Longmont At-Large Election analysis

There were two city council seats up for grabs in the 2009 Longmont At-Large race.  Everyone in the city was eligible to vote in this race, and got to pick two candidates.  Those candidates were: Gabe Santos (Incumbent At-Large councilmember), Alex Sammoury, Bill Van Dusen, Kaye Fissinger, and Ed Dloughy.  The two candidates who received the most votes were elected.  The final tally came out like this:

Santos        11,048  36.38%
Sammoury   8,149  26.83%
Van Dusen    5,408  17.81%
Fissinger        4,832  15.91%
Dloughy            934  3.08% Continue reading…

2007 Progressive experiment has failed

Here is my Guest editorial that ran in the Tuesday October 27, 2009 Times-Call.  I didn’t title this piece, but they did:
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Vote Out The Progressives
The “2007 Progressive Experiment” in Longmont has failed.  At least it’s been entertaining to watch and write about, but to the detriment of the city as a whole.  We can’t say we didn’t give it a try, but this regressive Progressive majority on city council has proven to be a real loser of an idea and voters need to undo the mistake of 2007.To refresh memories, in 2007 Longmont had a block of candidates take over the majority of city council.  This majority includes Sean McCoy, Brian Hansen, Sarah Levison, and Karen Benker – who actually was soundly defeated in her quest for Mayor, but unfortunately remained in office.  Mr. Hansen and Ms. Levison squeaked in with less than a majority and mostly due to third candidates who split the vote.  Mr. McCoy won by a majority, but Ms. Benker lost by a majority.Even to the bloc’s most strident supporters, they must agree these have been two very divisive and controversial years.  They have also been two very unproductive years rife with costly lawsuits, dwindling tax revenues, and furloughed city employees.  Our council meetings are often 4 hour marathons that end with bickering and indecision.  Procrastination is their credo.

Therefore, a clean sweep and removal of all council members in office prior to 2008 needs to occur.  Mary Blue is retiring, which is a shame as she’s been an exception and an exemplary representative.  Gabe Santo’s joined the council in January 2008 and has often been the sole dissenting vote on some of the bloc’s more ridiculous maneuvers – and deserves to be retained in his at-large seat.

Unfortunately, Council members McCoy, Hansen, and Levison are not up for re-election.  But they can be dealt with in 2 years, or sooner via recall.  Candidates Fissinger, Benker, and Van Dusen are more of the same of the failed regressive Progressive majority we now find ourselves saddled with.  Voters should learn from past mistakes and not repeat them with these candidates.

Mayor Lange, who I respect, admire, and have always supported and voted for in every race he’s even run, has tilted one too many times in favor of this failed bloc.  The denied motion and second (from Santos and Blue, respectively) to end the losing battle with Firestone and LifeBridge was the straw that broke the camels back for me and many other citizens.  When Firestone came to Longmont with an offer of the land that would meet Longmont’s request for this so-called buffer, which in reality is a red herring that doesn’t now nor will ever exist, Mayor Lange and this council turned them away, proving to me this was nothing more than an expensive turf war and an attempt to financially bleed Firestone and LifeBridge.  I’m not a member of that church or a resident of Firestone, but this act was appalling.

Unlike other council members who have been downright rude to me in the presence of my children, Mayor Lange has indelibly left a positive impression on one of my sons to which we are eternally grateful.  While I can’t support him in this race for the other reasons above, I will also not engage in mudslinging or negative attacks that might benefit his opponent, Bryan Baum, who I support.

The same cannot be said for Karen Benker.  Some cities have elected donkeys, dogs, or hoboes to city council.  I would back such a candidate in opposition to Ms. Benker.  Alright, my tongue is slightly planted “in cheek” with that comment, but the actual sentiment is not too far off.  Ms. Benker is basically the leader of the bloc, and as such, sets the tone for the bitter divisiveness the bloc embodies.  A vote for her is a vote for the failed last two years.  About the only thing Ms. Benker has on Katie Witt is her so-called experience.  But this experience has not resulted in a better outcome for the citizens of Longmont.

I would also argue Ms. Benker’s “experience” when she was Ms. Witt’s age was probably similar to Ms. Witt’s now.  Everybody has to start somewhere.  Incumbency and a self-inflated resume shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in who’s more fit to serve.  Sometimes a fresh outlook and differing life experiences breathe new life into an otherwise stale and stagnant situation.  Unfortunately, this current council majority is worse than stagnation, it’s actually regressing.

So consider the past and the future when you cast your vote, and not some selfish allegiance of what you think a candidate is or isn’t.  And there’s really no good reason not to vote, please exercise this right.

Reminder of 2007 election results

The 2009 Longmont municipal election is coming up, I thought this would be a good time to look back at the election of 2007 that brought us what has been called the “Eastern Bloc”, the “Benker bloc”, the “Bloc of 4″ etc.

Total votes cast 40,051

Votes for Benker, McCoy, Levison, and Hansen (aka the “Bloc of 4″)  18,453        46.1%

Votes for opposing candidates                                                    21,598        53.9%

You’re reading that correctly, they didn’t get a plurality or majority.  I included links to definitions as some in the city don’t know the difference.  The point is Longmont did not swing blue, or left, like some would like you to believe.  The election of Gabe Santos in January 2008 proved that.  When voters in Longmont actually show up to vote, leftist, radical, anti-growth, anti-development, anti-religious candidates lose.

When the vote is suppressed, or the system makes it harder for citizens to get involved and engaged (like the incumbent bloc’s overly restrictive “fair” campaigns act), candidates like “the bloc” win.

Food for thought…

GUEST EDITORIAL: Mark Alexander on Transparency

Transparency preferred, but not required. That ought to be the job posting for our council member openings. It would seem that the definition of transparency has been obscured in the last election cycle. The growing dependence on executive sessions is more than disheartening. It is shameful. Have our elected council members forgotten they are servants to a city? Can you imagine owning a business with a dozen employees who meet to discuss how they will work for you but not allow you to have knowledge of it? Even unions have to divulge on the table when negotiations are happening. Not so for our Council.

Longmont, take note that you are on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars you did not authorize to be spent. You were not asked if you wanted an appeal after losing this frivolous lawsuit. We have no idea if 4 or 7 members pressed forward for the appeal of the Union annexation loss. The executive session shields that information from the citizen, the voter, and the employers of this council.

To Gabe Santos, At-Large Council Member and candidate, I say THANK YOU for motioning to end this waste of money and resources. Rise up Longmont! Be heard by this Council lest they assume your silence is approval for their will imposed upon you.

To the sitting Council members, what is kept in darkness will be brought to the light. Are you so frightened to have your discussions, intentions, and agendas exposed? As your employer you are all on notice, embrace transparency, drop the lawsuit, or be fired beginning this November.

Longmont’s supposedly fair campaign act

How often do you see quality videos for candidates or issues right here in Longmont? (Not counting craptastic anti-religious rantings, which of course are not quality). Well, here’s one for a certain city councilman who’s up for re-election. Enjoy.

As the video says, Produced by Longmont Advocate and not authorized by any candidate or candidates committee IAW LFCPA Pg 3.” What’s that? That’s the new Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act (IAW means In accordance with), to some meant to even the playing field, but in reality it complicates things so much that your average citizen will just avoid doing anything related to elections, including and most importantly excercising their Freedom of Speech. That includes donating how ever much money you like, within reason, but who defines “reasonable”?

But as you know, I write opinion and commentary, here and several other places including in print in the Times-Call and YourHub (Denver Post). I also did podcasts, or audio commentary, and lately commentary through videos. I’ve been doing this for several years, not just around election time. But back to this LFCPA Pg 3, it talks about “electioneering“, and more importantly what shall not be considered an “electioneering communication“:

1. Any news articles, editorial endorsements, opinion or commentary writings, including all electronic communication, or letters to the editor printed in a newspaper, magazine or other periodical not owned or controlled by a candidate, or agent of a candidate committee, issue committee or political committee;
2. Any endorsements or opinions aired by any broadcast facility, including cable or satellite not owned or controlled by a candidate or agent of a candidate committee, issue committee or political committee; or
3. Any communication by persons made in the regular course and scope of their business or any communication made by a membership organization solely to members of such organization and their families. (emphasis added)

I think that about covers me, as I’m not owned or controlled by anyone, nor am I an agent for anyone or anything – except the excercising of free speech. I also didn’t spend any money making this and future videos, or got paid to do it. I don’t have to pay to distribute these writings, audio or video, but I may play along with this silly “indicia” the city has instituted – which is sort of like a trademark signifying you’ve registered with the City Clerk. But I think that’s geared more towards 527’s, which I’m not. But you never know, I may want to make my own mailers, which will cost money.

Go read the new ordinance, see if it will make you want to participate more in the process, or less. My guess is less, which is exactly how incumbents want it to be. Better yet, test it in court, I’m sure someone will sooner or later.

Let the Attacks Begin…

On July 21, at the Longmont City Council meeting, during Public Invited to be Heard, Doug Wray tried to launch in to a tirade condemning Councilman Santos for an email that was somehow accessed by Wray. The email, while coming from Gabe’s personal account that was later made accessible to public due to the Open Records laws, was at the time NOT accessible as he was not yet on the council and the fact that Wray had a copy is a clear violation of Gabe’s privacy. The email was a response to a Kaye Fissinger story posted on YourHub.com, that was in essence announcing that the attacks from the Left had begun – NOT a call TO attack as Wray implied before council. “Let the attacks begin” – simply another way to recognize that he knew it was coming and indeed, the Progressives, true to form, were the first to go on the offensive (and offensive they were!) But Wray tried to spin the email to say that Gabe was calling for his followers to attack Juday. In fact, Gabe never played dirty. There WERE questionable marketing pieces sent that attacked Juday but Gabe had no part in their creation or distribution. Gabe doesn’t work that way.

A candidate has no control over what a supporter chooses to do of their own free will – both in promoting a candidate or exposing the negative aspects of the opposition. In trying to smear Gabe, Wray gets the award for being the first in this 2009 political season to turn to dirty politics – to which Gabe could again send an email tomorrow pointing to the video of the Wray speaking and again announce, “let the attacks begin.”

Game on Doug. You have opened the door my friend, and you and your candidates (if there are any? For some reason the Progressives haven’t announced their intentions yet…are they all waiting to announce together so the left will know which bloc to vote for?) will surely feel the wrath. This town is tired of the tirades of Kaye, Nita, Duane, Strider, Ruby and a handful of others – you all had nearly 2 years of majority rule and in that short time have managed to bring this town to it’s knees. It’s time to give back power to those who act on behalf of the people of Longmont. Who consider what’s best for the city as a whole, not those who act on behalf of a progressive agenda that favors a minority that shouts the loudest. Gone are the days of equal rights for prairie dogs and chickens. Gone are the days of choosing studies over action.

For his actions that night, I give kudos to Roger for saying enough is enough and to Mary for standing up for her fellow councilmember by saying character assassination is NOT OK in front of this council. What Doug did was a typical mean spirited, Progressive-left-wing tactic and it has no place in Longmont. The DeLay references are a feeble attempt to try and discredit the work Gabe has done so far for this town. It didn’t work when he brought it up during the Juday campaign and it won’t work now. Let the attacks begin….again….

City Council Rules! (Of Procedure)

In yet another contentious Longmont City Council meeting on October 21, there was one bit of irony I couldn’t let slip by. Councilmember Sarah Levison brought up City Council RULE 19: RECONSIDERATION in opposition to a motion Gabe Santos made which would effectively reverse a motion she made the previous week.

