Councilmembers facing recall share perspectives on election following CodeNext vote

Council will do second reading of CodeNext Sept. 25


Editor's note: After this story was written, the Englewood City Council scheduled a second round of the first reading of CodeNext, to take place on Sept. 18. The staff report with the ordinance notes that due to "inadvertent errors" in the process of amending and adopting the ordinance on Sept. 11, the do-over is needed to avoid conflicting with the city charter. Final approval is expected on Sept. 25.

Following the first-reading approval of CodeNext earlier this month, Englewood City Councilmembers Othoniel Sierra, Chelsea Nunnenkamp and Joe Anderson dicussed the upcoming recall election and ordinance changes with the Englewood Herald.  

All three councilmembers voted yes on changes to the city’s Unified Development Code oriented toward greater density on Sept. 11, in the belief that density will improve housing affordability. The second reading of CodeNext and likely final approval by council is expected during the upcoming Sept. 25 meeting.

The fourth vote for CodeNext, which prevailed 4-3, was cast by interim At-Large Councilmember PJ Kolnik.

Sierra, who represents District 1 and serves as mayor, feels overall the recall is unnecessary given the General Election is on Nov. 7, where residents will decide who fills the District 1 seat anyway.

“That’s a better time to state whether I’m doing a good job. Let the voters decide then,” Sierra said. “I don’t understand why we’re spending $137,000 to do it a month early. The timing is just off.” 

For months residents have attended city council meetings to share their support or opposition of CodeNext. The recall efforts initially began in April, following the council’s consideration of a proposal to allow multifamily residences in single-family zoning areas, a plan that was shelved indefinitely. 

Additionally, residents have also expressed their support or opposition of the recall. 

Nunnenkamp, who represents District 2, said she primarily feels sadness regarding the recall and its current and future impact on the community.  

“I am sad about what this means for our community and how it’s dividing our community,” Nunnenkamp said. “I fundamentally believe there are better ways to talk about policy in Englewood and that we can disagree better than this.”  

Residents backing the recall have said the council hasn’t considered their concerns regarding CodeNext, infrastructure, crime, quality of life and other issues.  

Sierra said the recall is about a disagreement over CodeNext and other issues are just more fuel for the fire.  

“Infrastructure was mentioned. Fiscal irresponsibility was mentioned. Crime. But those decisions are all made by the seven members of council,” Sierra said. “So why only four and now three that are up for recall? Why not all seven?” 

There were originally four recall targets, including At-Large Member Cheryl Wink, who all generally supported a since-shelved proposal to allow multifamily dwellings in single-family zoning. Wink abruptly resigned in July on the day that council was prepared to set a date for her recall election. Kolnik was recently appointed to that seat.

Sierra said when the council held a public hearing for the 2024 budget on Sept. 11, no one came forward despite saying the council mishandles city funds.

“No one spoke against it," he said. "If they had an issue with the way the council as a whole was managing the finances of the city, (Sept. 11) would have been a perfect time to do it, and no one showed up." 

He said when it boils down to it, the heart of the recall effort is opposition to CodeNext and the members who were in favor of passing the zoning changes.  

Anderson, who represents District 3, said this is unfortunate and not a valid reason to recall members of the council, especially when his term will end a month after the special election. 

“From my perspective we haven’t done anything wrong. We haven’t done anything unethical. We haven’t done anything that’s harmful to our city, so I think it sets a bad precedent to have a recall whenever there is a policy disagreement,” Anderson said.  

Following CodeNext  

Sierra said he is content with the final draft of CodeNext and feels the council made the best effort to remain balanced when making adjustments.  

He said he isn’t sure how his yes vote will impact his potential recall or reelection. 

“I think overall we went down this path because it’s a problem affecting not only our city but the entire metro area,” Sierra said. “I’m happy with where we ended up.” 

He said he knew there would be disagreements amongst the council regarding the development code since it’s such a large issue. 

Many residents have expressed their issue with increased density and housing development in Englewood, and Sierra said CodeNext does allow for some density along the CityCenter and South Broadway.  

“I understand that there are people who just don’t want to see any type of development but as a council, at least from my perspective, we have to look at the long-term needs of the city,” Sierra said.

Sierra said the recall didn’t deter him from making his choice regarding CodeNext, and if it had the project would have most likely been stopped.  

“Overall, I think I felt it was a very important issue we had to tackle, and we still took citizen input and we still listened to the needs of people on both sides, and I think we came to a happy medium,” Sierra said.  

Nunnenkamp is also content with her decision, which she said she made based on various aspects including citizen input, citizen impact, evidence-based information and best policy practices.  

She said the recall didn’t affect how she was going to vote, and it shouldn’t.  

“I don’t think we get good public policy when our elected officials make decisions because they’re afraid of losing an election,” Nunnenkamp said.  

She said this was one of the most important votes she will make in her position with the city.  

“It’s been three years of conversations and listening and study and citizen input that led us to a decision that I think ultimately will benefit the city long term,” Nunnenkamp said. “Some folks wanted us to go further. Some folks didn’t want us to go as far as we did, so in many ways, I see the final draft as a compromise.”   

