What is Home Rule?
In simple terms, it is a form of government that allows a municipality greater control of “matters of local concern”:
If a matter is of local or municipal concern, a home rule city may regulate or otherwise control or act with reference to it. In the absence of municipal action the matter is to be governed by applicable state law. If the matter is solely of local or municipal concern and the city has acted with reference to it, the municipality’s action will supersede any conflicting state statute regulating the same matter.https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2154&context=articles
Why do I support a transition to home rule?
For the sake of this analysis, let’s use the 2020 census data from Wikipedia:
- Erie is the largest Statutory Town in Colorado (30,038) with Superior (13,094), Firestone (16,381), and Frederick (14,513) far behind. The median population of a Statutory Town in Colorado is 622 people. 93% of Colorado residents live in a home rule mulicipality. Every single Colorado municipality our size has already gone home rule, and chances are good that if you moved to Erie from another town in Colorado, it was a home rule municipality.
- Were a home rule charter to include wards (as in Broomfield), we could ensure a more representative democracy to give a voice to neighborhoods such as Old Town who have traditionally been under-represented on the Board of Trustees. Running for a ward seat is also significantly less expensive!
- Home rule will allow the charter commission to explore interesting options like that used by the City of Lafayette – the people elect Council members, who in turn “elect one of its members to serve as Mayor and one to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.” Again, running for a council seat is significantly less expensive than running for mayor, further making elected positions more accessible to all.
- The people of Erie will be able to choose as they see fit – between a weak mayor, strong mayor, or council-manager form of government (see pp17 of the Local Government Handbook for an explanation).
Why is it a bit terrifying?
I share others’ concerns about our ability to make the transition successfully. I worry about the influence of special interest groups, divisive identity politics, and the burden on Town staff to effectively communicate the benefits of home rule, to establish an equitable home rule charter commission, and to draft a home rule charter that expertly captures the vision and values of Erie residents, Town staff, and elected officials.
Some Great News!
In January 2021, the Town conducted a home rule survey with the assistance of Magellan Strategies with very positive results. While the Town has work to do on the education and communication front, the presenting consultant said the survey results are inline with each of the municipalities they’ve recently assisted to go home rule.
The Rumor Mill
To dispel a few rumors spread via social media:
- No, the current Board does not support home rule so they can gain more power. Tami Tanoue of CIRSA strongly recommended that no more than one of the existing Board members serve on the charter commission of 9 to 21 members. Existing Board members will have to run for positions on the new council. It is meant to be a charter for the people, by the people.
- No, the current Board does not want to raise taxes. Home rule municipalities do have the authority to self-collect taxes; this would require a substantial increase in Finance department staff. They can also levy taxes on any sales that are exempt from state sales tax. The Board has not discussed any such taxes. In either case, the decision to do so would be entirely up to the home rule charter commission.
- No, it is not how any other municipality has successfully used their home rule status to ban oil & gas development.