The rule reads: After the decision on any question, any member who voted with the prevailing side may move to reconsider the decision at the same meeting or at the next meeting at which Rule 25 permits final or official action on the subject question. Rule 25 spells out when there will be meetings, whether they’re regular or study session, and public postings of these meetings and their agendas.

At the September 23 regular session meeting, City Manager Gordon Pedrow told council they had a decision to make about a meeting on November 4 (Election Day) or November 11 (Veterans Day). Council voted to have an early and abbreviated meeting on November 4. The minutes for that meeting aren’t available yet, and Mayor Lange said it passed but didn’t say if it was unanimous or not. Ms. Levison said “I do not want to meet on Veterans Day”, so it’s assumed she voted for November 4. So she may have well voted with the “prevailing side”, as Rule 19 specifies.

But, on October 14, Ms. Levison brought this issue up again and tried to get council to reconsider having a meeting on Veterans Day, stating that she didn’t know that not having it then meant having it Thanksgiving week. Two problems with this: first, Mr. Pedrow stated during his comments on September 23 as they were considering this, that this indeed would mean a meeting during “Thanksgiving week”. Secondly, when she brought it up for reconsideration, it wasn’t during the same meeting or even the next meeting. Did she violate the very rule she was trying to use for her own purposes?

Granted, it may be debatable that a meeting date is a final or official action. But since this decision, it has been posted on subsequent agendas that the November 11 meeting has been cancelled. Either way, Ms. Levison went back on her earlier statement, and I could not find a single councilmember who spoke in favor of meeting on Veterans Day. So why bring it back up for reconsideration?

What Mr. Santos wanted reconsideration of was a questionable vote last week where two councilmembers abstained from voting. City Attorney Clay Douglas made an on-the-spot decision involving this issue, which he now seems to be reversing, which changes everything and should make that earlier vote invalid. So, in reality, this is not a reconsideration at all. It’s a clarification and correction.

This is an undecided item and might get resolved behind closed doors next week at yet another Executive Session. By Mr. Santo’s count, this should be the 21st of these types of “closed to the public” meetings.

That must be a record, and not one to be proud of. The new councilmembers promised a more open and accessible governing body when they ran for election. This staggering amount of closed door meetings proves, beyond any doubt, the contrary.

In The Pocket?

Something I’ve put off commenting about is brewing under the surface and hinted at in various places in the Times-Call and the internet. Were four councilmembers (Benker, Hansen, McCoy, and Levison) bought and paid for by special interests?

Much was made of candidate, now councilmember, Gabe Santos receiving a contribution of $5,000 by the Longmont Association of Realtors in January, 2008. As far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any proposed ordinances or resolutions brought forward in the name of this organization, so obviously there’s not been a vote. Nevermind, it takes more than a lone vote on council to pass such a thing.

On the other hand, there has been a major issue brought forward that could change our city charter and at the very least will cost the city thousands of dollars in a special election: collective bargaining for certain police and fire employees. I advocated for this group in 2004, and am leaning towards voting their way once again this year, so this has nothing to do with pro or anti-union positions. As hard as it may be, put that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Let’s look at the hard numbers: Karen Benker received a $1,500 cash donation and a $266.75 endorsement advertisement from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Brian Hansen received a $500 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy. Sean McCoy received a $1,000 cash donation and the same $266.75 ad buy from the Longmont Police Officers Assocation (LPOA). Sarah Levison received a $1,000 cash donation from the LPOA, but I can’t find an ad buy. No other candidates received these donations, and I’ve been told all were interviewed. This is a grand total of $4,800.25.

Since this is not a partisan group (some would argue that point), like one of the political parties (we’re supposed to have a non-partisan electoral structure in Longmont), I don’t have too many issues with these donations. But when these same four councilmembers went after Gabe Santos for his contribution based on what might occur, perhaps they were thinking of what they might do with such a contribution, and now have done precisely that. They’ve proven their own case that money could corrupt city politics.

