What’s behind latest recall? | AspenTimes.com
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What’s behind latest recall?

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland and the people leading the charge to recall him portrayed the upper valley’s latest political battle in strikingly different terms Friday.

Ireland claimed the recall attempt is nothing more than an effort to “punish” him for supporting a moratorium on large houses and other aggressive growth-control steps. Recallers hope to remove him and intimidate the other board members into overturning a six-month moratorium on reviews of large homes, he said.

“It’s the usual recall thing – you try to intimidate a public official from doing the right thing,” said Ireland.

But recall organizers insisted that Ireland’s conduct, not his political positions, are the issue.

“It’s not about the railroad or the moratorium,” said Maryellen Schembri, a spokeswoman for the recall organizers. “It’s about a pattern of disrespect.”

Ireland has been the target of two previous recall attempts. Both failed. One effort was made after the county commissioners decreased the development potential in the backcountry in 1996.

Recall proponents failed last year to gather enough signatures to force a special election.

The first step in this latest recall process was launched Friday when an affidavit was filed with Pitkin County Clerk Silvia Davis by local land-use attorney Millard Zimet.

That affidavit states reasons why organizers feel Ireland should be recalled. Davis has until Tuesday to notify Ireland of the effort in writing. Ireland then has five working days to file an official response.

The recall organizers’ reasons and Ireland’s defense will be printed on recall petitions. Organizers have 60 days upon receipt of the petitions to collect signatures.

To force a recall election, they must collect about 1,300 signatures of qualified county electors. That figure is 25 percent of the total number of votes cast in Ireland’s last general election, said Davis.

None of the other four commissioners are targeted by the recall. Three of them – Leslie Lamont, Dorothea Farris and Shellie Harper – face election this November. Ireland’s seat isn’t up for election until 2002.

Lamont and Farris supported the moratorium. Harper did not. Who’s behind it? Four women signed the recall affidavit. They are Amy Martineau and Heidi Friedland, who own retail shops in Aspen; Penney Evans Carruth, a local realtor who is involved in a variety of civic endeavors; and Schembri, another longtime local involved in several community issues. Schembri was formerly known as Maryellen Smiddy.

Schembri said she was asked to get involved in the recall by a “small group” of organizers who don’t want their identities known – at least not yet. They include longtime locals, newcomers, people in the development and building industries, and business people outside of those areas.

Some of those organizers feared their dealings with the county or with other community members could suffer if they took on public roles with the recall. If there is a “groundswell” of support for the effort, they might be more willing to come forward, Schembri said.

“I’ve talked personally to people who are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution,” she said.

Schembri said she didn’t feel threatened, so she agreed to sign the recall affidavit and become the group’s spokeswoman. “I’m more fearful of losing the right to speak out,” she said.

Zimet worked with the small group, according to Schembri. County Clerk Davis said Zimet turned in the recall affidavit. He has also protested the moratorium through his column in Roaring Fork Sunday and as a guest on a local radio talk show.

Zimet declined to define his role in the recall for The Aspen Times. He referred questions about the effort to Schembri.

Schembri said she envisions Ireland’s opponents joining forces, regardless of their motivation. “I’ve been led to believe that will happen,” she said. The final straw Schembri said that Ireland’s treatment of people during the moratorium hearings rather than the actual moratorium convinced her to get involved in the recall effort. She said she believes many other people feel that way.

If the moratorium was the real issue, she said, “the other commissioners would have been targeted, too.”

A six-month moratorium on homes larger than 3,500 square feet was approved by a 4-1 vote on Jan. 10. It was later altered in a 3-2 decision to allow homes of 5,750 square feet. Clapper and Harper opposed it.

Protesters, many from the development and building industries, complained that the moratorium was approved without advance notice. Attorneys for moratorium foes requested electronic mail correspondence between the commissioners on the topic.

Some of those e-mails are now at the heart of the recall. Schembri said she was asked earlier this week to read some of the transmissions. She said some of them written by Ireland fit into what she called a “pattern of disrespect.”

One has been identified as particularly offensive by recallers. In it, Ireland wrote to the other commissioners that he doesn’t think the board should bend over backward to “protect liars and greedheads.”

Ireland defended that e-mail to The Aspen Times as merely encouragement to vote on the moratorium – pro or con – but just vote. He said he didn’t want to see the issue become tangled in a long, drawn-out review process.

That e-mail has made the rounds among builders, attorneys and others.

“It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Schembri.

The recall affidavit lists the reasons for seeking recall as: “He has consistently advocated political positions that are not supported by his constituents; and “He has consistently behaved in a rude and abusive manner that is unbecoming a public servant; and “He has lost the trust and confidence of a large segment of the citizens of Pitkin County; and “He has two years remaining on his term (including one as BOCC chairman), and so he must (sic) recalled now.”


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