Anderson said he isn’t sure how his approval of CodeNext will affect his potential recall.  

“The things that they were saying about us in terms of our positions on CodeNext and other issues haven't changed,” Anderson said. “So, I don’t know that it has a large impact.”  

Anderson said he is happy the council has finished the CodeNext project after three years of work.  

“I think it’s a good step. I think it’s a good code. I think it took in a lot of citizens’ feedback and we’ve adapted it along the way,” Anderson said.  

Taking issues seriously 

“I take all the issues that come in front of us very seriously," Sierra said. "I listen to everyone that comes in front of us. I am listening to you but we’re also in disagreement on how we move forward on this. It doesn’t mean that they're wrong or I am right, but I do take all these issues seriously.” 

The mayor said during the last five and a half years of his time on city council he has always ensured that he and the council do what’s best for Englewood.  

“I understand that we’ve been taking on some very big topics that for many are deal breakers, but I hope they can see that I do have the best interest of Englewood at heart,” Sierra said.  

Nunnenkamp said she loves this community and while the city is facing challenges, it’s not as terrible as some make it out to be.  

“That’s not the experience of myself or my neighbors as they live in the city. That’s not to say we don’t have any challenges,” Nunnenkamp said. “We always have. Like many other first-tier suburbs in urban communities, we face a range of challenges.” 

She acknowledged that people have made complaints about the city’s infrastructure, crime rates and quality of life. She said past leadership didn’t adequately address or invest in some of these issues, but the current council is working to rectify that.  

“We are actually doing more than ever before to strengthen our infrastructure. We’re doing more on crime than ever before,” she said. “We have added six new police officers since I have been on council. We have strengthened our alternative policing programs. We take quality-of-life issues very seriously.”  

Anderson said in recent years, the city has worked hard to improve Englewood’s infrastructure. 

“We have long-term master plans in place now for our water, sewer and stormwater. We’ve been building funding structures to make sure we can execute these projects in the next 15 years, and we already are executing them,” Anderson said, referring to the South Englewood Basin Flood and Reduction project.  

Anderson said ultimately the recall is all about an issue with the changes CodeNext will bring to the community.  

“Something I learned early on in council is anytime we have a proposal on the table that involves change, it does bring out a group of people that want to see Englewood kind of remain the same,” Anderson said. “I honestly appreciate those concerns ... and it’s important to me too to maintain the identity of the city that we have but still be sensitive to the future.” 

Nunnenkamp said she feels this recall is a misuse of the process.  

“Recalls have a corrosive effect on our public dialogue, on our civil discourse and on our ability to live together as neighbors,” Nunnenkamp said. “I believe recalls should be reserved for extreme circumstances and that our regularly scheduled general elections are where we should consider a change in leadership.” 

Nunnenkamp said there are a variety of people in District 2 that she needs to listen to and keep in mind when she makes policy decisions.  

“I am listening, but I may not always agree, and that nuance seems to be lost in our current conversation,” she said.  

If the recall happens

If Sierra is recalled and loses his reelection in November, he said he will continue to serve his city.  

“I don’t consider myself a politician even though I am technically a politician because I am in politics, but I’ve been here since 2009,” he said. “I have a son in the Englewood school system. I am not going anywhere. I am going to continue to be involved and just make sure that we’re moving the city forward.” 

If he remains in his office, Sierra said he will take what he’s learned from the recall and try to better communication between the council and the public.  

“It’s hard to communicate when all seven members of council have a different opinion of what CodeNext is,” he said. “We’re having a very complex conversation so I guess that would be one way that we would try to improve. How do we better communicate where we are in the process?”  

If she is recalled, Nunnenkamp said she will “keep working for the common good of Englewood.” 

“I am committed to this community. I ran for city council because I love this city,” she said. “I will love Englewood even if she doesn’t love me back.” 

Nunnenkamp said there is so much good work happening in the city that it’s being overshadowed by the recall and the disagreement over CodeNext.  

“The majority of our votes over the last two years have been seven to zero or six to one,” she said. “This council has worked very effectively together on behalf of the citizens of this community and this one issue is casting such a negative light on all of the progress.”  

She hopes the progress will continue regardless of the recall and this moment in Englewood’s history.

Additionally, Nunnenkamp said if she remains in office, she will work to address the civil discourse in the community that “pits us vs. them.”  

“For Englewood to have a strong future we have to find better ways to talk to each other, to work together, to consider one another’s needs and I am hopeful that I have another two years to try to create space for that kind of civic discourse and productive dialogue,” Nunnenkamp said.  

Following the election cycle, Anderson said if he’s removed from office then he will use his time to be with his family and focus on his other work.  

Anderson said from this recall process he has learned the importance of listening to all constituents and if he remains in office, he will make more of an effort to hear everyone. 

“I want to continue listening and making an effort to really reach out to citizens throughout the city and really discover what the heartbeat of the community is,” Anderson said.  

He said he will also continue to focus on providing affordable housing to new Englewood residents and renters in the community.  

City of Englewood, Englewood City Council, Oct. 3 Recall. CodeNext


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