security and are totally reliant on a 401K defined contribution plan for their retirement. What is needed is a defined benefit component to their retirement plan that will give them a predictable income stream, for their retirement, based on years of service and their highest rank held.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

The City of Aurora has negotiated, and the City Council has passed, two binding Operator Agreements on oil and gas development that have set up an administrative permitting and a monitoring process for oil and gas development as part of the agreement. These agreements define the surface aspects for production, such as regulating noise, air quality, and screening requirements, while the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is still writing its new rules under Senate Bill 181. Any new rules, promulgated by the COGCC will automatically amend the operator agreements in order to remain complaint with state requirements. An oversight role, to monitor compliance with the operator agreements, could be given to the Oil and Gas Advisory Committee, which is a volunteer board composed of both citizen and industry representatives.

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Yes, the City of Aurora should dedicate resources toward pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, particularly in transit-oriented redevelopments in the older parts of our city. Aurora has a landmass larger than Denver, with 38% of our land being undeveloped with an opportunity to think creatively about setting aside adequate open space and have an extensive trail system for hiking and biking.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

Reducing our carbon footprint by encouraging transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly redevelopments should be an important part of how we grow as a city. The City of Aurora should continue to move forward with converting its own fleet to more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrids, and all electric vehicles and to provide charging stations that will also available for public use. In addition, it can continue to accelerate the permitting process for solar panel installations and focus on increasing the number of trees in the City of Aurora to meet and exceed the criteria for designation as a “Tree City USA” by the American Arbor Society.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

Under Amendment 70, passed by the voters in 2016, the minimum wage will be increased to $12 an hour by 2020, and thereafter, it will be automatically increased by inflation every year. It is too early to tell whether an increase in the minimum wage, above what the voters of Colorado have already approved, is warranted at this time.

Coffman: Personality Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to fly.

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

A Christmas Story (1983).

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My father was a career soldier when I was growing up. He retired as a U.S. Army Master Sergeant after 21 years of military service and I wanted to follow in his footsteps and have a military career too.

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

A sense of humor.

What time do you go to bed?

I try to be in bed my 10:00 pm because I like to get up at 4:00 am.

What was the last book you read?

"Call Sign Chaos" by General James Mattis, USMC (Ret,) and former Secretary of Defense.

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

Sweet Tomatoes

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Taking my nieces and nephews to the Panda Buffet on South Havana on one Sunday each month.

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

"The Unsinkable."

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

I never watch reality TV. The last TV show I watched, on a regular basis, was 'Parts Unknown' by Anthony Bourdain.

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

A cure for cancer

 


 

Meet Ryan Frazier
Ryan Frazier, candidate for Aurora mayor

Ryan Frazier
Former Aurora City Council member Ryan Frazier is no stranger to city hall. He ran for mayor in 2011. Frazier spent two terms on the Aurora City Council in the 2000s before running for the 7th Congressional District and then the U.S. Senate in 2016. Frazier is a father, Navy veteran and owns his own consulting business, Frazier Global. He also co-founded High Point Academy, a Pre-K through 8th grade charter school in Aurora.

Frazier: Personality Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To be and do anything I want! Like Fly!

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

5 Heartbeats, Lord of the Rings

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An Astronaut, Army man, Governor, and Football player.

Do you have a talent that most people don’t know about?

Hang wall paintings and installing light fixtures, a few magic tricks

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

“Kissing Frogs”

What time do you go to bed?

Sleep? What’s that?

What was the last book you read?

BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

La Cueva Mexican Restaurant

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Opening Christmas presents with kids

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

The Skipper

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

Something by Taylor Swift, Whitney Houston, Zach Brown Band, or Sam Cooke

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

The Real Housewives of Aurora

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

The Best Head Massager/Scratcher

Frazier: Policy Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

Violence with guns must be addressed. I believe a more robust school resource officer program to provided added coverage for our kids at school is a priority. Further, the city must support more behavioral health / mental health programs with our school districts, health care providers, and other agencies for our community. Gun buy-back programs should be explored and a crack-down on illegally obtain firearms should be a priority.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial 'Worth Discovering' image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

Yes. I believe a enhanced campaign to promote the incredible things Aurora has to offer would be the most effective marketing campaign for the city. I want people to be proud to call Aurora home. We should highlight our rich cultural diversity, our rising economic opportunities, and our city that brings people together. Aurora is a city where all are welcome and have the opportunity to make a life for themselves, and we should proudly market our welcoming nature.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

