GUEST EDITORIAL: Julia Pirnack on the First Amendment

Under the guise of promoting “transparency” in campaigns, this summer the City passed legislation that I believe violates first amendment protections. I am one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the Longmont “Fair” Campaign Practices Act because it threatens freedom of speech and has direct negative impacts on our community’s ability to discuss policy issues and candidates. Freedom of speech means just that: freedom to discuss what you wish without undue regulation and oversight. While some exceptions have been allowed, the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear: no law should be made infringing on free speech.

During my last months as Longmont’s mayor, a few people made it their business every week during council meetings and almost daily in the blogs, to launch personal attacks, lies and innuendo against me, other council members, businesses and others. At the time, many people asked me why I chose not to use my discretion as mayor to suppress attacks during meetings. My answer was always the same – people have the right to express what they wish, even though I may have thought their speech was politically motivated, downright deceptive or derogatory in the extreme.

If we set up laws, committees or regulators of “rightness,” we empower them to decide what we should hear based upon their own biases and motivations. We lose the battle to maintain our freedom to speak without threat of retribution or fines. Rather than government oversight, it is up to each listener to be their own regulator – for each individual to judge the value of the speech, its truth, and yes, the character of those speaking. 

Many years ago, a singular piece of federal legislation was proposed for adoption. This legislation was of such importance that one citizen decided extraordinary amounts of personal time and money must be dedicated to persuade the public on its merits. He decided to publish a series of papers promoting adoption of the legislation. For whatever reason, he wrote anonymously. He contracted with printers and enlisted a couple of personal and political friends to assist.

This series became the famous Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, supporting adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the Papers were “The best commentary on the principles of government which was ever written.” 84 papers were published under the pseudonym “Publius.”

Had Hamilton tried to publish the Federalist Papers in Longmont today, under the Longmont “Fair” Campaign Practices Act he would have been threatened and “… fined for [his] political views” (August 2009 City Line) to the tune of $200 per day, because he didn’t report to the City clerk first, note on each paper how much they cost (he didn’t know how many he would publish), and notify candidates and committees of his activities. As a people, we have forgotten that good arguments have the real power to persuade and that no amount of regulation, red tape and reporting will promote public understanding.

Instead of clarifying the City’s position on the lawsuit’s allegations, our City posts threats for non-compliance in newsletters and on TV, and our City attorney plays politics, shown clearly in the Times Call article of October 3rd. The article states City attorney Mei finds the timing of the lawsuit “curious” and wonders why plaintiffs wouldn’t just ask the clerk what they can or can’t do. “Instead, they chose to make this into a much bigger deal.” Sorry Mr. Mei, but I think first amendment violations by City government are a big deal.

Resolving the violations in the LFCPA would benefit everyone in Longmont, not just one faction or another – that is the whole point. Rather than follow their current lawsuit-happy path (note the City demanded that this local issue be removed to federal court), there is a simple, lower cost option for the Council to pursue. Acknowledge that there may be legitimate concerns, roll back the amendments to the LFCPA that violate first amendment rights and ask the election commission to craft a piece of legislation that passes constitutional muster. If the “curious” summer amendments to the LFCPA really weren’t politically motivated by some members of our current Council, they should not have any problem with taking another look at legitimate citizen concerns.

One way to get even with your political enemies

Politics in Longmont are getting more political by the minute. Latest example is the work of the City Council’s handpicked Election Committee, which met for the first time on Oct. 12 to determine which complaints out of several filed by a disgruntled councilwoman against her political enemies were worthy of pursuit. They accepted two for further action. Unfortunately, by the committee’s lawyer telling the committee members–who at the next step will serve as both judge and jury–that they should assume “that all facts stated in the written complaints are true,” this quasi-judicial process has the markings of a kangaroo court.

Bolstering that assumption are two more items: the committee’s willingness to accept amendments to complaints already filed (where do the accusations end?); and the possible prejudice of an Election Committee member who intimated that she may have already made up her mind about one of the complaints, a complicated political issue involving a poll, saying the complainant’s name was used “as many as five times.” Keep in mind that the Longmont citizens who are defendants in this process are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The complainant promises to keep using this special committee to file more charges. Who’s the next victim of Longmont’s repressive Fair Campaign Practices ordinance?

Percy Conarroe
Res. Bldr. County 44 yrs.,
7 of them in Longmont.

Party politics at the heart of negative tone

by Aaron Rawlins
Guest Opinion for the Times-Call

October 14, 2009

As I sat down to write this, I realized I have not spoken or written publicly since I gave my concession speech on Nov. 6, 2007. The Times-Call said the Ward 1 election was “a surprise” and council member Hansen was quoted as saying, “I did not think I had a great chance of winning.” I can honestly say I was stunned. I did all the things that people advised would make me successful. However, my opponent used a much more effective strategy. He won by a healthy margin.

