The Village People

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Greenwood Village is putting major financial resources into the fight, tapping into its $616,000 annual legal budget to pay a brigade of attorneys and shelling out $60,000 for public-relations services to well-known political consultant Jim Monaghan and former television reporter Dave Minshall.

"I'm basically doing research, since [Centennial advocates] aren't covered by the open-records law," says Minshall. "They've painted themselves as this grassroots effort, but it's really just a handful of people."

The Centennial organizing group has raised over $130,000. Its largest contribution was $70,000 from the South Suburban Park and Recreation District, which, like the sheriff's department, fears losing much of its tax base to Greenwood Village.

A majority of the Arapahoe County commissioners have gone public with their support of Centennial and displeasure over any Greenwood Village annexations. John Brackney says the county may file objections to try to delay the city's plans. "The county does have standing to make sure annexations are done correctly," he points out.

And changing Colorado's annexation laws may well become an issue when the legislature convenes next month. Several state lawmakers have said the statutes should be rewritten to prevent cities from gobbling up commercial districts without taking in residential areas.

But any changes in those laws may come too late to stop Greenwood Village. Since county governments are intended to serve largely rural areas, current Colorado law encourages cities to annex adjacent property. The Colorado constitution offers two alternatives for cities wanting to annex: They can immediately annex adjacent property if they receive a petition asking for annexation that is signed by at least half the owners of property in the area, or they can gather signatures on petitions calling for an annexation election. Most cities choose the first option, but the latter scenario is the one being pursued by Greenwood Village.

While Leopold's December 2 ruling stalled Centennial's plans, it gave a green light to Greenwood Village. With Poundstone's help, the city had already gathered the required signatures to hold an election. Last week the Greenwood Village City Council voted to move full speed ahead on its annexation plans; the city hopes to hold elections in the affected areas early next year. Since Greenwood Village offers lavish services with low residential property taxes, those select neighborhoods it wants to annex are expected to okay the annexations. Greenwood Village also requires its own voters to approve any potential annexations, so it may hold a citywide election on the same day as the vote in the adjacent neighborhoods.

"We're proceeding as planned, and hopefully, we'll go to elections in late February or early March," says annexation committee chairman Morris.

But Centennial isn't giving up. Judge Leopold ruled against the new city on two technicalities: Promoters had failed to identify all tracts of land in the proposed city larger than forty acres (under state law owners of property larger than forty acres can opt out of an incorporation) and had also used population figures that were not based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

"I'm frustrated that apparently the requirements to form a city are so stringent," Brackney says. "I think it's a shame our state law is written to thwart democracy."

Arapahoe Citizens for Self-Determination president Pye says they're working quickly to correct the technical violations. This past weekend they changed the boundaries of the proposed city to exclude several neighborhoods directly east of Greenwood Village that had indicated they would prefer to be annexed by that town rather than join Centennial. They also plan to pick apart Greenwood's annexation petitions, looking for any violations of the law. His group has no choice but to fight Greenwood Village every way it can, Pye adds.

"Greenwood Village is saying, 'We're not even going to give you the right to decide for yourselves whether you want to have your own city,'" says Pye. "If they were moral people, they'd do that. They're not willing to take that chance, because if it goes to a vote of the people, they'll lose, and they know it."

"I've rarely seen a proposal with so much support," adds Commissioner Ward. "I have constituents call me and say, 'What can we do to screw these people since they're trying to screw us?'"

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers