The editorial board of the Denver Post weighed in this week on efforts by community activists in Jefferson County to increase the number of County Commissioners from 3 to 5:
Jefferson County voters may have an opportunity this fall to decide whether to expand the county commission from three members to five. We hope backers of this idea are able to get the 17,445 signatures necessary to make the November ballot…
…[W]e believe that in a county as large as Jeffco, five elected officials could give constituents more access and better representation. Furthermore, on a three-member board, all it takes is a two-person majority to control policy — a small number for a sophisticated operation.
We've been following the efforts of the nonpartisan group "Jeffco 5" for some time now, and it's good to see the Post taking a look at an issue that is of significant importance to hundreds of thousands of Metro Denver residents. The Post editorial appeared on the same day as a story by reporter John Aguilar examining the issue:
Jefferson County sprawls across 773 square miles of mountains, cities, ranch land and suburbs and has more than half a million people within its borders.
That's enough turf and population to prompt some residents to start pushing for a ballot issue this fall that would expand the three-commissioner board to five members.
Karen Oxman, a former Golden city councilwoman and a leader with the Jeffco5 citizen initiative, said the county's sheer size and population — with nearly 550,000 people — merit the change.
"Many residents, especially those living in the unincorporated parts of Jefferson County, feel very underrepresented," Oxman said.
Her group is in the midst of gathering the 17,445 signatures needed to make it onto the November ballot. The deadline to turn petitions into the county clerk is June 30. The board would not go to five members until early 2017.
Oxman points out that some of the biggest and most populous counties in Colorado — Arapahoe, El Paso and Weld — have five commissioners. Adams County will be moving to such a system next year.
Opponents of the effort to move to 5 Commissioners elected by district — instead of all Commissioners elected countywide — point primarily to the cost of adding two new seats, an argument that is silly at best. Salaries for Commissioners are set by the state, and at $87,300 apiece, the overall impact on a budget of some $481 million is a bargain if it brings better representation. Or as former Lakewood City Council Member Carl Neu tells the Post, the potential cost represents "a teaspoon in the ocean."
With a three-member board of Commissioners, decisions for an entire county are essentially made by just two people. And while many Jeffco residents also live in cities such as Lakewood, Golden, and Arvada, roughly half of county residents live in "unincorporated" areas that rely solely on county government for services.