100 Years Serving
Colorado’s Cities and Towns
Eleven cities and towns come together to establish the Colorado Municipal League
This is the first story in a series of eight, celebrating the Colorado Municipal League’s dedication to serving Colorado’s municipalities over the last century.
Representatives from 15 Colorado municipalities gathered at the University of Colorado in Boulder on April 26, 1923. For three days, those gathered discussed municipal issues facing Colorado, and on adjournment, 11 stayed to establish what is now known as the Colorado Municipal League (CML). The 15 municipalities in attendance at the convention included:
Seated in the Senate room of the University’s newly built Macky Auditorium, the delegates listened to an opening address presented by George Norlin, President of the University of Colorado.
“… The community is a partnership not for the sake of personal security, of police protection alone, but a partnership in the promotion of health, of intelligence, of morals, and of beauty. …
And the best thing which has happened is the dawn of the conviction among us that the municipality can and should be a partnership in promoting the best and fullest life.”
The delegation gathered to discuss the issues facing their communities and tap their network of municipal colleagues to develop new solutions. The conference’s opening remarks focused on the importance of municipal government, and its subsequent discussions demonstrated the value of strong and effective governance. The convention’s topics covered various municipal issues, including accounting, business methods, street railway investment, the relationship between municipal administration and public health, and more.
“Municipal problems are not easy; on the other hand they are often complex and knotty—and at times call for great resources.
“We are gathered here for the purposes of discussing problems that are vital to all of us and to the cities and towns we represent…Our particular mission here at this time is to discuss specific subjects in relation to our municipal governments, hoping thereby to benefit ourselves and our constituency.”
Pueblo Council President John M. Jackson
A few notable members of the group included:
Ida M. Campbell
Councilmember Campbell was one of the only women recognized in the University of Colorado Bulletin outlining the proceedings of the First Annual Convention of CML.
In 2009, the Boulder Daily Camera released an article about Campbell and one of her colleagues, Flora McHarg. Read about them here.
Campbell was elected in 1917, the same year that her attorney friend Flora McHarg used her legal training to help draft the city’s charter, which set up the city manager form of government still in use today.Boulder Daily Camera
The two women were civic leaders in Boulder at a time when men still made most of the decisions.
Edwin A. Bemis
Littleton Newspaper Editor
Edwin A. Bemis served as the Colorado Press Association’s managing editor and president for about 30 years; and founded the National Association of State Press Field Managers, Rocky Mountain Advertising Managers Association, and Colorado Society of Trade Association Directors. He also led the Department of Research and Extension in Journalism at CU Boulder and co-founded the Denver Westerners.
Bemis assisted in the creation of, and served as the first chairman of, the Littleton Planning Commission as well.
To learn more about Bemis, and to explore his writing, click here to read an article provided by the City of Littleton.
Roy Ray served as Mayor for the Town of Windsor, as well as the owner, publisher, and editor of the Poudre Valley Newspaper.
Ray not only recorded the weekly happenings in the area, he participated in the community and had a profound effect on the development of the town.Town of Windsor Museum Curator Caitlin Heusser in the Greeley Tribune
Ray assisted in encouraging the development of a sugar beet factory in Windsor in 1901, helping create a thriving industry. Between 1900 and 1910, the population of Windsor tripled, which solidified the community’s agricultural expansion.
Forming a League
To maintain consistent municipal discussions and continue serving constituencies across the state of Colorado, representatives from 11 of the 15 municipalities present stayed at the end of the conference and created CML. They included:
- Cañon City
- Fort Morgan
- Grand Junction
When creating the League, delegates charged it with benefiting municipal governments across the state by serving as an agency for cooperation, and advocating on behalf of or opposing legislation, as well as holding an annual conference to encourage cooperation and education.
While this momentous occasion is established as the First Annual Conference, reports note that a meeting with the same intention was held nearly a decade before.
“There is no indication that anyone at the meeting knew about a similar meeting at the university in 1914 from which came reports published by the National Municipal League that Colorado had formed a state league that year. Colorado was listed as having a league on rosters published in 1916 and 1917, but not in 1918,” NLC’s State Municipal Leagues: The First Hundred Years publication states.
A new constitution
The delegates established a constitution to govern the League, addressing:
|Name and Object||• Named the Colorado Municipal League|
• Serves as an agency for cooperation of Colorado cities and towns
• Studies needs of municipalities, and promotes best practices
• Secures beneficial and opposes harmful legislation
• Holds annual conferences to encourage municipal collaboration
|Membership||• Any city or town in Colorado is eligible for membership|
• Municipalities with membership are entitled to representation in the League
• Any outside organization interested in municipal betterment may pay an application fee to be involved
|Membership Dues||• Any municipality may become a member by stating interest and paying dues|
• Annual dues are determined based on population
|Officers||• Officers of the League included President, Vice President, and Secretary-treasurer|
• President appoints special or standing committees
|Meeting||• An annual conference and other meetings will be held by the League|
|Information Bureau and Publication||• The League may establish a bureau of municipal information|
• Members of the League can request special information relative to municipal work
• It is the responsibility of members to furnish the information bureau with information that may be of interest to other municipalities
Then and Now
A century later, the municipalities represented at CML’s First Annual Convention experienced various changes, not the least being population. Look at how much their populations have changed between the 1920 census and 2020. Notice the rapid growth of many of the municipalities.