Almost two years after that day, a lot of things became clear about the 2007 election. For the first time, political party power was used to pick and elect the candidates in Longmont city government.

Political parties were created to win elections. They have been doing it for more than 200 years in this country, and they brought many of the same tools that made them successful at the national level to our elections. Candidates choosing to band together was a powerful strategy that in the last election showed to be key.

There seem to be some lingering issues with choosing that strategy. When political parties pick candidates, the candidate takes a much smaller subset of the community than someone starting out as a whole. The edges of the party are the hardest support to get, so you get candidates even farther from the center. In the “old guard,” you in fact had people in parties but never driven by them or indebted to them. The bloc members selected and supported by a party during the last election are much farther from the center than what we have ever seen in the past and run an agenda that does not match issues important to running a city.

Another issue is you get candidates that in the past might not have been able to get elected on their own merits. We elected a bloc that has been shown to have weak communication skills or little ability to lead a city in such difficult times. Sadly, most of our current council can’t even run a meeting. Poor communication and incompetence often leads to increased anger. The few centrists left don’t have the votes or pull to move city business forward. The city’s business has quickly become a mess.

The parties and the voters brought partisan politics to our community last election. Sadly, or ironically, I can’t tell which, Richard Juday, who was a lead architect of bringing about this culture, has now called for a solution that can make things worse. Creating yet another partisan group to limit speech is much like the idea of bloodletting in the late 19th century. The cure is most likely much worse then the cause and is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. Why would we put four political partisans in a single group and think this will solve partisanship?

There is no group that can fix the issue of the candidates drifting farther and farther from the political center. This is up to you, the voter, to look at each candidate based on his or her own views and not which party he or she belongs to. If you want to change the political culture, you need to vote for moderates who will work together to solve common problems. We don’t need to vote for blocs. We need to vote for independent thinkers and people who will use their votes on council to push what is right for the people of Longmont, not to whichever party they belong to.

Sadly, the voters cannot fix this issue this year alone. I think we will have to deal with partisan politics for some time. If we vote for free thinkers, the civility will hopefully once again return to what it once was. But voting is a responsibility, and if the voters of Longmont step up and take ownership instead of letting people with agendas take the lead, then the voters can also take responsibility for fixing the issue as well. That is my true hope for ending the current political culture we are now in.

Aaron Rawlins has lived in Longmont for 11 years. In 2007, Rawlins lost his bid for the Ward 1 seat on the Longmont City Council to Brian Hansen.

