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State legislator proposes bill to expand Colorado commissioner boards in 12 largest counties

State legislator proposes bill to expand Colorado commissioner boards in 12 largest counties
State legislator proposes bill to expand Colorado commissioner boards in 12 largest counties 02:06

One of the state's newest legislators is proposing a bill that aims to expand the boards of commissioners in Colorado's 12 largest counties. That would include his home of Douglas County, where commissioners have been known to clash.  

Within Colorado's 64 counties, people's interests are abundant and expansive. But in many of them, three commissioners are tasked with governing it all.  

in Douglas County, it often comes down to the same two votes against one — a setup Democratic State Rep. Bob Marshall wants to change. 

State Rep. Bob Marshall CBS

"I've been accused of trying to use state power to fix a local Douglas County issue, but when I started looking around, I found out this is an issue in all the large counties where you can have two individuals have power over budgets approaching almost a billion dollars," Marshall said.  

This session, Marshall has introduced a bill that would expand county boards from three to five commissioners in counties with more than 70,000 residents. If passed, at least three would have to be elected by district rather than at-large.

"We don't elect the legislature at large because, otherwise, Denver Metro would run everything," Marshall said. "Having these massive large counties have at-large commissioners solely just does not make sense."

Currently, state law allows those changes to be made after either commissioners or citizens bring forth a ballot question, which several large counties have already done, including Adams, Arapahoe, and El Paso Counties.

"This bill is meant to allow a voice for political minorities, regardless of who the political minorities are," Marshall said. "It won't upset the power structure, but it will allow a new voice to come into the local county governments."  

On Tuesday, Douglas County's commissioners discussed the bill in a legislative update, voting 2-1 to oppose it as a board.  

While Commissioner Lora Thomas was the lone no-vote in the symbolic motion, she did share concerns about what she described as an "unfunded mandate" that takes away local control, and instead inquired about ways to engage bill sponsors to make improvements. Thomas also said she opposed having commissioners elected by district.  

"I think it's important that we maintain all of the positions at-large so that commissioners are not fighting with each other for the benefit of their districts as opposed to the whole county," Thomas said.  

Commissioner Abe Laydon, who voted to oppose the bill, said the county does not need more politicians, while Commissioner George Teal described it as a solution in search of a problem.  

Other critics of the bill argue it will, without voter approval, cost counties hundreds of thousands of dollars to add two new paid positions to the county budget. 

"It's a choice that we have right now to go to five commissioners to change our governance. It's a choice we've discussed on this board within the last year," said George Teal in an interview with CBS News Colorado. "If the people of Douglas County were to come before the board and ask for five commissioners, of course we would put it on the ballot and let the people choose. This takes away that choice."  

Early on, the bill is facing bipartisan opposition from several different counties. While Marshall argues the backlash is a result of leaders protecting their power, others argue it's about adding costs while taking away voter choice.         

Rep. Marshall's bill is co-sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Adam Priola, who represents parts of Adams and Weld Counties. It is expected to be heard in committee on March 2. 

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