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Everything you need to know about Erie’s Home Rule Charter

Everything you need to know about Erie’s Home Rule Charter


NEWS | ELECTION: Erie, Colorado

5/1/2023 updated to clarify when the new Council will be seated

Home Rule, i.e., local control over municipal governance through drafting a charter, may not seem consequential to you, but it has a bigger impact on your life and community than you might realize.  Governor Polis’ housing bill, now working its way through the state legislature, is facing objections from local governments and supporters of Home Rule. Opponents say it oversteps Home Rule rights (and seems to give developers carte blanche, but I digress). Home Rule matters if you want any kind of local control. Arguably, the Home Rule process is one of the most accessible opportunities to participate directly in democracy for constituents.

Most cities adopt Home Rule rights and responsibilities when they reach 2,000-4,000 population. At approximately 35,000 residents, Erie is well past due. 

In November 2022, despite a local disinformation campaign, Erie passed Ballot Measure 22-103, which established a commission to draft Erie’s Home Rule Charter.  The Charter itself will be on Erie residents’ Ballots this November. 

Home Rule was first introduced in the United States in 1865. For those interested in the details, this William and Mary Law Review from 1968 gives the entire history of Home Rule. 


Wikipedia definition:

The work of forming Erie’s Charter has been done every Thursday at Town Hall for the last five months. The nine elected commissioners, Commission Chair Ashraf Shaikh, Vice-Chair Brian O’Connor, and Commissioners Bob Braudes, Sarah Kornely, Chelsea Campbell, Lisa Cunningham, Adam Haid (former Erie Trustee), Candace Whitehouse, and Ben Hemphill chose to meet weekly instead of biweekly so they could learn the process, and maximize community input in it.

As both an Erie resident and a proponent for Erie becoming Home Rule, I watched every meeting at first. After four or five meetings, I realized the Commission was working to be as transparent and thoughtful as possible. They created multiple paths for residents to comment, held a monthly meeting just for public participation, gave weekly updates through a variety of town channels and social media, and thoroughly considered every suggestion. Trustee Andrew Sawusch attended every meeting in person and had the opportunity to present his vision of the Charter. The Commission also allowed Planning Chair Kelly Zuniga to present her vision of how the Planning Committee should be framed in the Charter. (Ultimately, she told them she thought no changes needed to be made.) 

While they took individual suggestions very seriously, the discussion remained focused on what would be the most beneficial to all Erie residents, now and in the future. 

The Commission studied Home Rule Charters adopted by other locales, weighed what was important to the community, and made the majority of their decisions unanimously. I came to trust their process based on their contemplative approach. They also laid out guiding principles for the Commission.

I was able to sit down with several of the Home Rule Commissioners before submitting the Charter to the Board of Trustees on April 25th, 2023, to learn how the process was going. 

Ashraf Shaikh: Home Rule gives us more knobs to turn. A lot of the verbiage in the home rule charter is basically saying we reserve the right to exceed those limitations set by the state as a Statutory Town. 

There are still elements of the state constitution that supersede it no matter what. I am coming from the place of what governing the town of Erie as it grows past 60,000-70,000 will look like. As part of this process, we’re looking at Town charters that have been around since the 1940s.

We are being very careful in the wording as the spirit of what we write will be permanent unless it gets amended in the future.

Bob Braudes: I gained a greater understanding of Home Rule when I looked at the statutes, article 20-16 of the Colorado Constitution, that describes what it is all about. Home Rule is not a liberal versus conservative idea; it’s just a natural maturation process and has been around for a long time. This whole thing is not a pro-tax issue. 

Another important issue in Erie is housing. We need to have more affordable and senior housing homeownership. I think that’s something that’s important. 

We are also putting an article in about open space to ensure that we maintain open space. We’re specifying that it’ll be a special fund. Louisville has a very strong open space section of the charter.

One of the things we worked hard to get was an unbiased view of what people want. So we dedicated one meeting a month where the majority of the meeting is for community comment.

Adam Haid: I learned as a Trustee what it meant to be a Statutory town and the constraints on our own future that were often imposed, so I began doing the research to learn the process of becoming Home Rule. Once a developer gets in and meets the UDC code, once they check all those boxes and are in line with the comp plan, they can propose something, and you really don’t have grounds to deny it.

A benefit you get with taxation is you’ve got people who are much closer to the town and understand what businesses are running, how much sales they have, and what kind of taxes should be collected. The State doesn’t know what’s going on or care – they just wait until entities report their taxes. I think one of the bigger benefits is collecting taxes, the timeliness because if you collect your taxes monthly, you have that money quicker.