We must maintain economic incentives as a tool for attracting and retaining businesses. However, these incentives should be used prudently and fairly to include small business support. I don’t believe we should limit or ban entirely financial incentives for economic development purposes. We need more incentives focused on industry job training programs, spanning healthcare, construction, and technology. The jobs these businesses provide are incredibly beneficial to our residents and we should encourage smart development to provide greater opportunity for those seeking upward mobility.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

Transparency is a critical component for having trust in government. The city should have a lobbyist registration and reporting procedure so that the community can be aware of those with financial interests behind specific issues. This kind of transparency will lead to real accountability within our government and we should encourage an open, and honest city government.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

I think this needs to be seriously looked at by council with broad community input. There have been several instances of possible “excessive force” complaints over the years, and in order to best serve the public, an independent review panel would serve the public interest well. There should never be a public perception of “the wolf guarding the hen house” with our police department and we should do all we can do ensure non-biased decisions are made.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

The bottom line is we need to compensate our first responders at a wage they deserve. I’d like both our police and fire department to receive the best pay and benefits in Colorado. Not only are these important members of our community leaving due to pay and benefits, they are leaving because they feel that they are limited in advancement opportunities in Aurora. If we want to hire and retain the best we must pay at a competitive rate and find ways to increase advancement within the departments.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

I believe the current system does protect the health and safety of our residents while also fostering an environment of collaboration with the industry. Aurora can be a national model for how city government, the community, and the energy industry can work together to ensure the utmost safety. The revenue generated can substantially help our local school districts that will directly benefit from extraction operations, as well as potentially addressing our $20 million transportation maintenance deficit as well as transportation capital infrastructure needs like expansion of Gun Club road.

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

I am a strong proponent of alternative transportation options – including expanding permanent bike lanes. We should invest in bolstering the infrastructure for alternative transportation options with a focus on high density areas where biking is a feasible means of getting around town.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

First, we should be part of the conversation on how cities can be more environmentally friendly. I believe the city can promote alternative transportation and work with our builders and manufacturers on ways to be more efficient and reduce carbon emissions. We should work with our city staff to implement better building processes and work to attract emerging technologies companies that can advise on cost effective ways to be more environmentally friendly.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

I’m willing to have a discussion about the how and whether the city should have a role in the minimum wage. I don’t believe the city needs to arbitrarily raise the current minimum wage. We must address the increased living costs in Aurora by planning our future housing supply, and supporting our small businesses, while we attract new businesses to increase job options for our residents. By stabilizing housing costs, and fostering an environment where businesses can expand we can generate an economy that works for everyone.

 


 

Meet Omar Montgomery
Omar Montgomery

Omar Montgomery
A transplant to Colorado in 2002, Omar Montgomery chose Aurora as his home. The Los Angeles native has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degrees in public administration and education. He’s an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Denver and director for the Center for Identity and Inclusion at the university. He’s served on the city’s citizens’ budget advisory committee and the golf course advisory committee. He’s also a member of the Community Police Advisory Team, which Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz formed. Montgomery was elected as president of the NAACP last year.

Montgomery: Policy Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

I want all Aurorans to feel safe. I will work with our school districts, law enforcement, neighborhoods, businesses and all communities to implement policies and programs promoting public safety. For example, I support limits on sales of automatic weapons in Aurora, safe storage policies, and licensing requirements for gun sales retailers. I will work with our state leaders and federal leaders on these policies as well. I support creating a domestic violence unit within Aurora’s Police to ensure we have experts working with victims and survivors, and to protect them from further violence.

Furthermore, I believe we need more options for young people to be in safe, productive spaces. I will work with nonprofits and the city to open up our schools and recreation centers for after-school programming. We need to cultivate relationships with our healthcare partners, nonprofits and veterans organizations to provide affordable mental health programs to reduce suicides, especially youth suicides. I support expanding Aurora’s successful Crisis Response Team which brings licensed mental health clinicians with police officers for certain calls to provide immediate crisis therapy and help people in crisis navigate the behavioral health system. Finally, I believe the connection between poverty and crime can also be combated by focusing on economic opportunities and community wealth building.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial 'Worth Discovering' image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city's good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

