Mayor Mike Coffman speaking to 9News reporter Marshall Zelinger in August about his ballot initiative for a strong mayor government change in the city. SCREEN GRAB FROM 9News

AURORA | Opponents of a campaign to empower Aurora’s mayor are questioning how the city clerk arrived at her decision to throw out a written protest Monday, calling out conflicting information shared by city leaders.

Former city official Charlie Richardson challenged the petition forms that the strong-mayor campaign used to gather signatures from registered voters to try to get the item on the 2023 ballot, saying the forms did not comply with city law.

Aurora City Clerk Kadee Rodriguez ultimately rejected Richardson’s arguments in a ruling issued Sept. 11, after that night’s Aurora City Council meeting. The city has said she was assisted by outside legal counsel while drafting her ruling.

Prior to the final ruling being issued, about 10 minutes before an executive session that preceded the council meeting, Councilmember Curtis Gardner said interim City Manager Jason Batchelor informed him that the clerk had ruled in favor of Richardson and was prepared to throw out the petitions.

But just a few hours later, Rodriguez ruled against Richardson, standing behind the format of the petitions that her office and the office of city attorney Dan Brotzman had helped create.

Mayor Mike Coffman was closely involved in the campaign to ask voters to empower Aurora’s mayor. While Gardner did not accuse Coffman of interfering in the drafting of the ruling, he pointed out that Coffman and Rodriguez were both absent from the executive session.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky, who said she was seated near Gardner when he received the news from Batchelor, also questioned the discrepancy between what Batchelor said and the final ruling, and asked why Coffman and Rodriguez weren’t present for the session, calling the events “very strange.”

“Where was Coffman? (This is) just speculation, but was he off bullying Kadee?,” Jurinsky asked. “He just always feels so sneaky. Who the hell knows what’s going on? And it seemed like everything just changed. Like, in the blink of an eye.”

Coffman later said he recused himself from the executive session because it concerned the hiring of a permanent city manager, and the strong-mayor campaign still hopes to bring the matter before voters in 2025, as 2023 deadlines have passed.

“I never had any communications, written or oral, with the clerk over the ballot initiative but I assume that she had communications with the individual who was responsible for turning the petitions as well as with the lawyer for the ballot initiative who had to procedurally represent the interest of the initiative’s proponents before her,” he wrote in response to the question of whether he or anyone with the strong-mayor campaign had conferred with the clerk about her ruling between the time of the Aug. 30 hearing and Monday night.

The measure failed to make the November ballot because of a timing issue, which proponents say was caused by protests of the measure.

While Gardner said Batchelor told him the information came from a draft news release, Batchelor later said that he was relaying what other city employees, whose names he could not recall, told him.

“What I had heard was that they were going to rule against the proponents (and) that the signatures were invalid,” Batchelor said. “I was relaying information that I heard thirdhand; I had not spoken with Kadee. … You caught me participating in the City Hall rumor mill, so it is true that (Gardner) heard it from me, but I had nothing official.”

Batchelor said that, in retrospect, he believed he should not have shared the unverified information with Gardner.

Councilmember Alison Coombs said she had been told by Brotzman that Rodriguez was absent from the public portion of Monday’s council meeting because she was finalizing the ruling.

City spokesman Ryan Luby said in an email that Rodriguez was absent from the executive session because she was working on protest rulings, including Richardson’s. He said the clerk drafted the ruling solely with the help of her team and outside counsel.

“Staff cannot speak to the mayor’s whereabouts during the executive session, but the clerk did not confer with him or the petitioners during that time or at any time during the deliberations leading up to the decision in Mr. Richardson’s protest,” Luby wrote.

“The city clerk has complied with every facet of the city code and statutory guidelines throughout the entirety of the charter amendment proposal process. She and her team have relied on the City Attorney’s Office, and the outside legal counsel it hired, to provide legal interpretations of city code and research case law to guide all their work.”

Richardson said the opponents of the campaign have submitted open-records requests to try to better understand the decision-making process behind the clerk’s ruling. (The Sentinel has separately submitted a similar request.) He said he believed the fact that it took the city until the deadline to produce a ruling reflected some interference in the process.

“The fact that there was some bizarre behavior last night is indicative of some monkey business going on, but I don’t want to disparage monkeys,” he said.

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  1. Sounds like the Office of the City Attorney, Dan Brotzman helped create the petitions and he failed

    If it wasn’t for Charlie Richardson and Mark Grueskin, we could have had “King Coffman.”
    We dodged a bullet this go around, but I feel if Coffman wins another four years, he’ll try it again.”

  2. With a little luck maybe the council will pay attention to the uncertainty of its staff work product. Council takes for granted the city staff is on top of things and knows what they are doing. Well think again. The other departments are as well in need of having this kind of spot light on what they consider acceptable. Excuses seem to be a norm anymore. This breakdown in inconsistencies from the clerks office we are witnessing is just an accumulation of all the earlier acceptance of the general bureaucratic mediocrity.

     “some bizarre behavior last night is indicative” It’s indicative alright. The lawyers looking for objections for the- close to the bone – open records asking for complete transparency in this affair will be hard at work, no doubt.

  3. Why is the Sentinel beating this dead horse?

    There are dozens of other local issues that hold far more importance for your readers. Perhaps some suggestions:

    – The city’s new $300K chase drain rebate program and the shady manner in which the city building code still gives homebuilders the bone-breaking loophole that has made the rebate necessary. Why are my tax dollars being used to fix the builders’ shoddy work? Resolution R2022-162 was supposed to put the cost back on the builder and address the bone-breaking loophole, but apparently council’s resolutions are merely suggestions.

    – The fiasco with funding road maintenance: Our allegedly conservative council went around TABOR to borrow $35 million by selling Certificates of Deposit to fix a backlog of issues that accumulated pre-COVID while the national economy was absolutely stellar. Beneath the hoopla, the root cause is a retail tax base that’s chronically in the toilet and a city council hell-bent on doing absolutely nothing about it. Meanwhile we send ~$6.5 million each year to fund Denver’s cultural gluttony via the SCFD Ponzi scheme. Without an actual strategy, council is leaving about $33 million per year in additional sales tax revenue on the table. We’ll end up paying higher tax rates as a result.

    – APD’s dire recruiting problem and the lack of candor and strategy by council. Its not enough to merely compete on pay. APD needs to differentiate in a manner that amounts to a serious game changer– offer something that no other local agency offers. I’ll offer one option: 24/7 subsidized child care. Expanding the applicant pool means removing the obstacles — ideally in a manner where we’re NOT sacrificing qualifications or character. Where’s APD’s game-changer on recruiting? Why isn’t there one? If not child care, then what? The social media campaign ain’t cutting it.

    – Ranked Choice Voting: The legislature wisely laid the path for Aurora to embrace RCV. Where do Aurora’s candidates stand on bring the matter before the voters? To my knowledge, the Sentinel’s been completely silent on the issue. You want a functioning elected body? Lose the extremists and devalue the wealthy donor’s contributions. At a fundamental level, RCV fosters both.

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