This discussion is obsolete, but has been left up for historical context. Also, the links are potentially useful to legal wonks.
Update - February 8, 2011
The successful initiative petition process in support of a new highway design for the Entrance to Aspen continues to work its way through the courts. At issue is whether the voters of Aspen are allowed to place such a question on the ballot for their own consideration, and the Colorado Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for March 2, 2011.
The filing of briefs and replies has preceded the supreme court hearing for several months. The Petitioners' Opening Brief contains the arguments supporting the right of citizens who signed the petitions to have their proposed questions placed on the ballot, and includes a copy of the negative Court of Appeals decision which the supreme court has been asked to review.
Colorado Common Cause filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners.
An Answer Brief from the City of Aspen is matched by an Answer Brief from the private citizens who filed the original protest to block the petitions, and their arguments explain why they believe the petition signers do not have the right to place these particular questions before the voters.
The Petitioners' Reply Brief responds to the arguments of the city and the three protestors.
It is worth mentioning that if the Colorado Supreme Court upholds the reasoning that the Court of Appeals used to block the petitions from the ballot, the outcome will represent the single most significant impairment of the right of initiative in the history of Colorado.
Regarding the City petitions to approve a design for a new entrance to Aspen:
On September 27, 2007, petition organizers were notified by Aspen city clerk Kathryn Koch, that, “Both initiative petitions contain sufficient signatures to be referred to the City Council. An initiative petition requires signatures of at least 749 registered electors in the City of Aspen. This number is based on 15% of the number of registered voters at the last regular municipal election, which was 4990. I certified 795 signatures on the direct connection petition and 794 signatures on the modified direct connection petition.”
The clerk also noted that, “In order to arrive at a final determination of petition sufficiency, the period for a registered elector to file a protest must be allowed to elapse. The final date on which a registered elector may file a protest is October 10, 2007." With eight minutes to go on the final day of the protest period, Clifford Weiss, Les Holst, and Terry Paulson filed a protest to the petitions.
On October 22nd, a hearing was held to rule on the protests. The protestors took the kitchen sink approach, even objecting to the “ballot title” even though no ballot title had been set. The core issue is whether the two petitions propose state constitutionally allowed municipal legislation.
An administrative hearing officer, and the District Court which reviewed her findings, found that the core questions posed by our successful petition drive were "legislative", and therefore appropriate to the initiative process. However, both found that there was unacceptable "administrative" material contained in the petitions, and that caused them to block a public vote. Neither authority would agree to remove the portions of the initiatives they found unacceptable (and we're still not quite sure what those are) so that the remainder of the proposals could then be voted upon.
The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court - thus continuing to block a vote. However, the new wrinkle is that for the first time the court found that no portion of our petitions is legislative. In the process of reaching this conclusion, the court created a brand new framework for determining whether an initiative is "legislative" or "administrative".
On December 14th, 2009, your initiative representatives filed a "Petition for Writ of Certiorari" to the Colorado Supreme Court, asking them to review the case. Concern over the new standard for determining legislative and administrative content is so strong that amicus curiae (friends of the court) briefs asking the Supreme Court to accept the case were filed by Colorado Common Cause, the Initiative and Referendum Institute, Independence Institute, and Citizens In Charge.
On June 1, 2010, the Colorado Supreme Court granted the cert petition and agreed to hear the case.
The Colorado chapter of Common Cause. The national organization was founded in 1970, and has over 300,000 members.
Citizens in Charge is a nationwide advocacy group devoted to protecting and expanding citizens' initiative and referendum rights.
Initiative & Referendum Institute is a non-partisan educational and research organization affiliated with the University of Southern California.
Independence Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization headquartered in Golden, Colorado.
None of these groups is specifically arguing that our particular petitions should be allowed to go to the electorate, just that the basis on which they were denied is completely inappropriate - and presents a threat to the initiative process itself. However, if the Supreme Court overturns the decision of the Court of Appeals, that would effectively mean that either the questions could go to the electorate - or the Supreme Court would need to create a new basis for denial.
Update - June 22, 2010
The major portion of this site is dedicated to the Entrance to Aspen petitions signed by city voters. However, if those proposals are eventually approved by city electors, there is still the question of how to finance the construction of the new design.
A separate funding petition was filed with the Pitkin County clerk, who rejected it for circulation on the grounds that it violates a provision of the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter. As the subject matter of the petition - proposing an increase in taxes and debt - is specifically allowed by the State of Colorado Constitution, the clerk is essentially arguing that the county charter is superior to the state constitution.
So...on April 13th, we filed a Complaint for Declaratory Relief with the District Court, requesting a declaration of our rights “pertaining to the validity under the Constitution and laws of the State of Colorado of such provisions of the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter”. In other words, we are asking the court to explain to county officials that they need to let us proceed with our petition.
The complaint also contains a copy of the petition, which explains the funding proposal.