I support the city highlighting all of the wonderful offerings we provide first and foremost. Aurora is the most diverse city in our state and should be a place to come together to celebrate that. I support the City of Aurora’s new “Amazing Places” campaign that will highlight our many different locations people can enjoy throughout our city, including our ethnic restaurants through the Yum Yum Dining Guide, Fox Theater, Stanley Marketplace, Fitzsimmons/Anschutz campus, Buckley Airforce Base, Plains Conservation Center, Southlands Mall, Gaylord Rockies and more. I support expanding our efforts to include more of our community in what the city highlights as Amazing Places, particularly our small business owners. I also enjoy the “On Havana” campaign which highlights the Havana business corridor and the city’s diversity. I want to do more similar highlighting of other business corridors like those on Colfax, Alameda, and in North East and South East Aurora.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

Yes, the City of Aurora should limit financial incentives. If a business would have still moved to Aurora and created the same jobs without receiving the incentive, then the city passed up tax revenue it otherwise would have collected for no economic gain. I am concerned the city has given too many financial incentives to businesses, without ensuring that our local economy directly receives a return on our investment. We should not assume that tax incentives will pay for themselves and create jobs. One of my first priorities will be implementing a tax incentive compliance system that evaluates the tax incentives the city has provided and the return on investment for each project. We will measure sales tax received, number of jobs with salary ranges and benefits. I’ll make this accessible to the public on our website and at the City Clerk’s office. We can ensure partnerships that benefit business development and our city.

When examining if I will support specific incentives, I will weigh the short term and long term return on investment, including revenue generated, affordable housing, jobs created, sustainable energy usage, transportation improvements, and community input.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

Yes. Transparency and accountability are the backbone of democracy. The lack of lobbying and campaign finance disclosure in Aurora is problematic. Closed door meetings and large campaign contributions are undermining Aurora leaders’ legitimacy and eroding the public’s trust. Although the City of Aurora has not passed comprehensive lobbying and gift disclosures, I will follow the highest standards. As Mayor, I will publish my calendar for constituents to see who I met with including public events as well as meetings with lobbyists. I will also put on the website a monthly report disclosing meals and gifts received. I will work with the Aurora City Council to bring forward a comprehensive lobbying disclosure ordinance to address these issues. I look forward to working with our council on policies to strengthen our transparency policies.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

Yes. I support an independent auditor system to ensure a fair process for all involved and to support public confidence in our government. The independent auditor would investigate all officer involved shootings and high profile cases. They would monitor the internal complaint investigations process, conduct evaluations of police training and codes of conduct, and evaluate systems to ensure effective public reporting. To work with the auditor, a Community Oversight Commission would review the findings and make recommendations, with the majority of Commission members having no ties to law enforcement. The Commission would not have authority to weigh-in on discipline. I would leave discipline discretion to the Chief of Police and the Civil Service Commission process.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

It is clear we need to take action to keep our police, fire, and all public safety staff in our city. We cannot invest in recruiting and training and then lose that investment and those workers to other cities. As a participant in Aurora’s community budget committee I know our city is financially strained — we have a shortfall in the costs to fix our roads for example. We must consider more options to cover our costs like paying and providing the benefits our front line public safety staff deserve. To respond to this need, I support a citywide ballot initiative for public safety needs, including improved benefits and higher wages for our front line staff, as well as more city resources to help our unhoused get off of the streets. Such resources would include resources for wrap around services like social workers to connect folks with services of which they qualify, and helping them get updated identification to be able to apply for housing and employment. I would also address quality of life issues for our first responders by asking developers to give discounts on housing and rent to them so that they can afford to live in the city they serve.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

As with any major policy that impacts our residents, we need to have a robust community engagement process that includes education, feedback and implementation. I would like to see a revamped Oil and Gas Advisory Commission that has community members impacted by oil and gas operations as well as other subject matter experts from the scientific community, grassroots organizations, labor groups and industry members to have a more balanced representation.

Now that 400 wells were recently approved, we need to focus on developing the city staff division that was created to strictly enforce the provisions of the Operator Agreements. The health and safety of our residents must be a priority. Regular inspections and air and water quality monitoring ensuring transparent reporting to the public is a must. I also support additional data gathering to better understand the health impacts, particularly residential areas and schools near oil and gas wells.

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Yes. The City of Aurora should be accessible to more people who bike. As the city approves development, I support encouraging designing future roadways to include bike lanes and to invest in adding bike lanes in our original areas of Aurora. As a city of over 160 square miles, I would support an assessment by city planners with a proactive community engagement process of the most strategic areas to begin permanent bike lanes. Proactive means the city reaches out to Aurorans by more than online and mail, but in person in places our community gathers and in their homes.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

As Mayor, I will commit to Aurora being a regional leader to abate climate change. I agree with a carbon reduction target for Aurora and support the state’s 2016 goals. I will support our city moving to using renewable energies and take energy reduction steps in our own buildings. I will also work with the city council and city manager to work with contractors/developers that have similar policies. Furthermore, I would like Aurora to be a hub for entrepreneurialism in green energy, as we have the space and the workforce for it. It is these kind of investments and partnerships we should be seeking and approving in our city planning. I will also encourage city planners to do an analysis of our city buildings for energy efficiency. I believe we should model best practices. Finally, I will work with regional leaders in Denver, Commerce City, Centennial and other municipalities and the state, to address carbon reduction in a more comprehensive way. This is not just an Aurora problem, this is a regional problem. We can have more impact and cleaner environment for more of us — if we work together.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

Aurora families are facing many rising costs. This includes the costs of housing, transportation, even groceries. As the Sentinel pointed out in an April 2019 article, "Rents in Aurora have risen more since 2014 than any other large city in America as the cost to rent a home in Aurora has increased by 35 percent." The average rent in Aurora is $1368 for a one-bedroom home, which means the individual living there needs to make $4560 a month, or $28.50 an hour, in order to not be "rent burdened," in other words, to not be spending more than 30% of income on rent. Therefore, many Aurora families are more than burdened in covering their cost of housing, forcing them to make hard decisions of which of their needs to meet, like food, like transportation, like education. Many families are going into debt to meet their needs. Our wages are not keeping pace with our costs of living.

I support Aurora moving to $15 an hour for our city minimum wage in the near future. To get to this in Aurora, I will work with all of our city’s stakeholders on the policy and implementation, including our large and small businesses and our community members. I will also work on policies and strategies to support the unique needs of our legacy small businesses to ensure they can meet their needs as we work towards wage policies such as this. Another way I want to help Aurorans with their costs of living is working with developers that will build housing more Aurorans can afford, near transit lines. When more Aurorans have housing, transportation, and good jobs, our city is more prosperous for all.

Montgomery: Personality Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would love to be able to teleport so I can attend more events, meetings and listen to the needs of more people.

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

Akeelah and the Bee: it inspires children — and me!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A civil rights attorney fighting for justice for all. I looked up to Charles Hamilton Houston, the mentor of Thurgood Marshall.

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

I play golf and love it!

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call It?

"The Answer."

What time do you go to bed?

12:30 am: I always have work to do and I don’t need much sleep.

What was the last book you read?

"Four Agreements," a book about the Toltec philosophy that teaches a code of conduct promoting personal freedom and responsibility.

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

This is a trick question! Aurora has the best restaurants, with cuisine from every continent! But you will run into me and Regina at Casa Vallarta Mexican Restaurant.

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Going to Steamboat for the holidays.

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

"Grannie," for my Grandmother Irene, a woman who, with an 8th grade education, raised four daughters to be strong women.

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

Oh Happy Day (Gospel)

Which reality television show do you think you'd be best at?

Judge Montgomery (like Judge Mathis)

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

A smart boot for walking that can help older adults and other people who are facing balance and other issues.

 


 

Meet Renie Peterson
Renie Peterson

Renie Peterson
Renie Peterson served on the Aurora City Council for 12 years. She left the position in 2017 after being term limited from her post in Ward II. She’s a longtime resident of Aurora, spending more than five decades of her life here. Peterson worked as a community networker for the Crawford Family Resource Center and then in Aurora Public Schools as a family advocate. Peterson petitioned her way onto the ballot for the 2016 Adams County Commissioner race.

Peterson: Personal Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I believe Time Travel would be a very helpful superpower. A person could find out what happened in the past to create a problem we have to deal with today. You could also see into the future and try to change the present to avoid problems that might arise from some decision we made today.

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

Forrest Gump. The movie has many pertinent messages even still for today.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a psychologist to help people.

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

I am artistically inclined.

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

The Letters of R

What time do you go to bed?

Bed time varies each day

What was the last book that you read?

“Catching Fireflies” by Patsy Clairmont

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

Golden Saigon Restaurant on Parker Road

What’s your favorite family tradition?

We enjoy getting together over the holidays and for important family events.

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

Dream Catcher

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

My choice would be Scheherazade (sometimes Sheherazade) by Rimsky-Korsakov. Scheherazade is a Suite based on One Thousand and One Nights, also
known as Arabian Nights.

Which Reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

I would enjoy and be best at "Fixer Upper."

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

We need to invent a more effective and efficient ocean debris cleaning machine.

