Municipal League interested in Thornton term limits

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/13/22

The Colorado Municipal League is considering filing an amicus brief regarding Thornton’s appeal in their term limits case, according to the group’s executive director. “It’s possible that …

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Municipal League interested in Thornton term limits

Posted

The Colorado Municipal League is considering filing an amicus brief regarding Thornton’s appeal in their term limits case, according to the group’s executive director.

“It’s possible that could happen here, but (it’s) still pretty early in the process,” said Kevin Bommer, the executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. 

An amicus brief is meant to assist a judge in the decision of a case, said Bommer. It is to inform the judicial process with perspectives and often cites prior case law. It also, he said, advocates for an outcome. 

“If the Court of Appeals was to be making a decision interpreting constitutional language related to, for the first time ever, the impact of the Constitutional language on municipal term limits, then it’s one of the potential bread and butter issues for the league to weigh in as to what the impacts would be on,” he said. 

Thornton City Council voted 5-4 on Dec. 14 to appeal the decision made by the judge, which sends the case to the Court of Appeals.

One of those voters was Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren, who also is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Colorado Municipal League.

“The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, indicating that the court believed the mayor’s seat and the councils’ seats are part of one elected body and constitute the same office for purposes of term limits under the Colorado Constitution,” Tami Yellico, Thornton’s city attorney said. 

The court’s decision comes a bit in favor of both sides. Since Kulmann did not finish her full term as a city councilor, the judge granted her to serve as mayor until 2023. However, that will be her final year.

The suit alleged that it was illegal for Kulmann to seek reelection, and the city argued council positions and the mayor position are different. However, the court ruled they are not. 

Denver-based attorney Robert McGuire filed the complaint in Adams County district court on behalf of plaintiff Cherish Salazar. When she filed the suit, Salazar said the issue is something she has spoken up about for two years now. It specifically names Kulmann but includes the entire city council and the city.

“Before her (Kulmann’s) name went on the ballot, I tried to present my argument at that point,” Salazar said, referring to the 2019 election when voters elected Kulmann as mayor.

Ward 4 voters first elected Kulmann to a four-year councilor term in 2013. She won a re-election bid in 2017 and then ran for mayor in 2019 and won. 

Same or different

According to that interpretation of the Colorado Constitution and the Thornton City Charter, the complaint argues that a councilor and the mayor are legally one and the same, pertaining to term limits.

“All nine seats on the Thornton City Council (mayor plus the eight Ward council members) constitute a single `office,’” the suit states.

Right now, the decision made by the court only affects the parties involved with the case. However, a Court of Appeals or a Colorado Supreme Court decision can affect Colorado as a whole.

“It has no implications right now beyond the city of Thornton,” Bommer said. “That doesn’t mean that if a similar lawsuit was brought in a different jurisdiction, certainly attorneys might use the decision as an argument that it should be decided the same way there but it doesn’t automatically guarantee it, whereas, when you have a court of appeals or certainly a Supreme Court decision where it carries statewide implications, it’s the general judicial principles are to look at precedents, especially when they’re statewide and potentially apply them.” 

The brief, Bommer said, would be to inform the justice on the potential effects and ramifications the case would have on municipalities.

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