Recall effort is launched
The leader of the valley’s anti-rail movement took the first steps yesterday toward a recall election of four county commissioners who don’t share his views about mass transit.
Redstone resident Jeffrey Evans, the valley’s most outspoken opponent of rail, filed written statements with the county clerk that lay the ground for the recall of Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Shellie Harper, Mick Ireland and Leslie Lamont.
In all four identically worded statements, Evans contends that the commissioners betrayed the will of voters across the county when they decided last week to put off an election to authorize funding for a light-rail system in the upper valley.
After considering two possible rail questions, one a companion to a funding question going before city of Aspen voters and the other an advisory vote on various transportation options, the commissioners rejected the idea of placing either on the fall ballot. Their decision may jeopardize the outcome of the city vote, which is valid only if a similar poll is taken in the county.
“By refusing to allow a rail-bond vote to appear on the Pitkin County ballot, Commissioner Harper willfully defied the wishes of the electorate, and acted to destroy the integrity of the petition process,” says one of Evans’ statements.
“I haven’t committed a single act as commissioner that is unethical,” Harper responded. “How dare he suggest I did with this recall election.”
Harper assailed Evans for what she termed a “misuse” of the recall process that penalizes local taxpayers and distracts the county government from the mundane but critical business that affects people’s everyday lives.
“To trivialize the electoral process with a recall just because your elected officials don’t do exactly what you want is… is… I can’t come up with an adjective that describes it,” said Harper.
Lamont, who was not as peeved as Harper, said she is not surprised by Evans’ maneuver, but declined to comment further. “I can’t comment about it right now, because I haven’t seen it yet.”
Commissioners Ireland and Farris were out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
Evans, who is treasurer of the anti-rail group Common Sense Alliance, contends the commissioners backed him and other rail opponents into a corner.
“Basically, I went ahead and started the wheels rolling on a recall because we were left with absolutely no other choice. Apparently, all other petitions and votes are intended to be disregarded by our public officials, and, apparently, the only form of petition or vote they cannot ignore is recall,” he said.
In the written statements, Evans says that each commissioner voted to “remove a question from the November 2, 1999 ballot which would have provided the voters of Pitkin County the opportunity to approve or deny bonded indebtedness to construct a light-rail transit system.”
Evans is able to assert that the commissioners “removed” the question because the three commissioners present at the regular meeting on Aug. 11 passed it on first reading. They also passed the advisory question on first reading, and said it was necessary for all five commissioners to be present before making a final decision.
The written statements go on to say, “The timing of the vote on rail funding was mandated by voters of Pitkin County in an election held November 3, 1998, and by a petition initiated in the City of Aspen.”
Evans is referring to the ballot question last fall that asked voters if local government should stop paying for studies on rail if voters haven’t approved funding for rail by November 1999. The question passed with support of about 55 percent of the electorate.
Lamont and Ireland have said on the record several times in recent weeks that the 1998 question does not require an election on rail this fall; it only requires local government stop studying it.
The statements go on to explain that 840 voters in Aspen signed a petition to put a rail-bonding question before voters this fall.
After accusing the commissioners of willful defiance of “the wishes of the electorate,” the statements conclude with the assertion, “This total disregard for the basic principles of representative democracy has provided sufficient grounds for the recall of” the commissioners.
According to the county charter, the county clerk has two days to forward the statements to the commissioners. Each has five working days to write their own 200-word response, then the clerk has 10 days to issue petitions that include Evans’ statement and the response, if one has been filed.
Evans will have 60 days to gather enough valid signatures from registered county voters to force a recall. The charter requires signatures totaling 25 percent of all votes cast in the last election for the seat in question. Thus, 1,316 signatures are needed to force a recall vote on Ireland’s seat; 1,483 on Farris’; 1,555 on Harper’s and 1,569 on Lamont’s.
Once the signatures are submitted and verified, an election must be scheduled within 60 days. County election clerk Doreen Bellfy said there was no way to complete the recall petitioning in time for the November general election.
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