Caustic coroner at crux of cranky county term-limits crump

For an elected official to try to brush aside term limits might seem a little self-serving. That's probably why the effort currently underway in Adams County to ask voters to allow county incumbents to seek an additional term, on top of the eight years they're now allowed, has such a long-winded and high-minded title. The ballot question would ask the citizenry "whether their rights should be restored to elect candidates of their choice for Adams County non-judicial elected offices by lengthening the term limits of those offices." See, it's all about the people's rights, not the officials' reluctance to relinquish the helm of public office.

What's surprising about the Adams County campaign isn't the fancy obfuscation but the elected officials who oppose it. Both District Attorney Don Quick and Sheriff Doug Darr spoke against the initiative at a county commissioners' meeting last week -- and their opposition may have as much to do with who's on the ballot with them as any procedural concerns. Based on comments made by them and others at the meeting, both men are seeking to distance themselves from Adams County Coroner James Hibbard, whose office has been plagued by turnover, sex-harassment complaints and strained relationships with other law enforcement agencies, as detailed in my July feature, "The Body Shop."

Quick complained to the commissioners last week that he had several concerns about the ballot measure -- including the fact that his judicial district includes Broomfield, and any exemption from term limits would have to be put to a vote there, too. But he also pointed out that he'd previously warned the board that "the campaign would be focused on the coroner's office if everybody was lumped together" because of all the controversy swirling around Hibbard.

Quick added that he'd expressed the same concern to Hibbard, who "also thought the campaign could very well go in that direction." Under the present system, Hibbard is completing his second four-year term and could not run again in 2010.

Darr was less explicit in his remarks. However, Commissioner Alice Nichol responded that both Darr's and Quick's objections about legal and procedural issues were simply pretexts. At a meeting last spring, she claimed, both men made it clear that "the two of them didn't want to be on the ballot with the rest of us. They used the coroner as an example."

The commissioners approved sending the term-limit question to the voters this November by a 2-1 vote.

For more on the dust-up, check out the online audio archive of the August 26 county commissioners' meeting. Quick's remarks are about 24 minutes into the meeting; Nichol's rebuttal is at 46:30.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast