Opinion: Supreme Court leak caused permanent damage

Bill Christopher/Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 5/22/22

Historically, there have not been leaks involving U.S. Supreme Court draft decisions. That is significant in itself.

 

Secondly, of all the decisions fo this to happen, Roe v. Wade, is …

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Opinion: Supreme Court leak caused permanent damage

Posted
Historically, there have not been leaks involving U.S. Supreme Court draft decisions. That is significant in itself.
 
Secondly, of all the decisions fo this to happen, Roe v. Wade, is probably the most divided and emotional case in America to come before the highest court in the land. The May 2 leak published by Politico shocked the nation and certainly had a negative impact on the Supreme Court.
 
I seldom agree with Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinions or comments. However, his recent statement reflecting a permanent change in the court has occurred due to the leak. He stated “When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. It’s like kind of an infidelity that you can explain it, but you can’t undo it.”
 
I totally agree with his comments. The Supreme Court has been held in high regard above reproach. While Americans may agree or disagree with each opinion rendered by the high court, we have still hope in them above most other units or branches of government. The trust has been broken.
When this happens whether it pertains to individuals, institutions or corporations, it takes a long time to rebuild the trust. Hopefully, the investigation which has been launched by Chief Justice Roberts will track down the culprit.
 
Democrat candidates may be given a 'helping hand?'
 
Besides fundamentally impacting the high court and breaking trust with the American people, there is another aspect of this horrific breach to ponder. The conservative majority of justices just may have handed Democrat candidates a timely “helping hand.” Between the leak and the anticipated overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision, a large protest was borne.
 
One can only speculate as to how many voters are now motivated to vote Democrat who earlier were not. The judicial decision’s impact on women having an abortion has added to the already bonfire of issues separating Americans into separate camps.
 
Special district, school district elections need tightening up
 
For those who followed the Hyland Hills Park and Recreation District Board of Directors election, you may be aware that the third board seat has yet to be determined at the time of writing this column. In fact, the recount involving candidates Don Ciancio Jr. and Paul Page won’t take place until Saturday, May 21. The election was held on May 3. This is an inordinate length of time to determine the outcome of an election.
 
Special districts such as Hyland Hills, the Southwest Adams County Fire District as well as school districts tend to designate a staff person as the “designated election official.” This person is in charge of administering the election.
 
Elections are complicated. There are a plethora of rules and state laws to know and administer. At times, such things as mandatory recounts are required based on candidate vote counts. Other anomalies can pop up as well. The point is that elections require expertise.
 
That is why we have the Secretary of State’s Office, county clerk’s office and city clerk’s office personnel to handle elections. To expect a staff person of a school district or special district to function every three years as if they were a trained county or city election official is expecting too much.
 
Election expertise is warranted
 
While approximately 2% of the 65,000 registered voters cast ballots in the Hyland Hills election, each vote clearly counted. With a two-vote spread between Ciancio and Page, this point is vividly clear and serves as an example.
 
To assure expertise in the handling of special district and school district elections, it is time for a change in the state law. The state legislature should enact a law that requires such districts to have the county clerk’s office, city clerk’s office or a certified independent organization administer their elections.
 
While there would be some added cost beyond what the districts normally have to cover such as ballot printing, legal notices and to compensate election judges, it would be money well spent.
 
Plus, it would provide enhanced and timely service for the voters and the candidates.
 
What level of city council's review and approval of new development makes sense?
 
As the old cliché goes, “be careful, you may get what you wish for.” For Westminster City Council members who desire to have more involvement in deciding proposed new developments, stop and give this careful thought. For those who think city council meetings are already too long, stop and give this careful thought because the meetings will be longer if you take on more land use/development agenda items.
 
While the current system is certainly not perfect, first ask what you want to gain out of changing the system. If it’s establishing land uses, then focus on the pending 2040 Comprehensive Land Use Plan. That key document sets land use and residential densities.
 
If it is building heights, setbacks, building materials, landscaping and related details, you should focus on the “official development plan” documents on new submittals. If it is surprises like what happened with the allowed alternate apartment development land use at the former Rock Bottom Brewery site, you best have staff do a thorough file-digging search to identify any more surprises.
 
Options outlined for increased council involvement
 
Staff offered options to address the potential interest of council getting deeper involved in development reviews/approvals.
 
First, there is the idea of returning to the Growth Management Plan. Developers would submit their plans to compete for a limited number of “service commitments,” i.e. water taps/building permits. This mechanism played an important role in years gone by, but that “horse is already out of that barn.” There is too little land left to do this option.
 
Secondly, a new development concept review could be established for city council to get an “early” review of major developments. Council would be asked to comment on land use, density, building scale and bulk as well as impacts on water and transportation infrastructure.
 
A third option centers on the Rock Bottom apartment development surprise and administrative approvals. Staff suggests that “certain official development plans” could be required to be reviewed and approved by city council which in the past were within the administrative parameters for approval.
 
Suggested thresholds would need to be established to trigger sending such development plans for formal council action. Thresholds could be stated in minimum residential units or square feet of commercial space.
 
The fourth option, which was not stated by the staff, is to maintain the status quo.
 
Enhance existing administrative approval process
 
Fundamentally, it gets down to trust and communication. Both were lacking in the Rock Bottom episode. The administrative approval process by the city manager has served the city well for more than 40 years. It has allowed timely administrative approvals on developments with existing allowed zoning up to 5 acres in size and a 10% increase in impact.
 
The city manager has always had the option to send development submittals to Planning Commission and City Council if it is concluded that the public would be best served. All things considered, it seems unnecessary to establish an additional step for city council reviews/approvals, which adds more time to the process.
 
By city council spelling out what they want to see which normally would come under the administrative route should suffice plus the city manager could report monthly to council on what submittals are in the pipeline.
 
Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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