Mayor Mike Coffman contributes $10K to strong-mayor initiative, as Aurora battles lawsuit

The campaign for a proposed ballot measure that would give more authority to the Aurora mayor’s office has heated up in recent weeks, and public records released Monday show Mayor Mike Coffman contributed $10,000 to the effort.

The “Term Limits and Empowering the Mayor For A Better Aurora” campaign, initially only called “Term Limits for a Better Aurora,” submitted its first campaign finance report by the Monday night deadline, detailing contributions to the initiative.

Coffman has not returned requests for comment, but he told The Denver Post in an interview in July that he didn’t want to reveal how much he’d donated to the campaign “because that gets into strategy.”

Last week, Mayor Mike Coffman admitted to backing the initiative to change Aurora’s form of government after previously avoiding discussing his role in the “citizen-led” effort that opponents have claimed has been explained to voters in a disingenuous way by hiding the true goal of the effort to give the mayor more powers.

If Aurora residents pass the charter amendment, it would shift Aurora’s system of government from a “council-manager” form of government — in which the city manager reports to the City Council but oversees city staff, and the mayor only votes on ordinances when he needs to break a tie — to a form known as “strong mayor,” or “mayor-council.” That means whoever is in the position of mayor could hire and fire department heads, and they could veto ordinances that the City Council passes. Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo use this style of government, as do other cities across the country.

The proposal received its first approval from the city clerk’s office to make it onto the November ballot, but now residents have the opportunity until 5 p.m. Aug. 14 to file protests about the validity of the signatures on the petition. A hearing would take place 10-20 days after each protest is filed, and then the city clerk would have 10 days to issue a decision.

Proponents of the initiative say a city Aurora’s size needs to have a form of government that has a mayor at the helm who will be accountable directly to voters and one that can implement a vision for the city. Opponents, including at least eight of Aurora’s 10 City Council members (both conservatives and progressives), say the proposal appears to be a “power grab” for the mayor and the authority the mayor would have goes beyond even what other cities with mayor-council forms of government have implemented.

Opponents of the initiative have claimed that residents were misled about the intent of the ballot measure or aggressively pursued to sign, but proponents say the onus is on those signing to understand what they’re petitioning. However, if the clerk’s office determines enough signatures are invalid, the question won’t be included on the November ballot.

As of Friday morning, seven people had filed protest forms about the petition. The Denver Post has filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for the petitions but has yet to receive them. The city clerk’s office initially calculated 12,198 valid petition signatures of the required 12,017.

On the Monday night report, another $144,000 was reported as in-kind monetary donations from Colorado Springs-based 501(c)4 organization “Colorado Dawn” to collect signatures for the petition in Aurora to get the proposal on the ballot and another contribution of a $100 monetary donation from Colorado Dawn was also listed. The fund has previously supported GOP causes but does not disclose its donors.

No other contributions were listed for the Aurora campaign.

A challenge in the courts

Meanwhile, the Aurora City Council on Monday night discussed a lawsuit filed against the initiative’s proponents and the city of Aurora over the initiative’s title, which the complaint alleges violates the city charter’s “single-subject rule” and misleads voters about what it does.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, attorney Charles Richardson, is a former Aurora city attorney and City Council member. As of Monday night, the proponents of the initiative had been served but the city had not yet, according to city staff.

In a news release, Trey Rogers, one of Richardson’s attorneys in the lawsuit, stated that Aurora’s city clerk had to deal with a “nearly impossible task, as the drafters of this initiative made it exceedingly complex and concealed key changes to Aurora government.”

At a minimum, a judge can act in voters’ best interests and give them critical information so they aren’t surprised about how this overly broad measure might change city government,” he said.

In a statement from the campaign in favor of the initiative, attorney Suzanne Taheri, a Republican former deputy secretary of state, said the title of the initiative was set by the clerk, not proponents, and though they would have preferred for the city to use the language from the petition, “we believe the title was properly set in the discretion of the clerk and we did not contest it.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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