What should have been a smooth ride through routine procedure turned into a thorny thicket this week for the El Paso County commissioners.
The two newest commissioners, Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton, voted Tuesday against giving Amy Lathen another year as board chair. They also opposed letting Sallie Clark continue as vice chair and Dennis Hisey as "third commissioner," who acts as chair in the absence of the other two.
It's not that Glenn and Littleton dislike Lathen, Clark and Hisey, whose votes kept the current power structure in place. They just want to be treated like peers — and that means being in the loop on commission decisions. Both say they weren't consulted prior to the leadership slate being proposed.
Littleton told the Indy in a post-meeting e-mail that she spoke briefly with Lathen before the meeting about seeking the vice chair or third commissioner post "but was told by her, in the manner a dictator would lord power over their minions, that the leadership would be remaining the same..."
Besides not being consulted in advance, Glenn tells the Indy he "just can't support the talking points" of the current leadership, notably the wisdom of borrowing roughly $50 million to buy the Intel building in 2010 to house most county agencies on Garden of the Gods Road. The county used certificates of participation, a financing tool that sidesteps the constitutional necessity that voters approve debt.
"I can't support anyone in leadership who says [using COPs] is a great thing to do," Glenn says.
Leadership wasn't the only issue that angered Glenn on Tuesday. The other was buried in commissioners' new proposed rules of procedure, and sparked memories of — you guessed it — the term-limit debacle.
In 2010, Lathen, Clark and Hisey submitted a ballot question to voters asking if terms should be limited to three, four-year terms, rather than extended to three terms. Voters approved the measure, but later complained they were deceived.
Glenn, who like Littleton won a seat in that election, promised to push for another vote. With the two new members putting that on the agenda, commissioners eventually agreed on a re-vote — but not until November 2012. That meant Clark and Hisey could seek their third terms this year. Lathen is running for her second term.
Clark, Hisey and Lathen cited other reasons for choosing 2012, but they still attracted criticism. Which is why Glenn bristled at a suggested change that would prevent a similar scenario from unfolding again. Instead of needing just two commissioners to place an item on the agenda, each item would require the approval of three.
No one took credit for the idea. But in explaining her support for it, Clark said Tuesday, "We don't want to waste the public's time if there's not general consensus to discuss an item on a formal agenda."
Glenn replied that the rule was geared to stymie debate: "It smacks of the term-limits question. It's good to have debate. To increase that requirement can only be interpreted as having a chilling effect on that public debate."
After Glenn raised the term-limits comparison, commissioners voted unanimously to keep the two-commissioner rule in place.
Afterward, Glenn said he thinks even one commissioner should be able to put something on the agenda. He also opposes a commission rule that prevents a commissioner from obtaining county records that cost more than $100 under the Colorado Open Records Act without other commissioners' approval.