Backers of strong mayor ballot initiative in Aurora delay until 2025

An initiative that would have asked Aurora voters to approve giving more power to the mayor won’t be making it on the 2023 ballot, proponents of the campaign announced Friday morning.

The effort for the proposed measure was led by Mayor Mike Coffman, who contributed $10,000 to the campaign, but after a series of challenges from opponents, the “Term Limits & Empowering the Mayor for a Better Aurora” campaign announced it couldn’t meet the deadline to get onto the ballot.

“Regrettably, the citizens of Aurora will not have the opportunity to express their preference for a strong mayor form of government and further restricting term limits in the upcoming November elections, as a result of legal technicalities and opposition tactics,” spokesperson Natela Manuntseva said in a written statement.

The deadline for local election issues to be certified to the county clerk is Sept. 8, which means ballot initiatives have to be finalized at least 30 days in advance. But there are still multiple people protesting their signatures on the petition to get the initiative onto the ballot — 21 have protested in total — and at least one hearing is still pending after which the city clerk has 10 days to issue a decision.

The proposal called for an amendment to the city’s charter to move Aurora’s system of government to a form known as “strong mayor,” or “mayor-council.” That means whoever is in the position of mayor could hire and fire department heads, and they could veto ordinances that the City Council passes. Those in favor of the proposed measure cited the need for a better vision from an elected official, rather than city manager, particularly for a city of Aurora’s size.

And although the campaign submitted enough signatures to get it onto the ballot, it faced heavy pushback, including from the City Council. Those who came out against the measure cited what they said was Mayor Mike Coffman’s initial lack of transparency about his involvement with the measure, and they asserted that it shouldn’t have made it onto the ballot before a city committee studied the issue. They also claimed that the proposal went beyond other cities’ models and that voters were misled during signature gathering.

But Manuntseva told The Denver Post that the campaign did everything according to the rules and regulations and that proponents were able to defend themselves and succeeded in the challenges against them. Still, it wasn’t enough to get it onto the 2023 ballot, so they’re going to try again for 2025.

The city clerk’s office told campaign proponents that they should have their final petition sections submitted by June 6 to comfortably clear the required steps and possible protests in time for the 2023 election, though that wasn’t a hard deadline, said city spokesperson Ryan Luby. They submitted signatures on June 26, and though that was within the required timeframe, it didn’t leave enough time for potential appeals.

Charlie Richardson, former city attorney, sued the campaign over the ballot language, saying it didn’t meet the “single subject” requirement in state law, but a judge ruled that those types of appeals can only be considered after an election. The judge also ruled in the campaign’s favor related to the ballot language being sufficient to describe the proposed changes.

“We thwarted this misguided proposal,” Richardson said. ” You can make arguments in favor of a strong-mayor form of government, but this was not the way to do it.”

In a statement, Coffman said he was disappointed that voters wouldn’t be able to decide on the question in 2023, but said that the campaign could get it on the 2025 ballot without collecting signatures again — a point that several people have since disputed. The Denver Post has reached out to the Aurora City Clerk’s Office for clarification.

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