Elbert County commissioners have approved a resolution that will let voters decide in November whether to eliminate term limits for the office of Elbert County sheriff.
Chris Richardson, committee chairman for the Citizens for Free Elections, the group proposing the question, made an initial presentation to the commissioners in July, citing the limited pool of qualified candidates in the county. He also asserted that voters should decide what is best for Elbert County when it comes to electing a sheriff.
In follow-up comments to the commissioners on Aug. 12, when they made their decision, Richardson confirmed that his organization collected 1,001 signatures in support of the question during a petition drive last spring.
District I Commissioner Robert Rowland clarified for the public that a petition is not a legal requirement for presenting a question for the ballot, but acknowledged that the organization had conducted the effort to demonstrate community support for the question.
“For this type of local issue, the process of petition is not allowed for it to get on the ballot,” Rowland said. “The effort to do that process, even though it wasn't directly required, was done as an exercise in demonstrating the will of the citizens of this county.”
Sheriff Shayne Heap is serving his second term, which will conclude at the end of 2018. Heap was initially elected in 2010 and ran unopposed for re-election in 2014.
Richardson does not see the ballot question as a referendum on the current sheriff's performance, but sees Heap's job approval and popularity as something that will undoubtedly influence the vote in November.
“This is not about electing a sheriff for life,” Richardson has said on multiple occasions.
In 1994, the state's voters approved an amendment to the Colorado Constitution limiting county elected officials to two, four-year terms, but there is a provision allowing voters to modify the term limits for local offices.
Currently all of Elbert County's elected officials are restricted to two terms. In November 2009, Elbert County voters defeated a general ballot measure eliminating term limits for the offices of assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer. The resolution approved by the commissioners on Aug. 12 pertains only to the office of sheriff.
In November 2011, a similar ballot question in neighboring Douglas County proposing an increase in the number of terms the sheriff may serve from two to three was defeated, with 60 percent of voters rejecting the idea.
According to Colorado Counties Inc., the great majority of counties in the state have made some type of modification to the term limits established in 1994.