Aurora City Council is at a stalemate

Ryan Ross, PhD, pictured with his family, is the preferred candidate of the Democrats on the Aurora City Council to replace Nicole Johnston.
Photo courtesy of Facebook/DrRyanRoss4Aurora


Although people who run for the city council in Aurora do so on a non-partisan basis, as is the case in most cities, there is a partisan quality to the Aurora city council that is hard to miss. Many council members tend to vote in consistent groups that are discernibly from one side of the aisle or the other.

One of the Democrats on the Aurora City Council, Nicole Johnston, resigned her position effective June 14 to move her family to Colorado Springs. With Johnston gone, there remained five Democrats and four Republicans on the council. However, when a new councilmember must be appointed to fill a vacancy, the rules recognize the sitting mayor as a voting member of the council and Mayor Coffman was a former state and federal Republican elected official.

Steve Sundberg, pictured with his family, is the preferred candidate of the Republicans on the Aurora City Council to replace Nicole Johnston. Photo courtesy of

On June 28, the council met to appoint a successor to Johnston to represent Aurora district 2. After 12 separate attempts to choose someone to fill out Johnston’s term that ends in November, the vote remained five-to-five, so no candidate was selected. Councilmembers Allison Coombs, Allison Hiltz, Angela Lawson, Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo all voted each time to appoint Ryan Ross, PhD, associate vice-chancellor for student affairs equity and inclusion, Colorado Community College System, to Johnston’s seat. Councilmembers Françoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins, Curtis Gardner, Dave Gruber, and Mayor Mike Coffman voted each time to appoint Steve Sundberg, owner and general manager of Legends Sports Grill of Aurora (except on the first vote, when Curtis Gardner supported Robert Hamilton before switching his support to Sundberg. That first vote didn’t result in a decision because no candidate received a majority of the votes cast).

With no prospects of reaching a decision, the council decided to defer the question until its next meeting on July 12, when the pattern repeated itself, this time during the course of 41 separate roll-call votes. Once again, the council had no alternative other than to delay the decision until its next meeting, which is scheduled for July 26. At that time, it will have been 42 days since Johnston’s resignation became effective. Aurora’s city charter requires the remaining city council members to make an appointment to a vacated seat within 45 days, however it is murky as to who would file a complaint about the failure to do so and what possible sanction would be imposed on the council for not making an appointment, having tried multiple times to fulfill its responsibility. In the event the current council is successful in reaching a majority vote to fill Johnston’s seat on July 26 or afterward, the appointment would only last until the November 2 general election, when the position will be open to anyone who lives in Aurora district 2 and is otherwise qualified to run.