Judge, District 4 candidates tackle issues in Englewood forum

Marijuana, budget, biogas, traffic tickets discussed

Posted 10/21/17

At an unlikely stage for politics — Moe's Original Bar B Que on South Broadway — two candidates for the Englewood municipal judge seat and two District 4 candidates for Englewood City Council weighed in on issues like the 2018 budget, Englewood's biogas repurposing proposal and the approach a judge should take in municipal court.

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Judge, District 4 candidates tackle issues in Englewood forum

Marijuana, budget, biogas, traffic tickets discussed

Posted

At an unlikely stage for politics — Moe's Original Bar B Que on South Broadway — two candidates for the Englewood municipal judge seat and two District 4 candidates for Englewood City Council weighed in on issues like the 2018 budget, Englewood's biogas repurposing proposal and the approach a judge should take in municipal court.

District 4 challenger Dave Cuesta and incumbent Councilmember Rick Gillit had at times testy exchanges about whether the 2018 budget is balanced at the Oct. 17 event.

Budget balanced?

"I would say no," said Cuesta, referencing whether the 2018 budget proposal is balanced and saying it shows roughly a shortfall of $372,000 between uses of funds and sources of funds. "Now, you'll hear other people tell you (it is)."

Gillit used an analogy about personal savings to illustrate his argument that the budget is balanced based on money left over from previous years.

"We put that money aside," said Gillit, the mayor pro tem, to the audience. "As you would if you were going on vacation, you would transfer that money from savings to checking."

Gillit said Englewood's budget must be balanced by law, and Cuesta claimed that saying the budget is balanced by itself is "just not true."

An Englewood resolution dated March 21, 2016, said the city is legally required to balance its budget under the city's charter and under state law and that the balancing takes into account any surplus of funds the city may have. The budget was passed Oct. 16 over "no" votes by councilmembers Rita Russell and Laurett Barrentine.

Biogas plan — safe or risky?

On the question of Englewood's proposed project with Littleton to repurpose biogas fuel from their wastewater treatment plant to sell for a profit — a goal Gillit has voted to explore — Cuesta said he's skeptical.

"The project essentially banks on the energy market," Cuesta said. "Little old Englewood putting $8 million into the market and hoping it works out." The $8 million figure is one possible amount for construction of the most expensive option, a cost proposed to be split with Littleton.

Cuesta argued that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is cutting a lot of renewable energy credits that oil companies buy. But Reuters reported Oct. 20 that the EPA decided not to change policy on the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, the program that requires refineries to blend ethanol and other biofuels into the nation's fuel supply or buy credits from those who do. The program currently extends until 2022.

Englewood bases one possible option of biogas recovery on the continuance of the Renewable Fuel Standard program, which would enable the city to gain revenue from the program's credits. Cuesta said the program is too risky and claimed it would raise costs on Englewood citizens.

"Council has not decided on how we're gonna fund this," Gillit said. "There has been no decision on that. The vote last night (at the Oct. 16 city council meeting) was to move this forward to get more information" on how to fund the project. The options for funding the project — possibly bringing in a third-party private company to absorb some financial risk — may not be decided for months.

Marijuana regulation

The final question asked how recreational marijuana should be regulated in the city.

"I propose it should regulate retail marijuana the way it does now: tightly," said Cuesta, the chief compliance officer for marijuana dispensary Native Roots. He noted that Englewood citizens voted to legalize recreational marijuana shops in the city in 2016 and said it would bring in hundreds of thousands in revenue for the city.

Gillit disputed the amount of revenue recreational marijuana sales could bring in, saying there's been no official estimate on that. He implied Cuesta supported the measure because of his position in the marijuana industry.

"I work with this company to audit them tirelessly, endlessly," said Cuesta, who was once a criminal investigator for the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Judge candidates weigh in

Municipal judge candidate Joe Jefferson, the current mayor, said Englewood has the only publicly elected municipal judge seat in Colorado, and there are three candidates in the race.

One of his opponents, Angela Schmitz - third candidate Clifton Hypsher was not there - said the Legislature, not the court, is the place to go on the question of whether police should ask people about their immigration status.

"I generally view this question as a policy question," Jefferson agreed. "Our current (police department) is not asking for immigration status when making traffic stops."

Question about police

On the question of what the judge should do if the city finds evidence of discriminatory actions by police, Jefferson said if there are issues that are systemic, they should be addressed by the mayor and city council.

Schmitz said she makes careful review of whether there's probable cause for arrest in cases and that when police officers are witnesses in trials, she hasn't sensed that they're discriminating.

"But it is possible," said Schmitz, emphasizing that she reviews evidence carefully. She's a current associate municipal judge for the city of Englewood.

Code violations

On the question of what the judge can do about what one citizen called "contradictory enforcement" of code violations, Jefferson, the principal attorney at his firm Jefferson Legal Group, nodded to city council.

"I will plan on meeting with city council at least twice a year about how I see enforcement going and how we're getting convictions" and if changes are necessary, Jefferson said.

The city prosecutor is the one who decides what cases to bring, Schmitz said.

"When it does come to me ... when you have similar kinds of cases like a dog control case, you want to make sure that your sentences are consistent."

Other comments on court

Jefferson said he wanted to get the court "into the 21st century" by allowing people to pay speeding and parking tickets online and providing an electronic calendar or docket so people won't forget when they need to appear in court. He also supported a "restorative justice" idea, where if a young person sprays graffiti, their punishment should be graffiti removal to teach them the damage of their actions, for example.

Schmitz said she would support a possible homeless docket to deal with cases for homeless people in a different way and supports reminders for failures to appear.

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