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Council withdraws Reservoir Hill petition

Staff Writer

The Pagosa Springs town council held a special meeting Monday afternoon where, immediately after Mayor Ross Aragon called the meeting to order and Town Clerk April Hessman conducted the official roll call to verify that all seven members were present, council member Kathie Lattin made a motion.

“Mr. Mayor, I move that we move into Executive Session pursuant to 24-6-402(4)(b) and (e), Colorado Revised Statutes,” Lattin said, “for the purpose of receiving advice from legal counsel on specific legal questions, and to determine positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiation, developing strategy for negotiations, and instructing negotiators, concerning conflict of interest allegations and the possibility of litigation related to petitions to amend the Town’s Home Rule Charter regarding improvements on Reservoir Hill.”

Council member Tracy Bunning seconded the motion and all seven council members voted “Aye,” including David Schanzenbaker and Clint Alley, who had been excluded from participating in the development of, or even knowing about, the second petition until it was reported in a SUN article late last month.

As town manager David Mitchem ushered the audience out of the room, Hessman informed the board that she was ready to place the conference call to town attorney Bob Cole in Denver.

The previous week, at the Jan. 8 regular town council meeting, Schanzenbaker had asked Mitchem, “Did you consult with Bob Cole to make sure the second petition wasn’t providing any conflicts in the code?”

“I will be happy to do that,” Mitchem had responded. “We have had conflict of interest discussions with Mr. Cole, and he has indicated there are none, so I appreciate Mr. Roane’s (local attorney Matt Roane) perspective. We’ve been very thorough in the matter, but we will have the discussion again tomorrow, and if Mr. Cole’s judgment as to the appropriateness of council’s sponsoring that petition drive changes at all, I will let you know immediately.”

Apparently, something has changed since then.

Also at that meeting, Alley said, “I have one question and one request. If you could keep me involved and in the loop, I would like to be a little more aware of what’s going on. The question, and it doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other since I wasn’t involved, but is this the council doing this, or is it just the individuals?”

“The council members as individuals have initiated this petition drive,” Mitchem responded. “Another way to do this would be for the council to simply vote to put it on the ballot, and that option was considered, but it was felt that it was more important to get face-to-face with the citizens.”

Earlier in the meeting, Roane had raised questions concerning the legality of a second petition sponsored by select members of the Pagosa Springs Town Council that proposed another ballot issue be put before town voters, which essentially states the exact opposite of what has already been proposed by the Friends of Reservoir Hill — that no development should occur in that area without the explicit approval of the people.

The only audience member in attendance at the Jan. 14 meeting, where the executive session was held, besides SUN staff, was Roane, who patiently waited outside of the Town Hall council chamber for two and a half hours until the doors were finally opened and the official meeting was reconvened.

Roane later reported to SUN staff that he heard Aragon use the word “consensus” but he didn’t catch what the consensus was about, and no official decision was made before the meeting was quickly adjourned.

In a later phone interview, Mitchem confirmed that a consensus was indeed reached by the council while they were in executive session. “There was, and that’s what I can give you later today, or at the latest, first thing tomorrow morning.”

According to Colorado’s Sunshine Law, which spells out the rules for open meetings, town council is allowed to go into executive session to consult with an attorney or to develop strategy for a negotiation, but they are not allowed to make any decisions, official or otherwise, unless the meeting is open to the public.

When pressed, Mitchem provided SUN staff with a copy of a letter addressed to Hessman which read, “As you are aware, the undersigned are designated as representatives on the petition to amend the Town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter, which was submitted to you for approval as to form on approximately December 20, 2012. Please be informed that we have discontinued our circulation of the petition and withdraw it. It is our hope that such action will allow the Town Council to engage in discussions with the representatives of the petition submitted to you in November 2012, with a goal of presenting a single, unbiased ballot question to the voters of the Town regarding Reservoir Hill recreation amenities.”

Mitchem confirmed that the letter was a result of the consensus reached during Monday’s executive session and had been signed late Wednesday afternoon by Aragon, Volger, Cotton, Lattin and Bunning.

Mitchem explained, “This was done as a gesture of good faith in an effort to start a dialogue with the representatives sponsoring ballot initiative A.” He also explained that, as of press time, neither he nor the mayor had been successful in their attempts to contact Christine Funk from the Friends of Reservoir Hill, but they were making every effort to do so.

In a phone interview conducted last week, Aragon explained his motivation for going along with the ill-advised second petition drive. “The opposition to the town board was going around soliciting signatures on the basis that we were going to have a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster. Based on that, I would have signed their petition, too. I think it was totally wrong of them. It’s not just an embarrassment; it’s a flat out lie. That has never crossed anyone’s mind, so I thought that was pretty distasteful to blatantly state that that was going to happen.”

According to the Notice of Special Municipal Election published in the Dec. 27 SUN as a result of the successful first petition drive, the ballot before town voters will read, “Shall the town of Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter be amended to require an affirmative vote of a majority of the registered electors of the town voting thereon approving the construction or operation of any amusement ride in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area, as set forth in ordinance no. 781?”

Should Ballot Issue A pass, Section 10.12 Construction and Operation of Amusement Rides in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area will be added to the Home Rule Charter.

This section will read, “No construction or operation of any amusement ride shall take place in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area unless the question of doing so has been submitted to and approved by a majority of the town’s registered electors voting thereon. ‘Amusement ride’ shall be defined as any mechanized device, or combination of devices which carry or convey persons along, around, or over a fixed or restricted course for the purpose of giving passengers excitement, amusement or pleasure. Amusement rides include, but are not limited to, roller coasters, Ferris wheels, go-karts, chairlifts, gravity-propelled rides and rope-tows. Amusement rides do not include non-motorized playground equipment or personal recreation equipment such as skis and bicycles.”

While it seems clear enough that the section simply includes a definition of amusement rides and does not accuse town council of actually proposing that all of those things be built on Reservoir Hill, if it is that particular language the mayor and certain members of town council object to, perhaps the group from the Friends of Reservoir Hill would be willing to negotiate that issue and avoid subjecting voters to an even more confusing second ballot initiative.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on January 17, 2013.