When the unionization concept was brought to council on first reading, these four didn’t much question the language, all four voted for it with little hesitation. The other three members of council (Lange, Blue, and Santos) had specific concerns and questions, and the players (FD/FD, city staff, attorneys) had meetings and hammered out something more palatable and something with a higher likelihood of voter approval. But Benker, McCoy, Hansen, and Levison had nothing to do with that, they liked it just the way it was. In a twisted way, the collective bargaining team just upped their odds by working on what the three dissenting votes had to say. Not the four they contributed to.

A big concern that’s been conveyed to me, and I agree, is that this vote may become a referendum on city council, these four members in particular. It’s not fair to our police and fire employees to be saddled with that. If that’s truly a concern amongst voters, especially those in favor of this collective bargaining, how about separating it out and just have a flat out recall of these four members?

Yeah, I know, fat chance and a little extreme. But I do have an easier alternative: each of these four councilmembers make $1,000 a month for the service they provide, and don’t get me wrong, as much as I tear into them (and previous councils as well, for those that have forgotten), they do put in a lot of their own time in their elected positions. I suggest, to avoid any suggestion of impropriety, and to truly help the police and fire employees they claim to support, that these four councilmembers forego enough of their stipend equal to these contributions and put it back into the General Fund.

This isn’t a pledge I expect them to take, but what a message it would send if they did. What political harm could it do? And if they’re adamantly opposed to this idea, you should ask why. It could help our fine police and fire employees, our hurting budget, and send a clear message that council is not for sale.

Disrespect From The Podium

At the July 29th Longmont City Council meeting, the issue of putting Police and Firefighter unionization on the ballot was the hot issue. There’s lots to talk about (and lots of audio to pull from this meeting for my next podcast), but I’ll just hit a couple initially.

I watched the entire thing, there were lots of speakers, from both sides. Before I go much further, I’ll remind people I was one of the PD/FD’s biggest supporters for their 2004 drive. My old Wrongmont link is still on their website to this day. I’ve been a union member in open and closed shops for over 27 years, so save the history lesson and emotional speeches. Now, as they say, with all that being said…

I thought each side made very good points, some spoke better than others. I could almost say I feel strongly both ways on this issue, not something I normally say, and probably won’t advocate either way. Make up your own minds.

But I will say the most compelling and convincing presentation was by Police Chief Mike Butler. It was mostly for nothing as it appeared those that voted in favor of the union had made up their minds long before he made his statements. But there was one speaker for the union side who got my attention the most, FOP President Stephen Shulz. He spoke fairly eloquently and had a good command of his organizations positions. But he blew it at one point, to me anyway, with his obvious lack of respect for an elected official, Councilmember Gabe Santos.

The question was asked why now, why again, after the union vote defeat in 2004. Mr. Shulz brought up Mr. Santos’ defeat in the November election, why did/should he run again? There are so many differences in these two scenarios, not to mention the total unprofessional behavior of a city employee towards a city policy maker. First off, Mr. Santos lost by a 46% to 41% margin, not a majority win by Sarah Levison. The unionization vote of 2004 lost by a 55% to 44% margin, much to my chagrin. Not a landslide, but a fairly clear majority.

Secondly, what did Mr. Santos’ two campaigns cost the city? Candidates self fund their campaigns, either from their own accounts or from contributors. In both elections, the city had to fill vacant positions, it wasn’t optional. In the union’s case, they will be the only Longmont related issue on the ballot (said at the City Council meeting), it is optional, and will cost the city about $75,000. I don’t recall Mr. Santos’, or any candidate, demanding not only to be put on the ballot, but also have the city pick up the tab. But that’s what the FOP is asking for. I probably wouldn’t have brought that up, except for this unnecessary cheap shot during the council meeting.

It showed an arrogance, and an impression that the needed four votes were in the bag. Along those same lines, some councilmembers felt outraged that the opinion was floated that they were “bought off” for this vote, but I’ll save that for another time.

For now, someone needs to explain that if the FOP is willing to show that kind of attitude BEFORE there even is a bargaining contract, BEFORE the voters even have a say, why would any reasonable person believe that they won’t be even worse in negotiations IF/WHEN they achieve collective bargaining? I don’t like painting the FOP with this broad brush, and think they have some valid points, but Mr. Shulz repeatedly said he spoke for the FOP. Regardless if they won tonight, this behavior won’t score well with the voters.

Longmont: Take The Deal

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR LANGE AND LONGMONT CITY COUNCIL

For the record, I have no stake whatsoever in the following. I am not a landowner near this property, I am not a member of Lifebridge, nor do I speak for them or have ever been asked to. The proposal by Firestone’s Mayor Chad Auer in reference to Lifebridge Christian Church’s properties should be seriously considered and accepted without delay.

We’ve all been entertained by the antics for the last few months by some of your ” surrogate agitators and aggressors“, but the time for stalling and playing games is over. You have a decision to make and you can’t procrastinate any longer. This is what you were elected to do; take input and make policy. This deal is probably the absolute best you’re going to get; to pass on it would be foolish.

Six of the current seven councilmembers were involved in the recent elections of November and January. When you consider what “majority” you think you’re representing, keep in mind only three of you actually won with a majority ( Lange, McCoy, and Santos), one of you lost by a majority ( Benker in the mayors race) and the other two got in with less than a majority ( Hansen and Levison). Your decision, one way or the other, will bring out some citizens with pitchforks, figuratively, and you need to figure out which ones you’re willing to anger. Whatever political future you think you might have hangs in the balance, because this decision will affect Longmont for decades.

Personally, I think the landowners are giving away too much in this deal. They’ve been the target of slanderous and libelous attacks by some mouthpieces of certain councilmembers. These councilmembers and their attack dogs should be nervous about the recent Open Records request. There are limits to freedom of speech, and I’m willing to bet there are some shady backroom conversations certain people and councilmembers would rather keep out of the public eye. It’s probably too late for that, and I believe that if Longmont doesn’t take this deal, this so-called ” massive” open records request will be followed by a ” massive” lawsuit that Longmont can not afford, and will ultimately lose. In that scenario, all of us taxpayers are the losers.

The anti-annexation crowd didn’t want Lifebridge annexed into Longmont, this offer addresses that, and this group gets their wish. Longmont officials wanted a buffer; this offer addresses that as well. The only hitch is that Longmont has to come up with the money to buy this land as open space. None of you thought this would come for free, did you? This is prime real estate on Hwy 119, another reason I believe the landowners are giving away too much in this deal.

Longmont isn’t and hasn’t been dealing from a position of strength. It really doesn’t hold any cards and stand to lose much. The cute game of de-annexing and re-annexing, including certain roads with the goal of cutting off access to the landowners’ property, was a dirty trick and will cost the city at the county, state, and court levels if you allow this charade to continue. As strategies go, that was a bad move, and now it’s just about checkmate.

We all know some of you ran on, and had the backing of the anti-annexation movement. It’s become clearly evident that they were never just “anti-annexation” or looking out for what was “in it” for Longmont. They’ve followed and harassed the landowners from one city to another, then on to the county level, and have included in their attacks members of a church that has been part of this community for a century. This group has made it clear this church is no longer welcomed here, and the silence by some on council on this attack is tantamount to approval of this despicable behavior. Behavior, that by and large is by only a handful of people, and a small minority who signed the petition (which less than half voted for the anti-annexation candidate in January), yet council gives them the illusion that they are an actual majority of Longmont citizens, which they don’t come close to actually being.

My guess is that your attorneys and staff will suggest you accept this offer, regardless if you can afford the land in question or not. The impending lawsuit could be much more expensive in the long run, with no open space to show for it in the end, unlike with this offer. Some of you need to publicly divorce and disassociate yourselves with the vocal minority who has brought Longmont to this sad and unfortunate position. And do it quickly, you’ve stalled enough.

Cordially,
Chris Rodriguez