Burlingame: Another vote? | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame: Another vote?

Janet Urquhart

Local resident Toni Kronberg agreed Friday that the purpose of a referendum she helped circulate was achieved with last week’s election, but she also argued that Aspen voters should be polled again on the annexation of land for the Burlingame housing project.The seemingly contradictory remarks came during a two-hour protest hearing at City Hall, in which Kronberg, working alone, defended the referendum petition that she and Councilman Terry Paulson put forward. Paulson did not attend.Attorney Lance Coté, representing Aspen resident Frank Peters as the protester, argued the referendum petition was flawed in several respects and should be invalidated. Further, he said the May 3 election on the annexation fulfilled the intent of the petition, rendering it moot.Hearing officer Karen Goldman, appointed by the City Council to conduct yesterday’s proceedings, said she will render her ruling on Wednesday.The protest filed by Peters contends the petition is invalid because many citizens who signed it failed to provide their city and county of residence, as required by law. Petition circulators, who signed affidavits attached to pages of the petition, also failed to provide the information, Coté noted.The omission was not an occasional occurrence, but rather a “systematic disregard” for the requirements, he said.”I know I’m fishing in a dry hole,” Coté added, acknowledging Goldman’s ruling in another protest hearing last month. Signatures on two initiative petitions were challenged on the same grounds, but Goldman refused to invalidate the petitions on that basis.Kronberg argued the signatures were valid, citing Goldman’s decision in the prior case.Coté also argued the summary paragraph on the petition was altered in form significantly from the version drafted by City Clerk Kathryn Koch. It became “one long, run-on sentence that appears nonsensical,” he said.Coté portrayed the “incoherent” summary, along with the defects in the signatures, as an attempt to mislead the public. Koch, called to testify, said the summary graph she provided through a series of e-mail exchanges with petition activist Bert Myrin, did not appear on the petition in the same format as the version she authored.Asked by Coté if the changes to the summary made it unintelligible, Koch said: “I wouldn’t agree that it made it unintelligible. It’s got English in it.”Asked if it the language was confusing, she said, “It’s not as clear as the one I wrote.”If you read the newspaper every day, yes, you could figure out what it means,” Koch added.Questioned by Kronberg, Koch conceded the summary accurately explained what the petition circulators hoped to accomplish with their referendum.”There was no misleading. It may have been a little wordy, but people clearly understood,” Kronberg later argued.Called to testify by Coté, Kronberg was asked repeatedly if she believed the annexation question on the May 3 ballot fairly expressed the intent of the referendum petition.”It’s a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” Goldman prodded after Kronberg skirted the question several times.”Yes,” Kronberg responded. Questioned by City Attorney John Worcester, acting as Goldman’s legal counsel, Kronberg also agreed the annexation question placed on the ballot by the City Council accomplished what the individuals who signed the petition wanted – namely, for the council to either repeal the annexation or give voters the final say.But Kronberg also complained the council’s action to put the question on the ballot usurped the citizens’ right to put the question forward via the referendum. An election forced by the referendum couldn’t have taken place for at least 60 days, giving Burlingame opponents more time to mount a campaign, she said.The council voted 4-1 to put the matter on the ballot on March 14 – 50 days before the election, though Kronberg suggested the petitioners had only 30 days to campaign on the issue.She also labeled the protest an attempt to “destroy the people’s power to have a referendum.”Kronberg argued that the issue of whether the referendum is moot, given last week’s vote on the annexation, is not addressed in the protest filed with the city. Nonetheless, Coté argued on that point yesterday, suggesting it is also a reason to invalidate the petition.Kronberg said the issue is not moot, though she told The Aspen Times it was “a moot point” earlier this week.If Goldman finds the petition valid, that doesn’t necessarily mean the annexation question will again find its way onto a ballot. Her decision could be appealed in court, by either side. Meanwhile, several council members have indicated they consider the issue moot and won’t vote to put it to voters again. If the council refuses to put the referendum on a ballot, the petitioners will have to seek a court ruling directing the city to do so.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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