Community Corner – Yates Wielded Forbidden Power

Published on: October 22nd, 2019

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The City of Boulder’s Charter, Article II, Section 13, describes the only power expressly withheld from council members; Bob Yates violated this rule blatantly and publicly. For such flouting of this express rule limiting council member powers, voters will have to decide if Yates should be rewarded with keeping his seat in the upcoming election. This Charter section reads as follows:

Except for purposes of inquiry, the council shall deal with the administrative service solely and directly through the city manager, and . . council . . .  shall [not] direct . . . the work of any officer or employee under the city manager. Any such . . . interference on the part of any member of the council shall be punishable in the manner deemed appropriate by the other members of the council, which may include removal from office. (Emphasis added)

While the reasoning for this single express power being withheld from council members is not clear, its existence as the sole limit on their power speaks to the value of it to those who created the laws. One can guess it was meant to ensure no single council member could interfere with and direct the actions of police officers or other city employees.

The night before an August, 2016, study session on homelessness, Yates shared in a meeting with homeless advocates, myself included, that it was “difficult . . . to say, ‘Chief [of police] please more firmly enforce the camping ban,’ . . . without a companion emergency housing solution.” Shockingly, the very next night, Council Member Yates spoke directly to Chief Testa and directed him to fully enforce the camping ban.

Yates broke the lone rule forbidding such direction. He overcame whatever supposed difficulty he had contemplated, issuing with hubris a firm imperative to our Chief of Police in absolute violation of the City Charter.

While Yates’s fellow council members took no action for this violation, the voters of Boulder have an opportunity to send a message to every city council member this November when voting on Yates’s open seat: council members are not above the law. 

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