Benker outwitted by Witt in Chamber debate

Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum and Debate / September 30, 2009
Ward 2 candidate portion featuring Karen Benker & Katie Witt
Below are some observations of the recent debate you won’t find anywhere else.  While there were video cameras present, so far no videos of this debate has surfaced anywhere.  I have a full audio recording of this event and have made comments based on that recording, but also the feel of the debate since I attended it, and the general consensus and comments of people in the room.  This Ward 2 race in particular is one of the most watched races not just in the city, but has also been the subject of stories in Boulder and Denver publications.
This race pits incumbent council member and Mayor Pro Tem Karen Benker against candidate Katie Witt.  Much can be found online at their websites about each candidate.  The Times-Call story about this was slim on the events of this debate, I assume due to space limitations. It was much more interesting than the impression that story left, to me anyway.  Some of the quotes are paraphrased but gets the gist of the intent.
Opening Statements
Karen Benker: Her “Tell you about myself” segment went through her resume of a lifetime government bureaucrat.  Not much else.  Did not say why she was running or why she wanted to remain in office.
Katie Witt:  Introduced herself and said why she was running.  “Prosperity, Honesty, and Opportunity” was her theme.  Make tough budget decisions in a timely manner, based on what’s best for Longmont and not political expediency.  Need a council that doesn’t bully neighbors with lawsuits.  And doesn’t hold endless secret meetings or ignoring open records act.  Get mall going again.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt, for the reasons stated above.
Question: How do envision the relationship between City Council and local businesses and state one area that needs improvement.
Karen Benker:  First part was so quiet as to be unintelligible.  Once again read a laundry list of what council and staff has done.  I can only assume her point was that “here’s what we’ve done, and plan on continuing to do the same.” 
Katie Witt:  Council needs to stop being obstructionists.  Agreed with Councilmember Benker that mall is important, but so is the budget.  Thought it was a “gigantic fail” not moving forward with the first phase of development of the mall.  Said there was micromanaging going on and council wanted to dictate too much, which is not their job.  Should have listened more to our own Planning and Zoning Commission.  Need to rebuild trust with the community.
Question:  On the topic of economic vitality, there are several organizations in the city, such as the LAEC, the LDDA, Small Business Development Center and many more that are designed to promote economic vitality.  What is your plan to encourage the city and these organizations to work toward a common goal for economic vitality in Longmont?
Katie Witt:  The job of city council is to encourage all of these organizations to work in the same direction.  We’ve seen in the past turf wars into who’s doing what.  We need to bring businesses to Longmont, and keep them here.  Each of those organizations has a role.  Forming Economic Development Department was important.  She struggled on this one, a little too vague.
Karen Benker:  Mentioned Shop Local Longmont as a way the city has worked with different organizations.  Discussed her role on the LDDA in this area.  Mentioned LAVA.
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  People want to shop local but there aren’t a whole lot of options.  Mentioned the Mall again in this context.  Sams Club.  High end shopping opportunities.  “Mall is canary in a coalmine” as an indicator of the success of the city.  Until the mall is fixed it will discourage businesses from coming to Longmont.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Agreed the mall is the most important issue facing the city.  She asked people to put aside what they currently see at the mall as the city has a much larger vision for it.  (If I were the council member of the ward the mall resides in, I’d beg voters to overlook the current condition of the mall, too)  Mentioned FasTracks station at the mall.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt finished stronger after a sluggish start, but slight edge to Karen Benker.
QUESTION:  What is your specific solution to solve Longmont’s budget shortfall?
Karen Benker:  Whispers at beginning, unintelligible.  Cut 46 city positions.  Unintelligible about employee cuts and furloughs.  Increased fees, consolidated 8 departments down to 6.  Cut capital expenditures and one time expenditures to balance the budget.  Council is struggling to be fair to residents while at the same time providing city services.
Katie Witt:  Drop the lawsuit with Firestone.  City had an option but used litigation instead of intergovernmental agreements.  Spent $139k in court costs (actually much higher) plus $300k in Firestone’s court costs that we are on the hook for.  Said “grown ups” don’t go litigation route but instead work out our differences through communication.  Council keeps putting off the decisions necessary to work out the budget.  Some things need to be put on hiatus.  Need to be as transparent about how we spend our money.  City’s checkbook should be online.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Tried to put into perspective the lawsuit amount to the overall budget.  Got testy about getting out the red pen saying “we’ve already done that”.  Used the scare tactic of closing down the library and senior center, disagreed that those weren’t essential services (but Katie Witt didn’t mention the library or senior center as places to cut).
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  Doesn’t want city council to play “political hopscotch” with special interests and make decisions based on who they like and who they don’t like (Thistle, Panattoni).  City council needs to make decisions based on the most efficient use of our resources, which hasn’t been done.  Used recent example of indecision on council over fees.  Fee’s impact people. 
ADVANTAGEKatie Witt.  She got Karen Benker on the defensive and testy about the Firestone lawsuit and budget cutting.
QUESTION:  The current city council once stated that this is a council that gets things done, do you agree with this statement?
Katie Witt:  Does not agree with this statement.  It doesn’t take an expert in any sort of field to recognize our mall is stalled, and our downtown area has a lot of room for improvement.  Hallmarks of this council has been divisiveness, not decisiveness.  Micromanaging.  Studies, which are great if you’re willing to act on those studies, but council is wasting money on researching questions and not acting.  “Paralysis of analysis”.  Need fresh perspective, different face across the table.  Transparency.  Wants Longmont to live up to its potential.  Currently spinning its wheels.  Attitude in the city comes from the top down and people take their cues from what’s going on on city council.