Lisa Cunningham: Old Town is what is important to me as a resident. I wanted Old Town to have representation.

I am learning a lot, like how the town operates and understanding the different roles in town. Like what our fiduciary responsibility is with the town council. One of the things that I’m really happy about is that this group of people has done a very good job of looking at what’s reasonable. What is a reasonable responsibility in 2023 to put on a town? We asked ourselves a lot of questions like, why do we feel that we need to put this into our charter? 

One of the things I enjoy the most about the processes is understanding how the town operates currently and how we can support our community. I think in my heart that is the thing that matters the most to me at the end of the day is how I can help build a charter that supports what our town is doing and needs.

You can find all the open meetings on the Town website: https://www.erieco.gov/2079/Home-Rule-Charter-Commission, and summaries of each meeting along with the final Proposed Charter

We have outlined what the Home Rule Charter has in store as well as included the video presentation (at the end of the article)

Taxpayers should be happy to learn one of the big decisions the Commission made was to put all proposed new taxes to a public vote. While the statewide TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) law already prevents new taxes without a public vote, this commission wrote into the Charter that Erie residents would always have the right to approve new taxes – even if TABOR were repealed. 

Commissioner Chair Ashraf Shaikh emphasized that the charter does not, in its provisions, include any new taxes.

We highly encourage all Erie residents to listen to the presentation made by the committee on April 25th, 2023, at the Board of Trustees meeting. It is insightful, straightforward, and transparent. It is about 53 minutes long, so we have outlined the details of the proposed charter here and included the video below.

The preamble was mostly penned by Commissioner Ben Hemphill but agreed upon by the Home Rule Committee.

 The first decision was to remain the Town of Erie instead of becoming the City of Erie. 

Shaikh stated, “We started with town governance, we all decided fairly unanimously to remain the town of Erie rather than the city of Erie, and we’ll continue on with a council-manager form of government.”

As they explored options for how our new town council will be elected, it was obvious that accountability was a common factor in the decision-making. There will also be changes to how Erie’s elections are conducted once the Charter is approved by voters.

The Charter will continue with the city manager handling the day-to-day administration and working with staff, but the biggest change to how residents will vote is the introduction of districts.

Erie will have three districts, six council members, and the mayor if the charter passes. Councilors will be elected to serve for four years but will be staggered, so there will be a vote every two years. The Mayor will be elected at large. 

Shaikh states, “Every resident of Erie will be able to vote for a town representative.”

Shaikh stated there was a lengthy discussion about whether to have the elections in odd years or even. Ultimately, it came down to even years due to the voting numbers. 

“What it came down to at the base of it was we wanted to make sure we had as many people’s voices heard. Looking back at Erie’s historic voter turnout, we’re talking about over 70% turnout for our November even-numbered year elections. We’ve had low 30s for some of our normal April municipal elections. 

In order to make sure our town council was as representative of as much of Erie as possible, we decided to move this to November of even-numbered years. 

And we hope that that allows more people to have their voices heard and represented on the council. And it also allows us to save money by coordinating elections with county and state elections, and that’s just by virtue of moving to November,”  Shaikh states.

The Charter also includes term limits for each elected official. 

The transition of the council had various complications to consider, but ultimately, the Commission decided to extend the current sitting Board’s terms through 2024. The council that is elected on the November 2024 ballot will be seated in January 2025.

Vacancies will be filled through a resident vote with some stipulations. 

“We’ve created a tiered method where the next runner-up will be automatically appointed if it’s close enough to the previous election. But if it’s closer to an upcoming election, we’ll just leave that position open until the next election can take place. And if there’s somewhere in the middle of the period in the middle of those two years, it will go to a special election. It will always be left up to residents to choose their representatives.”

Campaign Finance Reform is written into the Charter, requiring the Town of Erie to increase the requirements around campaign finance reporting for greater transparency.

Transparency was highly important to the Commission, and they built into the Charter some guardrails. 

Regardless if TABOR is repealed in Colorado, the commissioners built voter-approved tax increases into the Charter. Meaning the Town of Erie will never be able to add a tax that is not voter-approved. (Excise taxes on luxury items do not fall under this purview.) 

Regardless of whether the Colorado Open Records Act was ever repealed, the Town of Erie will be required to maintain transparency through a code of ethics and enforcement mechanisms, and measures if the Charter was violated. 

They also require the Town to conduct and make public a yearly audit of town finances, which is currently already happening but will be required in the Charter. 

