`Straight shot’ opponents chasing more signatures for ballot petition

Naomi Havlen

Opponents of a “straight shot” into Aspen are out in force this week, attempting to collect additional signatures on a petition to force a new vote on the Entrance to Aspen.

Although the initial campaign came up short on signatures, one Aspen city councilman has filed formal charges with the city clerk alleging the petitioners violated state law.

Councilman Tony Hershey says he saw a petition left unattended on the counter at Explore Booksellers, where it was being signed. He took photos of the offense as evidence.

“The statute requires a person to collect signatures themselves. You can’t place a petition at the front desk of The Aspen Times and have people come in and sign it. You have to talk to a person who is collecting signatures,” he said.

Hershey said he would either like City Clerk Kathryn Koch to hold a hearing on the matter, or he wants assurances from petition drive organizers that the signatures collected on the unattended sheet will not be counted.

The petitioners hope to force the City Council to repeal a resolution that grants an easement to the state for the realignment of Highway 82 across open space on the west side of town. The so-called straight shot would bypass the existing S-curves.

Councilmen Tom McCabe, Tony Hershey and Tim Semrau voted in favor of the resolution granting the easement.

In their initial effort, petitioners collected the signatures of 394 registered city voters, according to a count by Koch. To force a ballot measure through the citizen’s initiative process, the group needs another 403 signatures.

Petition organizers have said they plan to circulate in Aspen’s most populated neighborhoods and station themselves at the post office this week to collect additional signatures.

It may be difficult, however, to determine how many signatures should be discounted as a result of the violation, Hershey said.

“[It] could make them 100 signatures more short, or 10, or zero. I don’t know. In 10 days, they must collect 800 signatures, and once they turn in the finals, I’d like to see clearly which signatures were collected where,” he said. If there is no way to determine where signatures were collected, Hershey said he is “out of luck.”

Petition organizer Cliff Weiss said the number of signatures collected on the petition in question was insignificant.

“He’s talking about a clipboard,” Weiss said. “Tony says he’s going to ignore this thing no matter how many signatures come in, anyway.”

Koch could not be reached for comment on whether a hearing would be held in response to Hershey’s complaint.

“I’m not doing this as a member of council. I’m doing it as a private citizen of Aspen with concerns about how the petition is being gathered,” Hershey said. “But if they don’t get enough signatures, this is moot and I’ll withdraw my complaints.”