GV changes its law so that the city council controls who validates questionable signatures when its own members face recall


On April 5, the Greenwood Village City Council unanimously passed a new 13-page law on first reading without a public hearing or any public input that was described as a clean-up ordinance to make the city’s election rules better conform to the state constitution and statutes. When the second reading of the new law occurred on May 3, making it final, it was included in the “consent agenda,” which is a list of multiple laws approved with one vote, thus there is no individually recorded vote of any specific law on the list, including this one.

Under longtime GV law, the city clerk is responsible for determining the validity of signatures on all nominating petitions for the election of the mayor and city council members. Likewise, in the event that a petition is filed for the recall of the mayor or any member or members of the city council, the city clerk is charged with determining the validity of the signatures on the recall petitions. Until this new law was passed, it was also the responsibility of the city clerk to conduct a hearing to resolve any dispute arising from her determinations of the validity of recall signatures. Without any mention in the staff report describing this new law, no discussion among city council members in any public meeting, or any type of public input during the time this law was on city council’s agenda in March, April, and May, the GV city council changed the law to give itself the power to replace the city clerk with a person of its choosing to conduct a hearing on the subject of whether signatures on a recall petition to remove a member or members of the same city council are valid. 

Other parts of the new law shortened the time during which a sitting council member can be recalled from 15 months to 12 months during a two-year term, and also tripled the advance notice a write-in candidate for GV city council must provide to the city of his or her intention to run, from the current requirement of 20 days before an election to 64 days before an election. Although no input from any member of the public was sought or received by the council prior to this action, these two aspects were discussed by the council members in a study session in March. 

The GV City Clerk is the longtime elections official of the city and expert in election law and procedures. During the study session on March 1 to discuss this new law, GV Mayor George Lantz said to City Clerk Susan Ortiz, “You’re the election expert, so we are relying on you for advice, and we appreciate it.”

During the discussion about the new law on March 1, Council Member Dave Kerber, asked the city attorney, “We can do whatever we want, right?” A short time later he explained, “Because we’re home rule.”

While discussing the subject of elections, Council Member Tom Dougherty raised the question of whether GV had ever considered instituting staggered terms. Most nearby cities, including Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood, and Littleton use staggered four-year terms so that all council members don’t run at the same time. In Centennial, like GV, there are two council representatives from each district, but in Centennial, because terms are staggered, only one person runs from a district at a time, so council members must run as individuals against other candidates, rather than as a team, as has often occurred in GV, especially in recent years.

Dougherty noted that he was considering issues of “institutional knowledge and continuity” that might be better served if only one council seat per district was up for election at a time.  Noting that staggered elections would require four-year terms, Kerber, along with Council Members Anne Ingebretsen, Jerry Presley, and Dave Bullock said they were strongly against four-year terms. Ingebretsen said, “I don’t see a problem, so I would discourage proceeding with this discussion any further.” When Dougherty pointed out that the current system could possibly result in all council members being replaced at the same time, Ingebretsen said that she thought that if that occurred, some new councilmembers would probably have city board or commission experience. While that is often the case, there is no requirement that a city council candidate must have served on any GV board or commission. Current council member Judith Hilton did not.