Peterson: Policy Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

Yes, we do currently have laws which help reduce gun violence. We have laws requiring background checks. We have age requirements. Law-abiding people
will follow the laws that Aurora might put into place. Unfortunately, the major problem is that people who do not follow the laws will always find a way to get guns.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial ‘Worth Discovering’ image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

Every municipality has problems. To pay for a ‘Worth Discovering’ image marketing campaign but discuss Aurora’s problems would be self-defeating. What tourist wants to read through Aurora’s problems? Tourists come to have fun and experience different, unusual things. A ‘Worth Discovering’ campaign would emphasize the interesting, unusual and important things in Aurora. For example, the miles of trails we have for hiking, the bicycle trails, our many parks, the art available in the parks, rec centers and their opportunities, theaters, several excellent golf courses, historic sites, Gaylord, and excellent restaurants for all budgets.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they're a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

Due to the fact that every city offers financial incentives to attract projects (large and small) to locate within their city limits, it is impossible to attract projects without some sort of incentive program. The purpose of these incentives is to bring businesses and tourist attractions into Aurora. Aurora has a budget it must fund. Taxes alone currently struggle to do that. Aurora would like to attract more of the tourist trade and that requires developing enticements that tourists will visit. Citizens of Aurora are interested in finding good jobs which pay well, that involves attracting more business, both large and small to Aurora. Small businesses are very important to the City’s well-being. If a small business brings in ten well-paying jobs, that business would be a value to Aurora, although not on a scale of Gaylord, for example. We need to find a balance of opportunities in the jobs we attract. We should offer the small business some incentives to locate in Aurora over the long-term, just as we have to with large company investments.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

The important factor is the value of the gift extended by the lobbyist to the City official. If the official receives a cup of coffee, recording that is a waste of employee time. If the official receives a cup of coffee and a Danish, that’s probably not worth the city employee’s time to record either. Anything over $50.00 would seem acceptable to track and record.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

Aurora had an oversight committee under Chief Dan Oates which was to provide just exactly the type of review you mention. People were chosen and received training for that position. What happened to that Committee?? There is no reason to start over and train a new Committee. That is reinventing the wheel.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

First responders are at-will employees, and they have the freedom to choose which city they would like to work in. Aurora could change its paramedic requirement that all firefighters must be paramedics as well as firefighters. That training costs Aurora additional money. After the firefighters have been trained to fight fires and, in addition, to be paramedics, they sometimes choose to leave Aurora and seek employment in other cities as paramedics, making more money in the newly chosen city because of their paramedic training.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

Aurora currently has a committee to regulate the oil-and-gas industry. We have a committee comprised of citizens and oil industry professionals who report to the Council on related issues. Again, why reinvent the wheel?

Should the city dedicate money and resources to create substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Many Aurora citizens enjoy the bike lanes and use them for a variety of purposes. Bike lanes provide an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors and see parts of the city citizens do not normally experience while getting exercise. Some handicapped citizens enjoy the bike lanes and the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors that the bike lanes offer. Therefore, the bike lanes are not only important for those who can commute to work or stores, but for outdoor exercise and enjoyment as well.

Unfortunately, the Aurora budget must be balanced each year. We simply may not have the budget to make a major investment this year or every year. Aurora has other transportation problems as well. Our roads are gradually becoming deteriorated. Certainly, our roads are in a condition far above Denver’s. However, we must continually improve the roads we have that need repair or widening, or reconfiguration and the like. In a perfect world, Aurora would be able to keep up its existing roads and add bicycle lanes as desired. However, that would require a larger city budget.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

One thing that Aurora could easily do is to pass an ordinance banning the use of plastic bags. For example, we could ban the use of plastic bags such as those we get in the grocery stores and use the reusable cloth or heavy, reusable bags. If this ordinance were put into place, but had a sunset of two years, many citizens would be accustomed to using the reusable/cloth bags and continue their use after the sunset date.

I"ve read that science may have found a way to turn plastic items into something more useable. If that is so, Aurora should make recycling centers available to all citizens, possibly by having trash companies have separate garbage sacks for plastic items. Those items would then be recycled make a useful product instead of a problem. A man named Ichini Shichi developed a simple process to turn plastic into oil. The U.K. is testing a startup invention to turn plastic (cling wrap, polyester clothing, carpets, plastic bottles) into oil. And Dow recently reported it is working with a Dutch company to accomplish the same thing. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to watch these developments and put them to use when they become financially feasible.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

Aurora should follow the statutes of the State of Colorado.