Coming to term limits

Commission approves ballot initiative to remove restraints on most county offices

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Moffat County voters will have the opportunity to eliminate term limits for all elected officials except the Moffat County Commissioners this fall.

By a vote of 2-1 Friday, the commissioners decided to place the question of whether term limits should be removed for county assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, sheriff and treasurer.

The question was put on the ballot after a local petition drive pushed the issue.

Craig Residents Saud Tayyara and John Ponikvar sat before the commissioners Friday with a petition signed by 471 residents, saying they would like to see the question on this year's ballot.

The issue first came up at a May commission meeting, when Moffat County Republican Party Chairperson Tim Jantz made the request to the commissioners on behalf of the Moffat County Republicans, who approved the resolution at their assembly.

At that time the commissioners said they wanted more input from the community before they made a decision to put it on the ballot.

They put the issue on the agenda for the June 28 meeting and said they would hear public discussion on the topic and make a decision at that time.

"When prompted you said that you wanted to hold a public meeting and get more input," Tayyara said Friday. "A lot of people can't make the meetings so I literally took you up on what you were saying. The petition is here to show you that there is an interest out there."

Ponikvar said he wanted to save the debate on whether term limits are good or bad for another time.

"We're interested in getting this on the ballot and then debating on it," he said. "You have the opportunity to give people their most basic right the right to choose."

About 10 people attended the meeting.

The two Republican candidates for Moffat County Commission seats, Jean Stetson and Kent Nielson, both spoke in favor of putting the issue on the ballot this fall.

Both are vying for the seat that will be left vacant by Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson, who lose his position to term limits this year.

Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead and Jantz also spoke in favor of including the question on the ballot.

"For some reason, this has been a hot issue," Jantz said. "At least give people the choice to decide. Put it on as a ballot initiative and then we have time to debate it in the newspaper."

One community member who attended the meeting was in opposition of placing the question

on the ballot.

The longtime Moffat County resident reflected back on how things were before term limits came into place.

"There was a time when you couldn't blow a Democrat out of this place with a stick of dynamite," Dean Gent said. "That was the reason I voted for term limits because I saw how hard it was to get new blood in office. There's always somebody that can fill the slot."

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos voted in favor of placing the question on the ballot, but was concerned about putting it before the voters again.

In 1994 Moffat County voters approved an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that limited the number of consecutive terms an elected official could serve by a vote of 2,239 to 879.

In 1996 the question was asked if term limits should be eliminated for all offices and was defeated by a vote of 2,971 to 1,621.

"One concern we have is people look to us and say 'You're going to put this on the ballot again? Did we not say no already?'" Raftopoulos said.

But Ponikvar said the difference this year is the commissioners are excluded from the ballot.

"Unfortunately the commissioners are viewed differently than these other offices," he said. "People see you as policy makers, but these other jobs are viewed a little bit different."

Tayyara agreed that this year a different question would be asked of voters.

"In 1996, it was all together," he said. "Let's try something different."

Dickinson was the lone commissioner who voted against placing the question on this year's ballot because, he said, he did not agree with excluding one office from the question as Ponikvar and Tayyara's petition proposes.

"To say you want to give people a choice for other elected offices but not a choice on the office of county commissioner is hypocritical," he said. "I won't support a resolution that does not include commissioners."

Dickinson gave his philosophical view of term limits.

"I'm passionate that it's the people that run this county," he said. "Unfortunately the average voter does not have enough interaction with offices to really know what's going on."

People like Ponikvar and Tayyara are the exception in the community, he said.

"Most voters do not take the time that you do to be aware of what's going on in county government," he told them. "The voters need term limits for their protection because they do not have enough interaction with elected officials. I voted for everyone that is in office, but I don't believe that they should have more than two terms."

The motion made by the commissioners Friday approved putting all offices but county commissioner on the ballot.

The decision still needs to be made on how it will be worded on the ballot and whether it will be asked as one question, or whether each office will have its own question.

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