Residents gather for public hearing in Aurora City Hall. File Photo by Carl Glenn Payne/Aurora Sentinel

Dead stop, Aurora.

In a city struggling against a bevy of vexed ideas, upending city government to instill a mayor-king promises to be Aurora’s Diamond Debacle.

As if Aurora didn’t have enough problems. The city continually struggles with rampant shootings among kids, rampant flinching headlines inflicted by police, people pooping rampantly all over, and laws that require dispossessed prairie dogs get better treatment than evicted homeless people.

It’s not that Aurora’s government, somewhat restructured about 15 years ago, is perfect and not in need of change. And even the idea of changing the role of the mayor has merit.

But seismic transformations like this deserve deep, long study under the scrutiny of a charter commission. Titanic government conversions like this warrant public hearings and feedback.

This nebulous petition drive is sketchy at worst, ham-handed at best.

Someone, it’s unclear who, has launched a mysterious petition drive to make the city’s mayor more like a king so Aurora can be more like Denver, or Chicago, or, gads, Colorado Springs.

Despite some pretty serious efforts last week by Sentinel staffers, reporters came up empty handed trying to answer the most basic questions about where this bamboozler actually came from.

City officials were unable to produce political committee campaign documents showing who paid to have the 13-page legislative bill drafted. Unanswered is whether petition circulators — already accused of misguiding potential petition signers — are volunteers or paid. And if paid, then by whom?

We do know that current Mayor Mike Coffman has been talking up the idea, almost since he was elected about four years ago and discovered his job is, more or less, to run the meetings, make nice in the community and not interfere with the daily business of city hall.

Two sources have told the Sentinel that after now-former City Manager Jim Twombly gave notice in a city council closed session, Coffman pitched the super-mayor scheme. Apparently the plot was nearly, or actually, universally given a thumbs down among city lawmakers.

Without enough votes among the city council to pitch the scheme to voters for approval, the only option is to get enough local voters to force it on the ballot.

That’s going to take about 12,000 people to sign petitions, some of whom were told the petition chiefly would shorten term limits for city lawmakers.

Coffman wouldn’t talk to Sentinel reporters last week about his involvement in the scheme.

The only thing available for certain from city hall is that Garrett Walls, an Aurora planning commissioner and local businessperson, signed some petition paperwork to file the proposal with the city clerk. 

He signed his name, but he gave a business address. It’s unclear whether that alone might nullify any signatures collected on such petitions.

Just last week in Pueblo, a citizen-led effort to ask voters to end that city’s mayor-king government allegedly got squelched by the mayor-king himself and city council members who support him. Expect lawsuits there, local pundits say.  

Two other Aurora residents signed the initial petition. Paul Mitchell, a retired lawyer, and Elizabeth Hamilton, a project manager for the City of Denver. They apparently are next-door neighbors to each other.

What’s mystifying is why anyone other than someone who wants to be mayor-king would want to have anything to do with the idea.

Aurora’s city government was designed to run like it does by a variety of city councils in the past.

The way it currently works, the city council creates policy and direction for the city, by consensus, or at least by a majority vote among the 11 city lawmakers on the dais.

The city government itself is run by a professional city manager. The city council appoints managers who can handle running one of the largest employers in the region with one of the largest government budgets in the state. It takes large-business acumen, an appreciation for serving the public and a deft political hand to be the buffer between a political board of directors and a few thousand employees who don’t want the mayor calling them at home to get pet projects boosted to the top of the list.

As a reporter, I’ve covered both forms of city government. The problem of political spoils, cronyism and outright malfeasance essentially don’t exist in Aurora, because the form of government prevents it from happening.

More importantly, the systems of checks and balances in Aurora’s council-manager government prevent any one person from running roughshod over the entire city for four years, just because they can.

Just about anything of consequence takes a majority vote among lawmakers after weeks of group analysis and discussion.

The person in the city that ensures businesses meet public safety building codes is a trained professional, not the mayor’s pal or the son of a top contributor.

Without doubt, there’s plenty of room for improvement in how the city government operates. Council committees have become partisan shills for partisan politics. And it may be time to have the police chief report to the city council, in the same way the city manager and city attorney do.

But any proposal to change the structure of government requires a very public and transparent vetting process. Not this.

Whoever is behind this scheme should scuttle it. If no one can persuade city lawmakers to offer the public a legitimate charter commission to study a wide range of possibilities, petitioners should ask the voters to start there.

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