Karen Benker:  “We brought GE and almost 200 jobs to Longmont”.  Supplier to Vestas, Western Digital, single stream recycling, balanced the budget, affordable senior housing, purchased open space, ended Clover Basin tax, Main St initiatives, revitalize Longmont Theater, summer concert series.  Increased downtown parking.
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  “I would really like to know what the city council did to woo GE here” (audible clap from crowd).  To Karen Benker she asked what her part was.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Hard to hear initial answer, something about $180k/year, but she restated she’s a member of LAEC (called it the Longmont Area Economic Development Council).  Said that city staff and resources support LAEC (funds were actually cut by this council), again said she was a board member of LAEC.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt.  Karen Benker once again read a laundry list of things the city has done, not what she has done.  Caught flat footed on the GE question and struggled.  Katie Witt went after the procrastination of this council.  Had there been a second rebuttal, Karen Benker left a wide opening with her LAEC comments.
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Ward 2 resident asked why Karen Benker keeps saying she ended the Clover Basin Fire District fee as nothing has been signed (technically true).  Karen Benker:  Council voted 7-0 to end this tax (false statement, they voted 7-0 for staff to draft a resolution), said “last night voted on minor details” (not minor, Clover Basin residents have to cover the $4k to $10k fee to dissolve the district).  Reiterated the tax will end January 1st.  (Not on agenda for Oct 6th meeting, this question/answer couldn’t have gone much worse for Karen Benker)
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  How much will shutting down this district contribute to the budget gap – directed at Karen Benker.
Karen Benker:  talked about the millions of dollars those residents have paid, gave history of tax.  City will be picking up small amount to extinguish the debt they owe the city.  (Did NOT answer question, around $275,000)
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Question about the boundaries of Ward 2.
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  There was an attack push poll ad poll conducted “in your name” (Katie Witt).  It’s not how we need to do politics in this town.  Asked if Katie Witt was going to report that on her campaign report.  (This speaker was later seen leaving the event with Ms. Benker, and obvious plant)
Katie Witt – She said in contentious races things get out of candidates control.  She apologized but did not know who did it, has no way of getting in touch with those individuals, or she would tell them to stop.  She asked whoever was doing it to not do it.  Mentioned another phone call that went out that she didn’t know about or approve of.  Said there are a lot of people concerned with what’s going on with city council right now and they’re trying to make people aware.  Unfortunately they are using tactics she would not personally use or approve of.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt.  Karen Benker falsely answered one of the questions, and didn’t answer the other one at all.  Katie Witt answered a leading accusatory statement and question pretty thoroughly.
OVERALL DEBATE WINNERKatie Witt 5-1 on opening statement and answers. 
Karen Benker was stiff, rarely smiled, often spoke too softly to be heard or understood.  She was put on the defensive on the second question and her demeanor from that point on was one of irritation.  She mostly went down her list of “accomplishments” from her brochure and website, didn’t really talk to the audience, but mostly read to them.
Katie Witt had a strong opening statement, stood up to do it, read off some cards, but not overly so.  She stumbled during the second question on business development and was too general and vague, not a good thing in front of business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce function. 
After this point, Ms. Benker could have capitalized and cruised through the rest of the debate as she had Ms. Witt on the ropes.  The next question should have been an easy one for Ms. Benker involving the budget shortfall and how to handle it.  But she went into a shell, spoke too timidly, and starting going down a list of items in a fairly dull manner.  Ms. Witt immediately went on the attack and it pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the debate.
One of the rare quotes used in the rather lackluster Times-Call coverage of this debate was Ms. Benker saying the council had already got out the red pen to cut the budget.  What wasn’t mentioned was the context of that comment, what brought it on, and how Ms. Benker was put on the defensive starting with that question and from that point on.  Ms. Benker really never answered the question of what her solution to the budget problem was, just what council has done up to this point.  Not much future vision.
Ms. Witt was blunt in some of her answers about council not getting much done, and Ms. Benker response was another laundry list read off, not very inspiring, and got caught with her mentioning GE again and later on about taking credit for ending the Clover Basin tax.  Those were two major glaring errors for Ms. Benker.  The audience questions were 2-1 hostile towards Ms. Benker, and the hostile question to Ms. Witt was something she claimed she had nothing to do with.
I had heard about how supposedly smooth and experienced Ms. Benker is/was.  I saw her at the Longmont Area Democrat forum as well and did not see any kind of smoothness or better than average public speaking ability – and that was in front of a friendly crowd.  This Chamber crowd has some built in hostility towards the often anti-business, and nearly always anti-LAEC attitude of Ms. Benker (along with her fellow council members McCoy, Levison, and Hansen).  I still thought she would at least stay even or ahead of Ms. Witt in this debate.
After Ms. Witt stumbled on the second question I figured it was going to be a long 30-40 minutes for her and a major blow to her campaigns chances of unseating Ms. Benker.  But she turned it around and was much more poised and a better public speaker than Ms. Benker.  Ms. Benker was often morose and appeared moody, Ms. Witt by comparison was fired up and throwing everything just short of the kitchen sink at Ms. Benker.  While Ms. Witt did roll her eyes a couple of times, her attitude was not nasty.
Basically, Ms. Benker came across as a cold, detached, emotionless bureaucrat and politician.  Ms. Witt came across as the every-woman concerned citizen with the luxury of having Ms. Benkers record to take one shot after another at – and often scoring direct hits. 
This debate was really the only debate these candidates will have.  The Times-Call Candidate Forum will not be a debate, and should be much less stressful.  This Chamber debate had a very large crowd, bright lights, video cameras, and many of the movers, shakers, and decision makers in the community.  This venue was larger and more of a pressure cooker than I expected.

