It’s unclear whether Aurora voters will get to decide in November whether to give their mayor more power.
Proponents of a ballot measure to switch Aurora to a strong-mayor system of governance said Friday they were told by city officials that there won’t be enough time to meet the deadlines necessary to get the question before voters this year — even though the city in July preliminarily approved the measure to be on the November ballot.
Hours later, however, city officials indicated the initiative is still moving through the approval process.
The conflicting messages come as the question, supported by Mayor Mike Coffman and a shadowy conservative political nonprofit, has been bogged down by challenges and lawsuits filed by opponents.
The confusion began Friday morning when Yes on Term Limits and Empowering the Mayor, the group behind the initiative, announced in a news release that the question would not appear on the November ballot because it would miss a “critical deadline” for county clerks. The group said it would focus instead on getting the question on the city’s 2025 ballot.
But when The Colorado Sun asked for confirmation from the city, a spokesman said he didn’t “have a definitive answer.”
On Friday afternoon, the city said in a statement that its clerk’s office “will continue to fulfill the charter-mandated process on the current charter amendment proposal.”
The last protest hearing related to the ballot question is set for Wednesday. The deadline for the clerk to render a decision on the hearing is Sept. 11. County clerks are required by the state to certify the contents of the November 2023 ballots by Sept. 8.
“It is too early to know if the current proposal will meet the requirements to appear on any Regular Municipal Election ballot as the city code-mandated review process is still underway,” Ryan Luby, a spokesman for the city of Aurora, said in a written statement.
Natela Manuntseva, the campaign manager for Yes on Term Limits and Empowering the Mayor, said city officials were “pretty firm” in saying the initiative wouldn’t make it on the ballot this year. She said the group was not voluntarily pulling the measure from the ballot.
“We just wanted to kind of make the announcement and let everyone know that we are still wanting to go through with it,” Manuntseva said. “Ideally it’ll make it onto the 2023 ballot, but we’re definitely optimistic that it will make it onto the 2025 ballot.”
The ballot measure would change Aurora’s governance structure from its current council-manager system — where a city manager is the head of the city — to a “strong mayor” form of governance where the mayor is the top decision-maker.
Under the current system, the mayor is mostly a figurehead.
The initiative is supported by Coffman, who is running for reelection this year, and by a conservative political nonprofit, Colorado Dawn. Colorado Dawn is what The Sun refers to as a dark-money group because it doesn’t reveal its donors.
“I’m disappointed that the ballot measure is not on the 2023 ballot to give the opportunity for voters to decide the issue, but I’m glad that it can be on the ballot in 2025,” Coffman said in a written statement.
Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo have strong mayors who wield veto power over some or all ordinances passed by their respective city councils. They also appoint their city’s police chief, city attorney and others.
The Aurora proposal would also add an 11th at-large seat to the City Council and reduce the number of terms council members can serve from three consecutive four-year terms to two.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.