Longmont’s Home Rule City Charter is the foundational document for the city government of Longmont. The charter can be amended only when a majority of Longmont voters approve a change. Section 3.7 of the charter states, “Each councilman shall take an oath or affirmation before entering upon the duties of his office, that he will support the Constitution of the United States and the state of Colorado, and the charter and ordinances of the city of Longmont, and faithfully perform the duties of his office”.
We are rapidly approaching a time when current members of the city council will be tested regarding their sworn oath to support the city charter. On July 24, a Boulder County District Judge issued an adverse ruling against the citizens initiated charter change banning the use of hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. The judge stayed her ruling pending an appeal to a higher court. Council members who vote to defend our home rule charter by appealing this lower court decision will fulfill their oath. Those who oppose appealing the decision will be voting to capitulate to the oil and gas industry, hardly an act that supports the city charter.
The city charter provision under assault is the one initiated by citizens in 2012 when they became convinced the city council was not adequately protecting the residents’ health, safety and quality of life, all of which were threatened by the toxic industrial operations of the oil and gas industry. Ballot question 300 was approved by 60 percent of the voters. At the time, several members of the city council actively campaigned against passage of the amendment.
Longmont citizens should be aware that their city charter is under assault by the oil and gas industry, by Gov. Hickenlooper and by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The assault began immediately after Longmont residents approved ballot question 300. Gov. Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission immediately joined the oil and gas industry in a lawsuit to overturn the citizens’ vote. The same duo of players initiated a lawsuit against the city council for adopting an ordinance in June 2012 imposing additional safety regulations on the industry.
These powerful and well funded players are determined to smash any ordinance or charter provision that attempts to reasonably regulate the oil and gas industry within Longmont’s corporate limits.
It is up to Longmont residents to clearly communicate to their elected council members that the city charter belongs to the people, not to the council. Residents need to remind their elected representatives that they, not the council, initiated and supported this charter amendment while overcoming nearly $500,000 in oil and gas industry propaganda opposing the initiative.
I encourage any city council member who has not had an up close exposure to the devastating impacts of toxic oil and gas operations on residential neighborhoods to travel to Greeley, Erie, Firestone or Frederick. For those who believe Gov. Hickenlooper’s propaganda about Colorado’s “toughest regulations in the nation” protects everyone, check out the neighborhood in Greeley where the COGCC recently approved permits for 67 wells within 350 feet of Frontier Elementary School.
Fortunately, the Mineral Corporation reconsidered drilling on the permitted site after neighborhood residents expressed outrage. However, Hickenlooper’s COGCC did nothing to protect the neighborhood or school children.
Longmont’s Home Rule Charter can be amended only when residents vote to amend it. Until that happens, each member of the Longmont City Council is expected to faithfully perform the duties of their office. Longmont residents expect council members to uphold their oath to support the charter and they will be held accountable at the ballot box if they fail. Any elected official hoping to use “it is too expensive to keep appealing” as an excuse to abandon the defense of the city charter needs to check with the city attorney regarding how much of the work has already been done for appealing this issue all of the way to the Supreme Court. Of course, if the district court’s decision is overturned, it will be expensive to prepare for trial to defend the fracking ban. However, if council members do not believe in fighting to defend the voter- approved city charter, why did they run for city council and swear to support it?
Gordon Pedrow is a former Longmont city manager.