While Ms. Witt greatly helped her chances, I can’t imagine even the most die-hard Benker supporter being thrilled with their candidates overall performance at this event.

(Picture source: Times-Call)

Dueling in the Times-Call Open Forum

For my non-Longmont readers, or those Longmont residents that don’t get the Times-Call (and if not, why not?), there was an interesting exchange today between myself and sitting Longmont City Council member Karen Benker.  There is so much behind the scenes buried within our statements that it would help if I do a little running commentary through this exchange.  Enjoy.
E-mail should have been in public folder
While perusing some emails on the city’s server (and a special thanks goes to the City Clerks Office), I noticed an interesting exchange between Councilmember Karen Benker and Greg Burt.  Ms. Benker said in one of the emails that she has “emails from folks that substantiate” that Mr. Burt is being paid to “investigate” her.  You may also recall in an Aug. 5 Times-Call op-ed, Ms. Benker quoted an email from Mr. Burt. 

One problem: those emails don’t exist on the city servers.

So either Ms. Benker is lying in that statement, or she has once again ignored the rules about forwarding all correspondence to the city servers (that would be the Colorado Open Records Act).  There has been enough warning to the council members to send these emails.  There is no excuse for Ms. Benker to flout this rule.

In the email she also slings mud at her opponent Katie Witt saying it was too bad she was “going negative in this upcoming campaign”.  But later in the same email, she asks Mr. Burt “So what individual or group has hired you?  What are the terms of your contract?  and How much are you getting paid to investigate me?”  In other words she’s guessing, or else why would she ask?  (the “and How” was her lousy grammar, not mine, just copying and pasting there)

But in her blind sleuth work, she doesn’t mind throwing out a baseless accusation at Katie Witt.

Also in Ms. Benkers op-ed she said “please by wary of what you read in this newspaper” (this newspaper being the Times-Call) and “Don’t always believe what you read.”  Ironic advice from someone with an honesty problem, or is hiding emails.  It’s one or the other, or maybe both. 

This is the kind of dirty campaigning we can expect from Karen Benker – unsubstantiated claims without a clue.  Maybe the civil campaign committee should look into this.
Chris Rodriguez

EDITORS NOTE:  Councilwoman Karen Benker received an advance copy of the above letter through the Longmont Civil Campaign Committee.  She responds to it in the following letter.
MY NOTE:  The Longmont Civil Campaign Committee (LCCC) got a copy of it because I CC’d it to them.  This was to be interpreted as a complaint against Ms. Benker.  I haven’t heard that they “denounced” her for her dirty campaigning, instead they gave her this letter so as to have a heads up and a chance to respond.  Her only response should have been an apology, to both Katie Witt and the citizens of Longmont.  Of course, what she did is quite different, and quite telling.  Until I hear differently from the LCCC, this verifies what plenty of people have said about them, they are nothing but a group formed to support and run cover for their selected candidates.  In other words, it’s a sham.  I’d love to be surprised or proven wrong about this.

By the way, Ms. Benker demanded the Times-Call not run my letter.  Nevermind a longer version of it has already run on my various websites with hundreds of viewings.  This demand of hers, along with some of her statements below shows she really has a problem with freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment.

E-mail was private, addressed campaign
Thank you for the opportunity to rebut the negative letter sent by Chris Rodriguez.  Keep in mind Mr. Rodriguez writes a blog called “Wrongmont”, so that should give you some indications of his beliefs.  (Really, what beliefs are those?  That I point out what’s wrong with Longmont that need fixing?  Like, for example, council members like Karen Benker?  But thanks for the free and unrequested publicity.)

He has accused me of not reporting to my city account an e-mail I received from a friend warning me about Greg Burt (You may now add to that submitting to the Boulder County Assistant District Attorney how Ms. Benker has violated Colorado Revised Statute 24.72.201 Colorado Open Records Act, with 11 attachments, but now probably 12 including this latest outburst).  Here’s what Burt’s e-mail said:  “I’m doing some consulting work for a client in Longmont who is upset with Karen Benker…My client has asked me to catalog the frustrations that Longmont developers have with Karen Benker…He hopes to use this information to persuade voters to vote against her.”  (As you can see this is clearly city business.  It talks about developers and Ms. Benker, not some private matter like “how’s the family, Happy Birthday, etc” that Ms. Benker tries to portrayAlso, names could have been redacted – as stated in the State Statute – if that was an issue, but it wasn’t done.)

Personal e-mails do not have to be forwarded to my city account.  Only e-mails having to do with city business are required to be made public.  This e-mail did not relate to city business.  (This is where she and possibly other council members are flat out wrong.  In the April 29, 2008 Longmont City Council Study Session, Ms. Benker asked then City Attorney Clay Douglas about this very issue.  He told them fairly clearly that it was up to the sender to claim confidentiality – and an administrative regulation and recent verification from the City Clerk backs this up.  The word CONFIDENTIAL must be in the “salutation“, in other words the Subject Line, not within the body of the email.  It is not up to the receiver, in this case a city council member, to determine confidentiality.  But again, this email does refer to city business anyway, so the point is moot.)

