Keystone residents eye community input as they write the rules for the new town

Keystone residents eye community input as they write the rules for the new town

Since voting to become Colorado’s newest town on March 28, a select group of Keystone residents has been hammering out the details of its charter — the guiding document for any municipality. 

Nine residents were elected in March to sit on the town’s charter commission, which has met publicly five times since then. Now, the commission is planning a May 22 town hall to hear from Keystone community members as they draft rules.

“When we’re talking about the community, we’re talking about the residents and registered voters, second-home owners, business owners, people who work in Keystone,” said commission Chairperson Ken Riley.

Riley, who led the incorporation effort as president of two nonprofits, Incorporate Keystone and Keystone Citizens League, said the goal is to hear from community members about what they do — and don’t — want to see in the charter as it continues to come into focus. 

So far, much of the commission’s work has centered around the charter’s foundational elements, which include establishing the structure of government, a code of ethics, the roles of elected officials and the rules for certain processes, such as recalling an official and drafting an ordinance. 

Those meetings have all been open to the public and typically occur on Monday afternoons at the Keystone Center, Riley said. 

“We’re probably not quite halfway through the process,” Riley said of the charter, adding that he does not expect a finished draft to be completed until the end of June or early July. 

Once a draft is ready, the charter will be handed over to members of the town’s election commission, who a 5th Judicial District judge appointed to oversee all aspects of the town’s elections before its government is fully established. 

Four election commission members, Dan Sullivan, Gretchen Davis, Julia Metzger and William Schorling, also sit on the charter commission. 

The election commission will then need to call an election within 60 days of receiving the draft, according to Riley. If voters do not approve the proposed charter then the charter commission has a second chance of revising it before putting it to another vote. 

But if it fails to pass a second time, the town will automatically become statutory instead of home rule, a scenario that Riley and others say they’re doing everything they can to avoid. 

“The charter commission would be foolish to put a draft charter out on the street that we didn’t believe would be in the best interest of Keystone and couldn’t pass in an election,” he said. “None of us want this town to become a statutory town.”

Statutory communities are subject to more state-enforced rules and regulations compared to home rules municipalities, which are afforded more independence and self-governing ability. 

For example, home rule municipalities can schedule their own special elections, enact ordinances specific to their community, oversee zoning and land-use decisions and have greater control over tax revenues. Statutory communities defer much of that to state statute and the will of the state legislature, according to a fact sheet from the Colorado Municipal League

The town’s fate as either a home rule or statutory community could rest on how accommodating its charter is. Commission members believe that one of the biggest discussions will center around the status of part-time residents and second-home owners, who weren’t allowed to vote in the March 28 election. 

That’s far from uncommon in rural resort communities, which, despite their large population of seasonal residents, typically restrict voting in local elections to just full-time residents who live and work in the area. 

Just over 900 registered voters were able to cast ballots in the March election, despite thousands of property owners, some of whom rent their homes as short-term rentals or use it for vacations. 

Some property owners have recently called for representation in Keystone elections. 

“The charter commission for Keystone has the opportunity to unify the people who are permanent residents and those who own second homes by permitting both to vote on municipal matters,” wrote Steve Nelson, a second-home owner, in a May 1 letter to the editor. 

Valerie Thisted, a full-time Keystone resident and member of the charter commission, said she foresees the voting status of non-permanent residents being a “hot-button issue” as the commission continues its work. 

As a resident, Thisted said she has concerns about certain property owners gaining the ability to vote in Keystone elections, adding that it could distort local representation given the small number of more permanent residents. 

“It would trade county control for second-home owner control, given the numbers,” Thisted said. “That’s not to say that I don’t think there’s a potential for second homeowners to have a voice.”

But Thisted said she hopes those community members still attend and make their voices heard during the May 22 charter meeting, adding that one of the biggest challenges about the commission’s work “is helping to educate the public about civic topics that are relevant to a charter.”

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Keystone Center, located at 1628 Saints John Road. More information about the charter committee, including meeting minutes and copies of the charter draft, can be found on the Incorporate Keystone website at IncorporateKeystone.WildApricot.org/.

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