Aurora City Council accepts Ward II vacancy appointment impasse, violates city charter

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Aurora City Council members at the end of an hours-long virtual meeting July 29, 2021 and a failed attempt to appoint one of two applicants to a vacant Ward II city council seat. SENTINEL SCREEN GRAB

AURORA | The Aurora City Council ran out the clock on appointing a person to fill the Ward II vacancy Thursday night at midnight. 

Because of the council’s impasse between candidates Ryan Ross, a Democratic community college administrator, and Steve Sundberg, a Republican bar and grill owner, the body of lawmakers is now in violation of the city charter. 

Thursday’s meeting was a continuation from Monday’s meeting. Some council members had requested a third party legal opinion about whether the impasse, which had spanned three meetings, would qualify as a charter violation if the lawmakers passed the deadline.  While a tight turn around, the Aurora city attorney’s office assured council members they’d get a memo by the deadline.

The memo from Denver law firm Hoffmann Parker Wilson & Carberry confirmed that, yes, the city council’s stalemate would put the lawmakers in violation, but the “consequences would be largely political.”

The local elected officials won’t face jail time or fines, but the city attorney did warn failure to fill the vacancy could open up the city to legal action. 

Attorney Corey Hoffmann told the council members Thursday the impasse doesn’t constitute criminal intent and a judge would have no way of compelling a member to change his or her vote, so the council shouldn’t worry about being forced to appoint a person to the seat. He added that the council could safely vote to table the measure before the midnight deadline, though the council didn’t.

“When one is litigating, you look at a record,” Hoffmann said. “And I understand here that the record is robust of the attempts to fill the city council decision (vacancy)…I would not see a court finding that the refusal to continue to vote until midnight will somehow compound the violation if based on what’s happened over the past several days.”

Overall, the city council has voted more than 150 rounds since July 12.

The body had 45 days to fill the position left by former member Nicole Johnston, who was elected in 2017 on a self-described progressive platform. She endorsed Ross for the seat, saying that he represented her values, which she was elected upon in 2017. 

Conservative members who backed Sundberg for the appointment repeatedly said throughout the process that the decision should be up to voters, as they believed the electorate has changed since Johnston’s election. Council member Juan Marcano returned that the ward had actually become even more blue, with voters overwhelmingly supporting progressive values in state house and federal elections.

Marcano said he didn’t disagree with the spirit of letting voters decide, but that isn’t an option allowed by the charter in its current form. Earlier this month he said he was already looking at submitting a measure to voters to change the charter to allow it.

Ross supporters said beyond the candidate’s values, the members didn’t want to “put their foot on the scale” of this November’s election. Sundberg announced his bid for the Ward II seat in May, even before the vacancy. Ross isn’t running for the seat.

“We’d be giving an unearned advantage,” Council member Crystal Murillo said in her final comments before the body adjourned shortly after midnight.

Council member Coombs, who continuously asked her colleagues throughout the meeting why they wouldn’t support Ross, ended the meeting by saying she was disappointed that Ward II constituents won’t have equal representation until November.

Other members echoed disappointment about the gridlock, which lead to the charter violation.

“We’ve been lectured over and over and over and those of who were silent respect you enough not to lecture you over and over…. we all have chosen who we would prefer to get the seat,” Council member Marsha Berzins said. “Unfortunately it’s a 5-5 split. You’re entitled to your lecture and I’m entitled to not lecture you.” 

A 5-5 ideological split on the council could lead to more tied votes over the next several months. Mayor Mike Coffman, by charter, can vote to create or break ties on items other than resolutions. He otherwise rarely has a vote during official city council meetings.

Aside from vacancy appointments, tied votes ultimately result in a measure failing.

Among major issues facing council in the coming months is Coffman’s proposed camping ban, which opponents say criminalizes homelessness in the city. Coffman said during the Thursday meeting he would release a new version of the proposal Friday.

During candidate interviews last month, Coffman asked each of the six people seeking the appointment whether they would vote to approve a camping ban. Ross said he would not, but Sundberg said he would if the city had adequate shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

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ImmovableLadder
ImmovableLadder
1 month ago

“We’ve been lectured over and over and over and those of who were silent respect you enough not to lecture you over and over…. we all have chosen who we would prefer to get the seat,” Council member Marsha Berzins said. “Unfortunately it’s a 5-5 split. You’re entitled to your lecture and I’m entitled to not lecture you.” 

The gall. People were telling her why she was acting in a blatantly partisan way that violated the will of the voters in Ward 2, and she wanted to not care without anyone challenging her. Too bad.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

This ideological split typifies EXACTLY what is wrong with our Country at every level. Our egos compel us to dig in, even when it harms the citizens and everyone knows it.