Under the city’s new Campaign Finance Act, all independent expenditures made on behalf of a council candidate must be reported to the city clerk within 72 hours.  This was adopted so Longmont voters could know who was funding local campaigns.  Mr. Burt concedes he is being paid by a client from Longmont, but no report has been filed (This makes no sense.  A consultant being paid by a client is not a reportable item unless a candidate is paying them, then it would be a reportable expense.  As Ms. Benker must know, the first reporting period for candidates isn’t for a couple of weeks, so of course it wouldn’t be reported yet.  But her point is the “independent expenditure” provision; to report an independent expenditure one would have to actually expend some money.  Where does it say in these emails or in this op-ed that Mr. Burt expended any money?  Talk about a stretch of logic.).  Later this week, I will file a grievance with the city’s Election Committee reporting our city law is being violated.  (Based on what?  Can she point to something that money was independently expended on by Mr. Burt?  Tip to the Election Committee – just ask that simple question)

Please remember Mr. Rodriguez is suing the city (with the Longmont realtors) (oh, you forgot about a couple former Longmont mayors and other groups) stating our campaign finance law needs to be overturned. (Flat out lie.  This lawsuit is narrow in its scope, it does not call for abolishing the entire Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act, only very small fraction of itWhy?  (Why?  Did you not read the lawsuit, well obviously not based on your previous comment.  Or how about the story in the Times-Call about it?  No?  How about my and other websites discussing it?  No?  Ms. Benker isn’t very informed for a council member.)  One clause in the new ordinance limits the amount of money that can be donated to a campaign.  Previously, there was no contribution limit (in the last election, the Longmont Realtors donated $5,000 to one candidate who won.)  (The LFCPA lawsuit does not address contribution limits nor is trying to raise them or eliminate them, but nice attempt in trying to deflect the readers attention.  And also nice job mentioning negatively the Longmont Association of Realtors – and next time try to get their name right – not once, but twice)

I have signed the Civil Campaign pledge to refrain from negative campaigning.  My opponent has not.  Ask yourself, why?  (Notice all the “why“‘s?  Ms. Benker has a lot of questions but no answers.  Good for her, she signed a meaningless pledge by an equally meaningless committee that is protecting her, and formed by one of her supporters.  Of course, by the very nature of her emails and op-eds she has engaged in negative and uncivil campaign tactics, do you think the LCCC will “de-list” her?  Yeah, I don’t think so either)

Karen Benker
Mayor Pro Tem
City Council Candidate
Whether or not the District Attorneys office takes up this Colorado Open Records Act violation or not, the evidence makes a pretty open and shut case.  Ms. Benker has shown a history of wanton disregard for Colorado’s Sunshine Laws dating back to her days on the RTD board.  In those cases it was Open Meetings complaints (did you know people tried to recall her from that seat?), and now she’s part of a Longmont council who also is having Open Meetings problems to the point of a lawsuit filed by the Times-Call.

In this case it’s an Open Records problem, and regardless of her personal interpretation of what is private and what isn’t, she should know better.  If the maximum penalty for this violation wasn’t written for repeat and intentional offenders like Ms. Benker, than I don’t know who or what would qualify for it.  And like I told the ADA, if this law is not going to be enforced, why even bother having it?

Let’s take a look at that penalty again:  24-72-206. Violation – penalty.
Any person who willfully and knowingly violates the provisions of this part 2 is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than ninety days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Soon you will see the 11 attachments that were sent to the District Attorneys office.  Either here, in the Times-Call, or in a court document.  In them you will see Ms. Benker has absolutely no excuse for ignorance of the law or continued intentional violation of it, in my ever so humble opinion.

But Ms. Benker, you just keep on going after citizens if it makes you feel better about yourself.  Obviously, the citizens of Longmont deserve much better.

Shifting blame for incompetence and failure

It was with great amusement as I watched Longmont City Councilman Sean McCoy go on the attack at the September 1, 2009 Longmont City Council meeting.  I will only speak for my part of his tirade, LIFT and Longmont Report can speak on their own behalf.  I will point out that LIFT’s blog hasn’t had any entries on it for over a year, and Longmont Report hasn’t had any activity since last February.  He also mentioned YourHub, which the Longmont hub has slowed to a trickle of activity in the last year.  Most of the Longmont specific articles and nearly all politically related articles are written by myself.  So it’s obvious who he’s talking about.

So, lets go through his tirade one point at a time:

  • He endorsed Richard Juday’s Civil Campaigns concept.  Ironically, earlier in the day I had had some communications back and forth with Richard about this, sharing my ideas and concerns.  I thought it was pretty productive and constructive.  But what Mr. McCoy did following this endorsement reinforced my main concern with this group, and of course stuck a shank in the back of those trying to get this group going.  Why do I doubt that this group, headed by his father Tom McCoy will “denounce” Sean McCoy for what he just did?  This will show what this group is made of, or if it’s just a sham protecting like-minded council members and candidates.
  • He used the terms “radical” “negative” “fringe groups” and “radical fringe elements” to go after people he disagrees with.  All I can say about that: deluded paranoia.  And this guy is a teacher!
  • His laundry list of placing blame goes beyond the point of ridiculous.  I would like one shred of proof to the following.  According to him, I/we have:
  1. “hurt businesses and financial opportunities for Longmont and her citizens”
  2. are responsible for “the millions of dollars in commercial real estate rentals that must have been lost”
  3. negatively effected “job growth for Longmont citizens”
  4. and if we hadn’t been “so negative in their actions” more “home sales”could have ocurred.  

