Recall short on signatures but group has options

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 12/14/20

It seems like it’s been a long, belabored haul in reaching the final conclusion on the recall petitions pertaining to Atchison, Seitz, Skulley and Voelz. I am sure they feel the same way as should …

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Recall short on signatures but group has options

Posted

It seems like it’s been a long, belabored haul in reaching the final conclusion on the recall petitions pertaining to Atchison, Seitz, Skulley and Voelz. I am sure they feel the same way as should City Manager Don Tripp.

These four are the council majority which keeps Mr. Tripp employed. The petitioning group fell short again in mustering sufficient valid signatures to force a special election on the recall of the four. The City Clerk’s announcement came on Monday, Dec. 7 and Her conclusions are final in accordance with the Westminster City Code. The signature count varied from Skulley, sneaking by with a shortage of only 61 signatures to Atchison with 282 short of the required 5,009 to Voelz with 635 short of being placed on the ballot and the Seitz petition falling short by 757 signatures. For the three council members, 6,098 valid signatures were required.

Options for petitioning group to consider

It would appear that the petitioning group has three options to consider at this juncture. First, they could appeal the clerk’s decisions and conclusion to district court. Secondly, they could start a whole new petition drive. Third, they could simply drop any further effort and conclude that they gave it their best try.

Regarding the first option, I know the group has an attorney, Scott Gessler, who has been assisting them. An appeal of the city clerk’s decisions would take funding. Plus, I speculate that the group has at best a 50-50 chance of succeeding in the trial court. It isn’t likely a judge is going to want to dig down into individual signatures being thrown out for whatever reason. The judge may not going to want to second-guess the city clerk’s scope of work. Plus, the city could appeal the judge’s decision if it went against the city. The city has deep pockets; the petitioning group does not.

Go another round of petitions or throw in the towel?

The second option has more appeal, but is totally dependent on the staying power and will of the petitioning group. They have learned a lot in the initial process and likely could avoid some of the pit falls which led to their shortcomings. Certainly, attention to detail is an underlying practice that every petitioner would need to follow if they were to go back to the public on a new set of petitions. The group would have the benefit of the lists of valid signatures to re-contact for new petitions.

The third option is simply to throw in the towel. The group worked hard in spending many, many hours in gathering signatures. They could take the position to wait and campaign against any of the three (Seitz, Skulley and Voelz) who decide to run in 2021. Seitz has two years left on her council term, but is very likely to run for the empty mayor’s seat against former Mayor Nancy McNally. Skulley and Voelz either have to run for a new term or drop out. As stated in the past, Atchison is a lame duck and cannot run again for mayor.

Is there leadership to attempt to calm the water?

The fundamental political question in this whole situation is whether Mr. Tripp and his “faithful four” would be of a mind to attempt to calm the waters and offer some form or gesture of peace to a disenchanted segment of the electorate.

The city folks know full well what they are facing in November 2021. I know this general concept has been discussed behind closed doors, but it remains to be seen if anyone wants to show some leadership and gumption and stick their neck out. If the Westminster political climate remains charged, pressure will build during next year as the campaign season ripens.

I don’t see the Westminster for a Responsible Government group going away. Plus, next summer could be another long, hot, dry season with the same 2020 water rates in place to stir things up again. I wouldn’t want to face that ugly situation.

Leaving the public in the dark

The City of Westminster’s web site has been noticeably out of date on the developments and actions pertaining to the recall petitions process. Has this been intentional or just poor communications?

The last recorded status report under the “Recall Petitions” section indicated that the petitioning group, known as Westminster for a Responsible Government, had withdrawn their petitions based on their attorney’s advice. That occurred on November 18 prior to the protest hearing on November 20. There had been no further updates since then.

On December 7 the city clerk announced her insufficient findings which were subsequently posted on the web site. So, 2 ½ weeks came and went and the city administration remained mute.

One can only speculate that the four targeted elected officials wanted a “ush-hush approach. This is quite unacceptable to keep the public in the dark. For those who have followed along in my weekly column, you know that the group re-submitted petitions with additional signatures on November 30. The City Clerk had five days in which to review and determine if they were sufficient and her deadline fell on Dec. 5, which automatically carried the deadline to the following Monday, Dec. 7. With the city administration supposedly so focused on good, effective communications with the Westminster public, I would have thought better of them. As I have said before, the city staff likes to pick and choose their topics which makes the city look good.

CARES federal funds in action

The city has put forth a lot of effort, time and money in fighting the COVID19 virus. Certainly, this should be the number one priority of every city and county government across America, regardless of what the President is or isn’t doing.

As you might expect, the vast amount of funding distributed and spent by the city government are federal funds known as CARES. Westminster has received approximately $9 million to date. They have received $5,507,090 from Adams County and $3,471,358 from Jefferson County.

Earlier this year, the city had identified several categories of how the funds would likely be used. The projections were based on an early estimate of receiving $7.2 million. As expected, the largest disbursement would be for direct business assistance ($2.65 million). Telecommuting equipment ($857,000), social recovery programs ($855,000), facilities modifications ($652,000), housing assistance ($620,000), hazard duty pay ($528,000), PPE for city staff ($504,800) and facility cleaning and supplies ($350,000) made up the earlier projections.

As things have progressed, the city needed to be transparent in a detailed accounting to the public in how the funds have been distributed. $9 million is not just pocket change. As an aside, in talking with staff, they point to ongoing efforts to reconcile any differences in procedures and activities between the two counties, Adams and Jefferson, plus the constant updating, modifications and changes. Adams County falls under the jurisdiction of Tri-County Health while Jefferson County operates its own health department.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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