The county that led the charge to break away from Colorado and form the 51st state may not be legally allowed to do so, a group of lawyers argued.
Three lawyers in Greeley, the largest city in Weld County, where talk of secession originated earlier this year, sent a letter to the county council saying that any move to break away from Colorado has to start with the citizens, not with the county commissioners who put the question on the ballot.
“We find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County,” the letter reads.
The five commissioners are among the most vocal advocates for rural Coloradans to form their own state after a Democratic-dominated legislative session left many feeling ignored by politicians in Denver. They spearheaded meetings and feedback sessions throughout northern Colorado and were eventually joined in the effort by 10 other counties that have added a secession question to their November ballots.
But lawyers Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson said it was inappropriate for the commissioners to propose the ballot question themselves.
Only the people have the right to “alter their form of government,” Ruyle told the county council at a meeting earlier in the week, according to the Denver Post.
“Our point is that this ballot issue doesn’t address any function of the county or its services,” Ruyle said. “It’s completely unrelated.”
The three-person county council oversees all aspects of county government, including the commissioners. Ruyle and the other lawyers have asked for an investigation into the commissioners’ actions.
The secession movement is primarily due to a highly controversial law that requires rural electrical cooperatives to get at least 20 percent of its energy from renewables like wind and solar power by 2020. Energy companies have said the mandate is expensive and will result in higher utility bills for rural customers.
Jeffrey Hare, the co-founder of the 51st State Initiative calls the renewable energy mandate an “assault” on rural Coloradans. Hare is also a member of the County Council that heard the lawyers’ concerns.
He told them he thought they were “jumping the gun a little,” the Greeley Tribune reports.
Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker defended the commissioners, saying the county’s charter allows them to put questions on the ballot without restrictions.
If the ballot question passes, the legal wrangling may resume, since the question specifically asks voters if they would like the commissioners to “pursue” secession.
Ruyle, Witwer and Dickson argue that the commissioners don’t have that authority and that it would be inappropriate to gain it through a ballot question that they referred to voters themselves.
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