Now, even if you disagree with everything I’ve ever written, if you think 1 person out of a population of nearly 90,000 people on a blog like this that cost ZERO could do all that – you are either a) a mental patient where “incredibly stupid” doesn’t even begin to cover the diagnosis, b) so blind (or fearful) in your allegiance to this ideology that you’re beyond reason and help, or c) giving me/us way too much credit – but thanks for the thought!  I am a bit flattered that he and his ilk think I have that kind of influence, as misguided and delusional as those claims are, but I just don’t find it remotely possible.

Thankfully, I know most normal people (the vast majority) see this exactly for what it is: a political hatchet job and the attempt to silence detractors.  This is not new for me, but this is now being done at a governmental level with Mr. McCoy speaking as an elected representative of the City of Longmont.

I’m sure I don’t have to point out to any rational thinking person that all Mr. McCoy is attempting here is shifting the blame that rightly belongs with himself and his fellowbloc of 4” members (Karen Benker, Sarah Levison, and Brian Hansen) who have dragged this city and its image to gutter levels.  Their anti-business, anti-growth, and anti-religious policies speak for themselves inside and outside of this city.

The simple fact is they don’t like anyone to actually point out any of the above, and this is one extreme they will go to to try to silence and turn the public against their critics.  Another method is the Civil Campaign Committee Mr. McCoy endorsed.  Another method is the onerous and convoluted “Fair” Campaign Practices Act.  People like Mr. McCoy either assume you aren’t paying attention, or are too stupid to understand and are easily manipulated.

Me?  I don’t care one way or another if you read or follow what I write.  Take it or leave it, buy my arguments or not.  I’m not into treating adults like children (except for those who act like children) and figure you don’t need to be told how to think by some nebulous committee or an elected loudmouth.

I know, because I’m told, that many of you will not get into this ring out of fear of retribution – either as a city employee, or a business that fears for their leases with the city, or the city making life or continuing to stay in business extremely difficult.  But some of us out here say the things you think but are afraid to say out loud.  We get all kinds of nastiness thrown our way for doing it – like vandalism to our house; insults to our wives, family, and even our dog;  racial epithets; and internet stalking, intimidation, and harassment.

But next time this could be you under the proverbial gun.  Are you “radical”?  Do you consider truth, or ones opinion of truth, “fringe” or “radical”?  Do you appreciate government officials leveling these kinds of attacks and insults, whether it is on the federal level collecting email addresses and comments they consider “shady”, or at the local level displaying this utter contempt for citizens?

I’m not asking for your sympathy or money, I don’t need either.  I’m suggesting you get involved in your own way and be heard on this.  Or sit idly by and hope you’re not next.

Reminder of 2007 election results

The 2009 Longmont municipal election is coming up, I thought this would be a good time to look back at the election of 2007 that brought us what has been called the “Eastern Bloc”, the “Benker bloc”, the “Bloc of 4” etc.

Total votes cast 40,051

Votes for Benker, McCoy, Levison, and Hansen (aka the “Bloc of 4”)  18,453        46.1%

Votes for opposing candidates                                                    21,598        53.9%

You’re reading that correctly, they didn’t get a plurality or majority.  I included links to definitions as some in the city don’t know the difference.  The point is Longmont did not swing blue, or left, like some would like you to believe.  The election of Gabe Santos in January 2008 proved that.  When voters in Longmont actually show up to vote, leftist, radical, anti-growth, anti-development, anti-religious candidates lose.

When the vote is suppressed, or the system makes it harder for citizens to get involved and engaged (like the incumbent bloc’s overly restrictive “fair” campaigns act), candidates like “the bloc” win.

Food for thought…

Longmont councilmember’s mistatement of facts

Longmont City Councilmember Sean McCoy is either telling a bold faced lie, has been misled, or is trying to mislead in his statements about the amount of Executive Sessions this current council has held. Just so no one’s being taken out of context or misquoted, watch this video:

That quote was “we’ve (this council) had no more Executive Sessions than any other council that he (his father Tom McCoy) served on (which was up until 2005).” Got it? Pretty straightforward statement. He then went on his tirade insulting citizens who dare question that, or him. (see related More insults from Longmont City Council’s “educator”)

Well, there’s only one version of the truth and facts can be pesky things. Here are a few facts:

From 1991-2002 the most Executive Sessions in one year was 8 (in 2002).
For those 12 years the average yearly amount of Executive Sessions was
From 2003-2007 the most Executive Sessions in one year was
10 (in 2003).
For those 5 years the average yearly amount of Executive Sessions was

During those 17 years there were several new councilmembers who came on board, I’m sure they had to be “brought up to speed” on legal issues as well. I guess they were just speedier learners than the “Class of 2007”.

Sean McCoy and his fellow voting bloc (Benker, Hansen, and Levison) came on in late 2007.
Executive Sessions for 2008 = 16
Executive Sessions for 2009 = 11 (just up until June)

That’s 27 over a 19 month period, almost 1.5 per month!

What was that statement he made during the council meeting again? “We’ve had no more Executive Sessions than any other council that he served on.”

Mr. McCoy should really get his facts and stories straight before going on a rant, which included insulting citizens who were technically correct to complain about the high amount of (secret) Executive Sessions. Mr. McCoy owes the public an apology over these, at best, misleading series of statements, at worse, a flat out lie to further his argument and attack on citizens.

These councilmembers took an oath when they were sworn in. Wouldn’t that make all of their statements made during a meeting considered “under oath“? I’m not a lawyer, but someone should seriously look into the legal ramifications of Mr. McCoys actions at the August 18, 2009 Longmont City Council meeting to see if censure, at the very least, is appropriate in this situation.

Or is lying from a city council seat, in council chambers, during council proceedings acceptable now?

Longmont group part of White House screwup

Sometimes guilt by association is a necessary part of politics. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m no fan of hero worship when it comes to politicians. All one has to do is look to past examples where this has gone really, really bad. I’m also not a fan of jumping on political bandwagons and avoid it as much as possible, even if it’s a cause, position, or person I may personally agree with. I tend to look differently at that particular cause, position, or person when it/they try to get this cult of personality thing going for them. Sort of like what Obama did in this last election cycle, and the mindless (of some, not all) following he gathered.

The problem with groups like this is they don’t seem to know when to step back and take a look at what they (or their leaders) are doing, and if it’s very smart. Example: Longmont Organizing for America, which use something like for their website address. I already mentioned them in my “Neighborhood liars, thugs, and brownshirts” story, and this isn’t a rehash of that, there’s more interesting national news regarding them.

The Associated Press reported today that “The White House is blaming unnamed political groups for the unsolicited e-mails it had wrongly insisted no one was receiving from its online operation.” I’ll help out and name one of those unnamed political groups: Longmont Organizing for America. They sent us an unsolicited email from Senior Advisor of the President David Axelrod, and included their own commentary, which in part included:
You may have already received this email from David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to President Obama, but Longmont Organizing for America would like to emphasize the importance of forwarding this ” Reality Check” information to your family, friends and neighbors.”

I’m sure other arms of Organizing for America sent out similar emails to thousands of people. These are the so-called groups the White House is blaming for this massive spam attack. This is also connected to the White House email address ( that was a collection point to turn in and monitor dissidents of (so-called) health care reform. Is this what we’ve become as a society? Sad.

Getting back to the local aspect of this: did anyone else notice the complaint in the TC Line about political activities at the local farmers market? Guess what one of the activities listed on Longmont Organizing for America (can we cut the BS and call it was it is: Longmont Organizing for Obama) is? Yep, activism at the local farmers market. Anything for the cause, right? Even if it means bothering people in public (or spamming them online), the masses must be educated!

The people behind this should be fairly familiar to anyone who watches local politics. (The following is the case for the most part, with some exceptions)

  • They are the same people trying to kick LifeBridge out of town, go after rank and file church members, and want to block any possibility of them building their new church outside of Longmont (after forcing them out).
  • They were strong backers of the majority of council who were voted in back in ’07 (McCoy, Levison, Hansen, and Benker in her losing bid for Mayor).
  • They endlessly parade to the podium in support of these councilmembers – sort of like the blind hero worship they have for Obama, based on no real results, but just because they are on their side.
  • They are in favor of continuing litigation (and endless wasting of money) against the Town of Firestone and LifeBridge.
  • They back council’s position on backyard chickens and the endless hours of wasted time spent on that issue.
  • They back council’s position on limiting spraying for West Nile Virus, meanwhile traps around the city are catching elevated numbers of the types of mosquito’s that carry WNV, and people have contracted the virus.

There’s more, including the way they go after people with differing opinions in the above examples, often in a fairly nasty way. Again, anything for the cause(s), right?

This group is closely aligned with Karen Benker and Sean McCoy (who made an unforgettable speech about his hero), who in their own words during council meetings have gushed over Obama (not as much lately) and are all smiles when these people march before the podium. The other birds of a feather who are candidates this year are Kaye Fissinger (about the worst candidate this city has seen in a long time), Jonathan Singer (had some emails with, seems like a decent guy, but the DNC/Obama thing is a little much for me), and Bill Van Dusen (know very little about – does anyone? – except runs with the same crowd as the above).

If what this group does or says (look at that list again) aligns with your thinking, then there are your candidates.

If not, then you know who to vote against.