Straight shot opponents win the first round | AspenTimes.com

Straight shot opponents win the first round

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The “Stop the Straight Shot” petition drive succeeded in collecting the 797 signatures needed for a citizen’s initiative, with nine to spare.

City Clerk Kathryn Koch said she has certified 806 signatures from registered city voters on petitions turned in by the group of local residents who oppose the realignment of Highway 82 across open space on the west side of town.

The petitions will be presented to the City Council on Monday. Also on the agenda is the proposed appointment of Pitkin County Clerk Silvia Davis as the officer to conduct a hearing on Councilman Tony Hershey’s claim that some signatures were collected illegally.

Hershey said Thursday he will pursue his protest, which could invalidate some of the signatures and leave the group without sufficient support to force action.

The councilman filed a formal protest, charging that at least one petition was left unattended, in violation of state law. Hershey said he also believes some individuals circulated petitions but had someone else sign as the affiant on the document.

Since the petitions have only a nine-signature cushion, Hershey said his challenge could have an impact.

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“Nine is certainly worth my while,” he said. “They only got nine signatures over what they needed. If they’re correct and there’s such a great majority, the signatures should have been falling out of the sky, and they weren’t.”

Hershey’s protest is but one wrinkle in a petition drive that has raised questions from the start.

The petitioners are asking the City Council to adopt an ordinance repealing its decision to convey property for the highway to the Colorado Department of Transportation and preventing the property transfer without the approval of city electors.

The council approved a resolution in April, on a 3-2 vote, to hand over the property. The city has not yet received the necessary paperwork from CDOT, however, to complete the transfer.

The objective of the petitions does not wholly fit the definition of either a citizen’s initiative or a referendum, so city officials have questioned just what sort of ballot measure the group is pursuing.

And, according to City Attorney John Worcester, a resolution can’t be repealed via an ordinance, which conceivably renders the petition effort moot.

Petition drive organizer Cliff Weiss isn’t so sure.

“That’s their legal position. That doesn’t necessarily make it so,” he said. “That means we might be willing to go to court over it.”

Meanwhile, several council members have suggested the city needs to consider putting some question regarding the controversial entrance before voters in November.

The petitioners’ concerns, said Mayor Helen Klanderud, deserve attention.

“Let’s assume there’s nothing legally binding here requiring the council to overturn its resolution. There are still sufficient signatures on there that the council needs to listen to those people,” she said.

A work session to debate a ballot question is a likely next step for the council, the mayor predicted.

“I don’t mind a ballot question if it resolves this once and for all,” Klanderud said. “There needs to be discussion on all sides as to what that question should be.”

In 1996, voters approved a two-lane highway linking the Maroon Creek Road roundabout to the upper end of Main Street – an alignment across the Marolt Open Space dubbed the straight shot. That plan includes a light-rail corridor.

Last year, voters rejected four lanes of pavement across the open space, with two dedicated bus lanes as an interim transit measure, and shot down a proposal to leave the highway where it is, but build a roundabout at Cemetery Lane.

The community is so hotly divided on the entrance issue there may never be a clear majority supporting one plan for the highway versus another, Klanderud suspects.

“Some days, I believe this issue will never be resolved,” she said.