Violating the Charter is not a viable option, and the City Attorney and/or the City Manager should step in at this point. Draw straws, if necessary. Or begin the process anew. Are they stuck with the 2 candidates that are currently the finalists? NO! GET ON WITH THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNING for God’s (and the people’s) sake. Whomever is appointed will only serve a few months, and we will have an election in November to fill the position. But everyone in the City knows who should fill the position, even though a certain faction of the Council is not about to do that.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Coulda flipped a coin

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
1 month ago

How about a charter amendment to bill the CMs personally for the lost staff time and legal expenses incurred when they fail to reach a consensus by the deadline?

In discussions of waste, fraud and abuse, this is a clear example of waste and abuse both.

But for the rabidly unhinged party hacks, no one is impressed with your petty behavior.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

Scam by Coffman/Council GOP, leadership under Coffman will always be corrupt, disorganized, self-serving, looking for the issue to take viral to keep focus on him and his power. He asked every candidate if would support a camping ban and made that an issue, but ban not supported by Aurora and found unconstitutional and inhumane in Denver. So many important needs of Aurora that Council could be working on. #GetRidOfCoffman – the fake hypocritical “homeless actor.”

Frank2525
Frank2525
1 month ago

I live in Ward II, and Mike Coffman and Col. Gruber both resonate with me. Did not know the others on council, but last election lost Ward II rep. who I had met, and had discussions when she came door to door, and I would meet her in Aurora.
——-After this last election, there was 3 demonstrations of the ICE holding facility on 30th AVE. I can say I felt unsafe before that , but with Jason Crow leading that demonstration, costing city coffer over $100,000 (read in sentinel)(?) and then other streets being jammed with demonstrators, I no longer feel Aurora is safe, daytime or night time. And from apparent political bias of Johnson and the younger folks, l Pres. Biden does not respect us, or them. Sending 100 illegals (and they are) from the border, to be housed at 30th Ave. plus how many others not tested until here, were also sent. Just what we need with Pandemic and government demanding, not asking, everyone to wear masks, and to be vaccinated.
_____I had enough of that in 26 years military service, and since I have been house bound, being aged, fragile, I do not see anyone, anyway. I have cardiologist since 2008, and general health providers since 1985, trust both, and I WILL NOT PUT ANY MEDICATION IN MY BODY, NOT PRESCRIBED BY THEM. Especially when this is decreed by politicians. Dr. Fauci only experience with patients that I could find on net, was “internship, to get his doctor M.D.” so many years ago. Been in same office since, and is numbers cruncher, which I do not see as experience with doctor-patient relationship. 92 next month, and I want to see who next president will be.
——–So I wish Ms. Johnson “bon voyage, and good luck, in Colorado Springs”. Will feel just a wee bit safer, until I see results of election in few months. Hope for older, more experienced replacement for those newcomers, of last election.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Socialism just doesn’t work in the USA which, of course, includes Aurora. I hope the citizens of Aurora understand this in November and vote out the Socialists as quickly as they can and vote in Council people who represent those that want to build a better city, under capitalism. I will spend my time and money to accomplish this and hope you will also. Crystal, “the child socialist politician” Murillo in Ward I needs to be eliminated along with Andrea Lawson the at large socialist.

I completely thank and respect the five non socialists, including Mayor Coffman, who held on to their convictions and stopped socialism from spreading more into our city. Now it’s our turn as voters to stop this Socialist Plague from spreading.
Anyone running against a Socialist should get ahold of me for a contribution.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Ward two voters should have gone to city hall.

ryan b
ryan b
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Throw socialism out there a couple more times clown

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago

Solution: council people at large take over responsibilities til Nov elections.

Zane
Zane
1 month ago

As someone who sits in meetings with a number of these folks on a regular basis all I can say is they are all a bunch of clowns. And the mayor is the ringleader. I personally agree more often with one block of the Council but blame them all equally for acting like spoiled children in this process. I hope some citizen sues them for failing to do their job and abide by the city’s charter. What a bunch of arrogant punks.

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
1 month ago
Reply to  Zane

It’s an appointment. Wasn’t going to Ward II for a vote ($). It didn’t have to be accurate. It didn’t have to satisfy everyone in Ward II. This same Council (right or wrong on this, just saying this is what they did) changed the banned dog breed ordinance (which was actually set by voters) BASED (they claimed) ON POLLING.

Either group of five could have easily voted the other way based, and blaming polling, with no fallout. It’s an appointment — temporary until an election is held this fall.

None
None
1 month ago

They all should be voted out

None
None
1 month ago

The people owe you nothing

john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago

Thank God Nicole left, but now the council has to decide, does it stay putrid left or go reasonable to the right a bit…..

Dean
1 month ago

Taking about a confused council and their problem-solving skills. This bunch will not rest till they get involved in the school’s kindergarten squabble at St. Pius X. The WestWord piece will give a preview of coming attractions at Aurora city hall.

https://www.westword.com/news/school-dress-code-gender-catholic-denver-archdiocese-12040916