Charter amendment

Language of proposed Boulder charter amendment: Before the electric utility enterprise issues any debt, voters must approve the amount of the utility's debt limit and the total cost of debt repayment that the utility will incur, both to be stated in dollars in any ballot question; and

The utility's service area shall not extend to areas outside the city limits unless registered electors in those areas are permitted to vote in these debt limit and repayment cost elections; and

Such elections shall be held on the dates of general municipal elections; and

Any brokerage fees for managing any sale of bonds or other indebtedness shall be limited to 1% of proceeds.

Language of charter amendment in April telephone poll: Before the electric utility enterprise issues any debt, voters must approve the amount of the utility debt limit and the total cost of debt repayment the utility will incur, both to be stated in dollars in any ballot question.

The utility service area shall not extend to areas outside city limits unless registered electors in those areas are permitted to vote in debt limit and repayment cost elections.

Such elections shall be held on the date of a general municipal election and any brokerage fees for managing any sale of bonds or other indebtedness shall be limited to 1 percent of proceeds.

Xcel Energy officials and the spokesman for a group backing a charter amendment requiring a second vote to form a municipal utility now admit that Xcel conducted a poll in April on the ballot language.

Representatives of both sides had previously said that they'd met but that they were not working together and that Xcel was not behind the proposed charter amendment.

However, the language of the proposed amendment, filed with the city last week, is identical to language that was tested by Xcel in an April poll.

A recipient of the April poll recorded the survey and shared that recording with the Camera.

In the recording, the pollster tells the respondent a charter amendment will appear on the November ballot, reads the ballot language and asks the respondent how he or she would vote if the election were held that day.

"The city charter amendment will read as follows," the pollster says. "Before the electric utility enterprise issues any debt, voters must approve the amount of the utility debt limit and the total cost of debt repayment the utility will incur, both to be stated in dollars in any ballot question. The utility service area shall not extend to areas outside city limits unless registered electors in those areas are permitted to vote in debt limit and repayment cost elections."

That is the same language that a group of five Boulder residents filed with the city nearly a month later. The spokesman for that group, Phil Fox, had registered to vote in Boulder just two days before.

Xcel: 'We polled this ballot language'

Xcel Energy previously acknowledged it had conducted polling on a variety of issues related to municipalization in March and April. Asked on Wednesday about the similarity between the poll language and the proposed charter amendment, Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the charter amendment was one of the issues on which Xcel polled Boulder voters.

"We surveyed our customers on numerous issues surrounding municipalization and shared those results with different parties; this is one of those issues," she said in an email.

Asked to clarify, she said, "We polled this ballot language."

Fox responded to a request for comment via email.

"Xcel ran a poll on our proposal," he said. "Sorry, didn't make that clear last week. Not sure where they're going to be on us but optimistic we'll get their support."

Asked to clarify whether Xcel or the group wrote the charter amendment, Fox said there were "a lot of voices contributing to the discussion." Xcel preferred an up-or-down vote on municipalization, while some people who lived in unincorporated areas wanted to be included in the discussion and other Boulder residents had concerns about a city proposal to use negotiated bond sales, he said. That last proposal would require a charter amendment of its own.

"I don't know who gets credit for what piece, but it's what the five of us decided we wanted to submit to the city," he said. "Xcel's been really cooperative up to a point, but I think they want to see if we can get it qualified for the ballot before they make a big commitment."

Fox said last week that the group had met with Xcel Energy but had not received any promises of support and did not work with the company to develop the ballot language. Xcel officials said the same.

Fox also said last week that the group, which calls itself Voter Approval of Debt Limits, would use volunteer petition circulators for now but hoped to get financial support to use paid circulators.

Aguayo said Wednesday that Xcel has always supported a second vote and would likely support the charter amendment if it makes it on the ballot.

Push for new vote 'viewed as a grass-roots thing'

University of Colorado political science professor Ken Bickers said the line between coordinated and uncoordinated campaigns has been increasingly blurred over the last few decades, largely to manage public perception.

"If it's a grass-roots initiative, it's likely to be viewed differently than if it's a big company coming in and funding a ballot measure," he said. "By keeping an arm's length, it allows it to be viewed as a grass-roots thing."

Bickers said previous statements by Xcel and the charter amendment group are not necessarily false.

"If both sides say they are not working together, they are not working together by some definition of the word 'working,'" he said.

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said he did not receive a polling call, but he had heard about the content. After being read a transcript of the poll that included the charter amendment language, he said, "That's from the poll? Gee, that sounds familiar.

"This is no surprise," he said. "Why would anybody be surprised? I don't know why Xcel tries to deny what they're doing. It seems like it would be cleaner and better for everyone involved if they just told the truth."

Proponents of municipalization, including Appelbaum, contend the charter amendment would "kill" any possibility of a city-owned electric utility because it would make it hard for the city to enter into condemnation proceedings against Xcel to acquire its distribution system and to issue capital improvement bonds to maintain infrastructure.

Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights does not require utilities to put their revenue-backed bond sales before the voters for approval.

Supporters of the charter amendment said the initial vote for municipalization was close, and the decision is too big not to return to the voters.

Former mayor: 'So what if they're behind it?'

Former Boulder Mayor Bob Greenlee, who writes a column for the Camera, has backed the idea of a second vote. He said he doesn't care if Xcel is behind the charter amendment.

"I don't think it makes much difference who is behind it, whether it's Xcel or a citizens' initiative," Greenlee said. "So what if they're behind it? What's wrong with giving the citizens a chance to vote again? Why wouldn't they be behind it? Wouldn't they be, in their minds, the principal party harmed by Boulder taking their customers?"

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.