Four members of the Wheat Ridge City Council on Sept. 9 blasted Mayor Jerry DiTullio’s recent decision to veto an ordinance that sought to put a sales and use tax hike question on the November ballot.
The council members accused DiTullio of playing politics with the handling of the veto, at the end of the body’s scheduled meeting. Councilman Willaim “Bud” Starker read a terse letter that was written by council colleague George Pond, who didn’t attend the meeting.
“The communication of this veto stands as a dangerous outline of politics and principle that this city cannot afford to allow without raising our voice,” Pond’s letter read.
Pond was not shy in his criticism, calling DiTullio’s reasons behind the veto and his handling of the situation “irresponsible,” “inaccurate” and “imprudent.”
DiTullio stood by his veto, reading his entire letter into the record before ending the meeting with a Mark Twain quote that was aimed at council members who criticized him.
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” the mayor said, quoting Twain.
DiTullio then said “I guess we’re adjourned,” before slamming his gavel to mark the end of the meeting.
The ordinance would have allowed voters to decide on a ballot question that sought a 1 percent increase in the city’s sales and use tax. The tax hike would have pumped more than $6 million in revenue into city capital improvements.
Instead, DiTullio vetoed the measure on Aug. 30, writing in his veto letter that the ordinance is “a recipe for failure.” The veto came after the council voted earlier that week to move forward with the ballot question, by a 6-2 vote.
DiTullio was concerned that city residents could not afford the tax hike, which would have brought the city’s sales and use tax rate to 4 percent, making it the highest among neighboring communities.
DiTullio wrote in the letter that “the trust of the people has been lost by city council.” DiTullio cites responses to his own 38th Avenue road diet survey, where residents expressed concern over how the city handled the lane reduction project in that corridor.
But council members were highly critical of DiTullio, even before the Sept. 9 meeting. In an interview with Colorado Community Media last week, Councilwoman Kristi Davis accused the mayor of “grandstanding” and being “politically disingenuous” in his handling of the veto.
Davis said that DiTullio should have told the council where he stood on the tax increase, prior to members voting twice to approve sending the question to voters this fall.
“It looks really dysfunctional when it gets read twice in council and then he vetoes it,” Davis said. “If you are a mayor, you may not have a vote, but you have an influence.”
Davis believes that DiTullio is throwing the council under the bus by calling the body’s level of trust with the public into question.
“He’s only talking about his own highlights and talking about our ‘failures,’” she said.
DiTullio called Davis’s criticism “laughable.”
“While Ms. Davis has a right to her opinion, I stand by the veto and my reasons given in the veto message,” the mayor said prior to the meeting.
Davis voiced her criticism during the meeting, along with Starker’s reading of Pond’s letter, as well as his own comments. Councilwoman Tracy Langworthy expressed concerned about the council becoming a polarized body.
“We’re going back to what we were before, a divided council,” she said.
DiTullio is term-limited and is running for a council seat this fall. Both council members who are vying to replace him voted against the tax hike: Mike Stites and Joyce Jay.
Stites said before the meeting that the mayor did the right thing because the ordinance did not have unified council backing.
“It would have put us in an awkward situation,” he said. “And, I’m not clairvoyant, but I didn’t think it would pass any way.”
In spite of her own position against the ordinance, Jay said last week that she would have liked to have seen the ballot question go before the voters, for them to decide.
“The public not having a chance to weigh in, that’s kind of sad,” she said. “But (the mayor) has the ability to do what he did. That’s up to him.”
The council had an opportunity to attempt a veto override last week, but decided to not pursue it.
“We all felt like we’d be more successful as a group,” Davis said of trying to get voters to support the ordinance. “But I really wish (DiTullio) had let the people decide instead of voting for an entire community.”