Voters to decide fate of city charter provision
Reina's civil suit still pending in District Court
The Craig City Council took a step toward changing a city charter provision on campaign expenses Tuesday night but did not address an ongoing civil suit against the city regarding the same issue.
The council unanimously approved, 7-0, the first reading of an ordinance to put a question on the Nov. 3 election ballot about whether to delete the provision, which limits the amount a person can spend on his or her own campaign for city office to $500.
The council will have to approve the ordinance’s second reading at its July 14 meeting before it goes on the ballot.
The charter first came under scrutiny after the council’s meeting May 26, when it voted unanimously to prosecute Craig resident Francisco Reina for spending about $1,512.78 on his campaign in the April election, more than three times the charter’s limit.
Councilor Gene Bilodeau was the only member absent that night.
Reina was cited with a Class A municipal violation and faced possible penalties of as much as a $1,000 fine and as many as 180 days in jail.
During the vote to prosecute, several councilors said it was not their job to decide whether the city’s campaign expense limit was just or unjust. That duty, they said, was up to the courts.
In response, Reina’s defense team – led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado – filed a civil suit against the city June 15 in Moffat County District Court.
The complaint alleged that the charter provision on campaign expenses violated a person’s right to free speech and asked that a judge declare it unconstitutional and institute a permanent injunction against its enforcement.
At Reina’s municipal court appearance June 17, two days after the civil suit was filed, City Attorney Kenny Wohl filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Reina.
Wohl declined to comment why he filed a motion to dismiss, but a member of Reina’s defense team said he thinks the pending civil suit was the only reason the city backed off prosecuting.
Regardless of Tuesday night’s vote, the civil suit still is pending, and the city has until mid-July to submit a response to the court.
No court date has been set, though Judge Sandra Gardner has been assigned to the case.
Councilor Terry Carwile said the city took action on the issue before the courts have had a chance to hear the case “just to get that question in front of the voters.”
The ordinance states the city’s provision on campaign expenses “is in conflict with” the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.
It’s unclear whether this statement will affect the city’s position in the District Court case.
The Supreme Court ruled in that case that any law limiting how much people spend of their own money in a political campaign for themselves violates the First Amendment.
After the meeting Tuesday night, Wohl said that the city’s position regarding Carwile’s possible charter violation had not changed and that the councilor will not be cited with a municipal violation.
Carwile did not submit an itemized account of his campaign expenses within 30 days of the election, which the charter also requires in addition to the spending limit.
Wohl previously has said that because Carwile submitted copies of his receipts at a later date, he only had to amend his campaign expense forms, which is allowed.
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