While the communities may have changed by the numbers, many conference topics—municipal finance, intergovernmental collaboration, transportation—have been repeated or updated since CML’s 1923 convention. Maintaining a consistent dialogue among municipalities as they face common challenges serves as a key piece of CML’s foundation and continues to inform many of the decisions the organization makes.
Hear from the municipalities at the First Annual Convention
Municipalities present for the League’s first convention were, and continue to be, instrumental in the progress of Colorado’s cities and towns. Without them, the League may not be the same advocacy and information resource, or even exist today. Learn more about how the founding municipalities’ relationships with CML have evolved since its inception below.
Click the arrow on the right side of the webpage to scroll to the next slide.
Beginnings of an information hub
Following the creation of CML and its new constitution, the League began work for municipalities across the state. It hosted its Second Annual Conference in Pueblo, home of the League’s first Board President, Pueblo Council President John M. Jackson. The League also began establishing its information and legislative legs.
In 1925, the League published the first volume of Colorado Municipalities. CML’s Secretary-Treasurer and Boulder Executive Secretary of the Bureau of Business and Governmental Research Don Sowers, elected to his position at the first convention, served as the magazine’s editor from 1925 to 1942. Its first publication featured an editorial highlighting its intent to serve all types of municipal government; hinting at the League’s continued protection of local control.
It is not the object of the league or the magazine to promote any particular form of governmental organization or municipal policy since all types of municipal organization, mayor and council, commission plan and city manager plan are represented in the membership of the league, and the cities vary widely on questions of policy. It is rather the province of the league to maintain a scientific attitude toward the problems of government, to collect, analyze, classify and interpret facts, to chronicle what cities are doing and report on the success or failures of the various projects, to the end that the best practices and best methods may be adopted by each and every city.Colorado Municipalities 1925
Since its inception, Colorado Municipalities has been published on different schedules – including monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis. It remains one of the League’s most consistent publications and continues to examine critical issues facing Colorado’s cities and towns and to report on the creative solutions addressing them.
A decade of collaboration
Facilitation of municipal collaboration was a CML driver during its first decade, evident in its annual conferences hosted by different municipalities each year. These conferences saw discussion of a variety of topics and continued membership growth. By 1928, 16 Colorado cities and three Nebraska cities were present, with 60 delegates and visitors in attendance.
The League’s 10th Annual Conference, hosted in Boulder to commemorate the League’s founding, was themed “economical management of municipal affairs.” 82 delegates from 18 Colorado municipalities attended. The League also reported a membership of 100 cities and towns. Much like the development of its reputation as an information resource, the League’s efforts to bring municipalities from across that state together would continue to grow in the ensuing years.
Beginning a legacy of advocacy
In its first decade, CML achieved its first major legislative victory as well. In 1929, after several years of lobbying efforts, the 27th General Assembly approved a gasoline tax law that apportioned cities 3% of the total gasoline tax collected. The law recognized streets in incorporated cities as necessary links and integral parts of the state highway system. The gas tax furnished more than 25% of total state tax receipts and amounted to more than that of general property tax proceeds.
With this victory and other successful advocacy efforts notched, CML began developing new ways to advocate for cities and towns. In less than a decade, municipalities across the state trusted the League to bring forth a conversation about a new state constitution, while guarding against amendments that would negatively impact municipalities.
At the 1930 Annual Conference, delegates heard a presentation by Fort Collins City Attorney Fred Stover on how a new state constitution would benefit municipalities. A key element of his remarks was encouraging the League to watch the process closely and advocate strongly on behalf of Colorado’s municipalities. A year later, a statewide vote on whether to call a constitutional convention appeared on the 1931 ballot.
A properly drawn Constitution should contain only fundamental principles and should then need but limited revisions from time to time, leaving to the Legislature the duty of providing for the needs of a growing civilization and changing economic conditions. it would be wise indeed for the Municipal League to be very watchful in respect to any constitutional amendments contemplated. Even on ill-considered change or amendment might be very detrimental to municipal government.Fort Collins City Attorney Fred Stover
In the following decades, CML would continue to establish itself as a key player in the legislature, fighting on behalf of the state’s cities and towns. It would also continue to strengthen its network of municipalities, provide its members with networking opportunities, and serve as an information seeker and resource for cities and towns across the state.
Stay tuned for the second installment of this series, where we’ll discuss CML’s work in the courts to protect home rule over the decades.