Call for recall raises brows
Initial reaction among local observers to a recall drive against four county commissioners is mixed. Some support the right to initiate the recall. Others oppose the idea, at least in this case. And nearly everyone is surprised.
“I am 100 percent opposed to this recall,” said Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey, one of the upper valley’s most vocal opponents of rail.
“This is a representative government, and we can’t govern by opinion poll. If people think the commissioners made the wrong decision, they can vote them out when they are up for re-election,” he continued.
Anti-rail advocate, and Hershey backer, Jeffrey Evans began the recall drive Monday, when he filed with the county clerk his grounds for recalling Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Shellie Harper, Mick Ireland and Leslie Lamont.
In the written statements and in discussions with the press, Evans maintains that the commissioners defied the will of the electorate when they decided against placing a rail-bonding question on the Pitkin County ballot this fall.
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In November 1998, by a margin of nearly 55 percent, county voters approved a question requiring their government to stop funding rail studies if funding for the Entrance to Aspen light-rail project is not in place by November 1999. Evans said the initiative’s passage sent a clear message about the people’s desire to vote, once and for all, on rail funding.
“The commissioners won’t allow people to vote on a rail proposal they themselves fashioned, because they know there’s not nearly enough popular support for it to pass. That’s not how representative government is supposed to work,” Evans said.
By keeping the question of rail funding off the county ballot, the commissioners also threw a monkey wrench into a citizens initiative on the city ballot that Evans supports. It asks voters to approve funding for a light-rail system between Brush Creek Road and downtown Aspen. But financing the system requires authorization from voters in both the city and the county. Even if the city approves funding, it is not relevant without approval from the county.
“I was absolutely stunned that they removed the question [on rail funding] from the ballot,” Evans said. “The fact that the commissioners passed it on first reading led me to think that they would put it on the ballot. It’s the most irrational thing I’ve seen them do in 29 years.”
Evans said he made the decision to begin the recall without consulting his usual allies in the rail debate, partly because they’ve got other issues to deal with. “The Common Sense Alliance is going to be up to its earlobes with work on the ballot question in Aspen. This would only distract them,” he said.
Reactions among rail opponents lend credence to his claim.
“I am surprised,” said City Councilman Tom McCabe yesterday morning after reading the local papers. McCabe, who was endorsed by Evans and the anti-rail group Common Sense Alliance, said he had heard rumors about a recall effort, but he had not taken them too seriously.
“Recall is an enormous expression of people power. I think it should be reserved for clear abuses of political power,” he said. McCabe added that he needs to study the written statements before coming to a final opinion on this latest effort to unseat the commissioners.
Among the politicians polled by the Times, the least critical of Evans’ action was Patti Clapper, the only county commissioner who isn’t a recall target, yet.
“I was surprised. All I’m really going to say is I believe in the citizens’ right to use the recall process, even though at the same time the process is disruptive to government,” she said.
“I’m glad it’s not me,” Clapper added.
Larry Winnerman, who, like Evans, is a member of the Common Sense Alliance, said he had not discussed the recall drive with Evans, and as of yesterday morning had not seen the written statements outlining the grounds for removing the commissioners. “At the moment, I don’t have a reaction, so I don’t have any comment,” he said.
John Musick Jr., who has been at loggerheads with the county for the last year and a half over development of affordable housing at the W/J Ranch near Woody Creek, said he isn’t surprised that a recall drive has begun.
“I suspected something like this would happen if they didn’t abide by last November’s election on rail. The commissioners are stiff-arming the electorate,” said Musick, who recently threatened to initiate a recall drive of his own over the issue of roundabout funding.
Although Musick may agree, neither Hershey nor McCabe accept Evans’ contention that last fall’s election required the county commissioners to let people vote on rail funding this fall.
“It’s unfortunate they didn’t put a question on the ballot, but they weren’t required to,” McCabe said.
“This whole thing distracts from the rail-bus vote in Aspen. It’s a non-issue; nothing is going to happen,” said Hershey.
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