By Mark McIntyre. Also published as a "Guest Opinion" in the Daily Camera on July 19, 2020.
On July 10 at 3 p.m., City Attorney Tom Carr sent an email via the Council Hotline admitting that he and his office had repeatedly made serious errors in the information they had provided to multiple ballot initiative campaigns. These were not minor technical errors. These were fundamental errors that will potentially cost the campaigns their places on the 2020 ballot. You can’t get more wrong for a ballot initiative campaign than giving them wrong information about the number of signatures needed and the dates that these signatures are required.
Mr. Carr’s email included multiple “cover your butt” statements that attempt to deflect blame from him and his office. He went on to discuss the complexities of state law versus home rule city code. It is late in the note before Mr. Carr finally admitted: “Two petition committees relied on the city’s inaccurate guidance and have worked to gather signatures.”
This is a shameless understatement from a public servant who is paid $229,406 of our taxpayer dollars each year. It also devalues the thousands of hours of volunteer time the campaigns have spent gathering signatures during a dangerous pandemic.
These grievous mistakes and “inaccurate guidance” have created confusion, chaos, and uncertainty in a time already rife with these elements. This bad advice has weakened the already dismal confidence in our city attorney and his ability to parse the law and render good advice to Boulder’s citizens and to our City Council. Most importantly, this bad advice has undermined good governance and failed our citizens and their fundamental rights to clear and fair democratic processes.
But this crisis has also created an opportunity for Mr. Carr and the council for which he works. This opportunity has two elements:
1. All ballot initiatives that have received signatures numbering in the thousands should be referred immediately to the November 2020 ballot, and they should be referred without changes to the original language that thousands of Boulder voters have signed showing their support.
2. Mr. Carr should offer his resignation and leave it to our elected representatives to decide whether he should remain in his role. This is the honorable thing to do and it is also one of council’s clear responsibilities to hire and fire the city attorney.
The arguments for these two steps are many, but none of these reasons have anything to do with the content of the initiatives. At this point, the content is irrelevant in relation to the larger issues of fairness, democracy, good governance, and public health and safety.
Each of our elected councilors should place themselves in this scenario: You decide to run for City Council, you are given a written set of instructions and requirements to do so. You faithfully follow those instructions. You put yourself and your campaign volunteers at risk to vigorously campaign as safely as possible during a pandemic.
But then, at the last minute, you are informed that there has been a mistake, the information provided is wrong—grossly so. Your name will not appear on that year’s ballot, unless the current council makes a special exception for you. Worse still, the current sitting mayor says he knows what’s best for Boulder and must review your platform before he decides if voters should be allowed to vote for or against you. This is exactly the situation in which two petitioning groups,'Our Mayor – Our Choice' and 'Bedrooms Are For People' currently find themselves.
Every person and group, at some point, is forced to confront their failures and mistakes because as humans we all make them. The best and most honorable thing to do is stand on the principles of democracy, fairness, and doing what is right.
We have seen a lack of responsibility and accountability on a national level and it is distressing to almost all of us. We need not follow this pattern in our own city. We can and should do better.
We can accept responsibility for our actions and statements and act to set things right. The time is now for council to act in the name of fairness, democracy, and good governance. The single and essential step council should make is to simply honor the will of the thousands of citizens who have supported the ballot initiatives and let the voters decide on these measures this fall. That’s democracy.
Mark McIntyre is a longtime Boulder resident, an originator of the Our Mayor – Our Choice initiative, and served on the city’s Campaign Finance Working Group.