Entrance petitions back in city’s lap | AspenTimes.com

Entrance petitions back in city’s lap

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The group hoping to force a new vote on the Entrance to Aspen turned in additional petitions Friday containing the names of more than 500 registered city voters.

The sum should give them more than the 797 needed for a citizen’s initiative, according to petition drive organizer Cliff Weiss.

Between the group’s initial push to collect signatures, which fell 403 names short, and their second 10-day petition drive, which ended at 5 p.m. Friday, Weiss calculated the group collected a total of 951 signatures from registered voters, along with the names of 500 nonresidents who also support their position.

For their second round of collecting signatures, the group matched the names of signatories to a current city voter list, so they’re confident most of the signatures are valid, Weiss said.

City Clerk Kathryn Koch has five days to certify the new batch of signatures, but she said she expects to have the task done by Wednesday morning, when she has scheduled a hearing to consider a protest lodged by Councilman Tony Hershey.

Hershey has charged the group with leaving at least one of its petitions unattended at Explore Booksellers, in violation of state law. He snapped photos of the unattended clipboard.

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In a letter to Koch, Hershey said he doesn’t know which petitions were circulated at the bookstore. “It is therefore my contention that either all the signatures are invalid or the petitioners and affiants must prove which petitions were not in fact left unattended at Explore Booksellers in violation of the aforementioned statute,” he wrote.

Koch, who will be the hearing officer, said the law clearly puts the burden of proving which signatures are invalid on the individual filing the protest.

Last week, Hershey said he had not yet decided whether he will pursue the matter further.

“They blatantly disregarded the law,” he said.

But, Hershey predicted the petitioners have made their point in so far as some question regarding the controversial entrance is likely to appear on the November ballot.

It may not, however, be the measure they have proposed with their petition, which seeks to repeal a resolution granting an easement to the state for the realignment of Highway 82 across open space at the entrance to town.

The petitioners have proposed an ordinance that repeals the resolution and prevents the city from turning the easement over to the Colorado Department of Transportation unless the property transfer is approved by voters.

According to City Attorney John Worcester, a resolution can’t be repealed via an ordinance. The council could refuse to put the initiative on a ballot, since it can’t be bound by the results of the vote anyway, he said.

Nonetheless, Weiss said he hopes the council interprets the results of the initiative effort as a clear sign that many voters want to revisit the entrance plan before anything is constructed.

“Now [council members] are either going to pay attention to a large group, or they’ll hear from us later,” he said. “I can’t imagine them ignoring 1,500 people. We want this on the ballot.”

Weiss said he personally would like the voters polled on the basic issue: Do they want the highway to stay where it is or do they want the so-called “straight shot” – a new alignment across the open space that bypasses the existing S-curves?

“Yes to a straight shot or yes to keeping the S-curves. It’s about that simple,” he said. “If you want something definitive to come out of this, it has to be A or B.”

The council is expected to take up the petitions at its June 24 meeting.