Next, the Commission sought to protect open space by building it into the Charter.

Shaikh continues, “This past November, the TNACC (Open Space fund) vote passed with 78% of the town voting to extend a tax to protect and acquire open space. You can see by this chart that it’s only gotten more important to the town, percentage-wise, as time has gone on from the initial approval in 2004 of 70% voting to approve, in 2012 up to 74%, and in 2022 up to 78%. In order to listen to the voice of the residents, which is rarely this clear, we’ve established the Open Space and Trails Advisory Board (OSTAB). It currently exists, but it cannot be abolished without a vote of the residents. It will be required to be in place as a town board moving forward. We’ve also required that the town council maintain a fund for the purposes of acquiring, maintaining, and expanding our open space. 

This task was currently held by that TNACC fund, but even if that fund expires at some point, this requires the town to maintain a similar fund once that expires or sunsets.”

Depoliticize Boards & Commissions with a two-thirds vote required for removal.

They set measures to try and prevent the politicization of boards and commissions by making it harder to get rid of boards and commissions as a knee-jerk response to a decision that a person doesn’t like. The vote to remove a board or commission member requires a two-thirds vote of the council instead of a simple majority currently. 

Stronger Health and Safety Ordinances are written into the Charter, as well.

Local control for Health & Safety is being built into the Charter, ensuring the town can set ordinances and penalties according to what the Town of Erie needs and not limiting the town to state enforcement policies. 

The last piece in the charter will involve resident involvement, as the Commission is adding a ballot issue for voters to decide how Council pay should be set.

Shaikh states, “We on the commission couldn’t decide on the best way to handle Council pay.  

We know it’s kind of a political hot potato; no one wants to be seen increasing their own pay or voting for increased pay. 

We all unanimously agreed current pay is very low for the amount of time worked that you all {Board of Trustees} do. We’ve met with you independently and in a study session to get an idea of what you do for this town, and we all agree that you are not paid enough for what you do. But setting pay by ordinance, which you currently have the power to do and haven’t done, I don’t remember the last time that the council has set their own pay, it’s not politically easy to do for various reasons.

So we settled on leaving it to the residents.

We are presenting a ballot question alongside this charter in the November 2023 election, where the pay will be set at a hard number.

I believe we set it at $1200/mo for the mayor and $700/mo for the counselors, and then it will be increased yearly in January using the CPI {Consumer Price Index}, an area-wide pricing metric for how the area’s doing. 

That {CPI} rolls in things like inflation and median pay, resulting in a yearly pay increase every January.

And it would remove from the council the right to set their own pay.

That takes it out of the council’s hands. There’s no more political issue. 

That will be presented as a ballot question as an immediate amendment to the charter alongside the charter in November.”


Mayor – at Large,
3 Districts with 2 Town Council members each
All elected officials serve 4-year terms
Staggered terms within districts 
Term Limits – Maximum of 2 consecutive terms
November Election – even years
Filling Vacancies based on the resident vote – tiered approach
Campaign Finance Transparency 
Recalls-Signatures based on the percentage of votes
The current Council will remain seated through 2024. The new election will occur November 2024, and the new Council will be seated in January 2025.
Voter-approval required for any new taxes and none are included in the charter
Open Space Board permanently established in the Charter
Special District Reform
Voters will determine Council Pay with an additional Ballot measure in the November 2023 Election.

It has been an exciting process to observe democracy unfold in its purest form. It has been reassuring to learn the commissioners conducted themselves with integrity throughout the process. However, the Charter itself is what Erie (myself included) is voting on. Based on these outlines, I am voting yes.




Shavonne Blades grew up on the West Coast but moved to Colorado in High School. She left for California after school and returned to Colorado in 1990. She got her start in media at the age of 21 in Santa Cruz, California as an advertising sales rep. Having no experience and nothing more than a couple of years as an art college attendee she felt the bug to work in media at a young age. She learned that by helping her customers with design and marketing, their campaigns would be far more successful and has made a 30+ year career in design, copywriting, and marketing for her clients. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPy4MMdcfLg. She has always chosen to work in Independent Media and believes deeply in the need for true, authentic Community Journalism. She is proud that YS has never compromised journalism standards in its 20+ history and continues to print YS on paper monthly while also expanding web coverage. She has worked at 3 Alternative Weeklies and founded Yellow Scene Magazine in 2000. You can learn more about Shavonne's adventures in the YS 20th Anniversary issue: https://yellowscene.com/2020/10/08/the-yellow-scenes-red-tornado/

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