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The Aurora Municipal Center, photographed March 13. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Aurora voters will decide whether to give the city’s mayor significantly more power through an initiative that qualified Tuesday for the November ballot. 

The measure, now publicly supported by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, would move Aurora to a “strong mayor” system in which the city’s leader could pick department leaders and veto ordinances passed by the City Council. Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo already have strong mayors. 

Supporters of the initiative needed to gather 12,017 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The Aurora city clerk said Tuesday that 12,198 of the 20,409 signatures turned in by the group pushing for the measure were approved, narrowly qualifying it. 

Supporters of the proposal — the “Yes on Term Limits and Empowering the Mayor” campaign — say it will give more Aurora residents more accountability over the direction of the city and its agencies, such as the police department. Opponents argue the system is more likely to cause corruption because it consolidates power with one person. 

A group of elected and former elected officials in Aurora, including current City Council members, announced their opposition to the proposal in May, saying residents were being misled about it. 

If approved, the initiative would also reduce the term limits for the city’s elected officials from three consecutive four-year terms to two. It would also add an 11th, at-large councilmember.

Coffman, a Republican and Aurora’s current mayor, is running for reelection in November. He would be the first mayor to lead the city under a strong-mayor system if the measure passes and he is reelected.

Coffman said in a written statement Tuesday that he was supportive of the initiative.

“I strongly support this initiative and will do what I can to help pass it,” Coffman said. “Our residents expect more from their mayor than just ribbon-cutting ceremonies and only having the power to vote to make or break a tie during council debates.”

Before the initiative was approved for the November ballot, Coffman had been mum on the proposal. But several people connected to Coffman have been involved in the effort, including his former congressional campaign manager, who once served as the spokesperson for the initiative.

Two of Coffman’s neighbors told the Aurora Sentinel that the mayor had asked them to participate. They became two of the three “petition representatives” registered with the city clerk’s office. The third representative told the Denver Gazette the idea “was born from conversations he held with Coffman” and that the mayor was supportive of the proposal. 

If Coffman is the city’s first strong mayor, it would give the Colorado GOP a bigger foothold in the Denver metro area after facing major losses throughout the state over the past several election cycles. 

Aurora, which is Colorado’s third-largest city, hasn’t had a ballot initiative in recent memory, according to a spokesperson for the city. 

Aurora currently operates under a “council-manager” system in which the City Council makes all policy decisions while the city manager hires staff, provides council with information, brings policies to fruition and recommends a budget.

The mayor’s role is largely ceremonial, outside of casting tiebreaking votes for City Council. 

The ballot initiative says that if voters approve the new system, the mayor will be able to “appoint, dismiss, and direct department heads, directors, and executive appointees” and “veto legislation passed by City Council.”

Colorado Springs voters decided to adopt a strong mayor system in 2010. Pueblo made the same move in 2017.

The Aurora petition began circulating a few months after City Manager Jim Twombly announced his retirement earlier this year.

Aurora voters have 20 days — or until Aug. 14 — to challenge the city clerk’s determination that enough signatures were collected by backers of the initiative to make the November ballot.

Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

UPDATE: This story was updated at 7:32 a.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, to add a written statement from Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman supporting the ballot initative.

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her reporting and photography. Elliott graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in editorial journalism and minors in both business and Spanish. She is also an avid rock climber, snowboarder and hiker. Twitter: @ElliottWenzler