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Petition effort moves forward

Staff Writer

Questions have been raised concerning the legality of a second petition sponsored by select members of the Pagosa Springs Town Council that proposes 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.

“Council members, at the last meeting on December twentieth we sat here and talked about a proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter concerning Reservoir Hill,” local attorney Matt Roane said at Tuesday’s council meeting. He represents a group of five people that has already successfully circulated the first petition. “And as we were talking about the date for that event, Ms. Hessman (Town Clerk April Hessman) informed us all for the first time that there was a second group who had that day notified her of their intent to submit a second proposed amendment.

“Those people were not identified and no names were mentioned while we had that discussion. Since then, we’ve all learned who those sponsors are, and, of course, it comes as no surprise that it is the five middle council members sitting at this bench — council members Volger, Cotton, Bunning, Lattin and Mr. Mayor. Council members Schanzenbaker and Alley were not a part of that proposed amendment.

“We’ve also learned since December twentieth, as the result of appreciatively candid admissions from Mr. Mayor and Mr. Mitchem, that the idea was Mr. Mitchem’s, that he proposed it to you and you all agreed to go along with being the sponsors of this competing amendment.

“As he was proposing this to you, I wonder if he talked about the legality of what he was asking you to join in on? You are sponsoring a petition to amend the Home Rule Charter. Colorado Revised Statutes state that the petition shall designate by name and address not less than three nor more than five registered electors who shall represent the signers thereof in all manners affecting the same.”

Roane then reiterated that by signing the last page of the form for the intent to circulate a petition — and he re-read the signature of each of the five people who signed the form — they were swearing they were registered electors of the town and that they were representing the people who will sign the petition.

“The municipal code of the town of Pagosa Springs,” Roane concluded, “says that no council member shall represent any person or interest before the town council during his term of office.” Roane did not specify at that time which section of the municipal code he was referring to.

“We’ve got a Home Rule Charter amendment, you are sponsoring it personally and representing all of the people who signed your petition, and you’ve got to be the judge, as council members, of the election date to assign for that amendment, to the ballot language to assign to that amendment, and you’ve got to pass the ordinance that enables all of that, and all the while doing the same for a directly competing amendment.

“As we stand here today you have not turned in those petitions and I don’t know how the process is going for you. I don’t know whether you’ve got five or five hundred signatures, but you have not turned them in yet, and I ask you, in the weeks to come, to think about whether you do that or not, because you don’t have to.

“You are standing on a cliff, looking down into the abyss of illegality. You can talk to (town attorney) Bob Cole, you can speak to Mr. Mitchem, you can double check what I’ve said here, but that’s what you’re staring at. You’re standing on a cliff, your toes are hanging off, and Mr. Mitchem has his hand on your back. I’m asking you to step away from that cliff and step towards a single-question ballot that will give us a single direction and will tell you, the representatives of this community, what your constituents want.”

In response, Volger asked Mitchem to call Cole as soon as possible to get his response to Roane’s accusation. Mitchem promised to do it first thing the next morning.

In a phone interview, Mitchem confirmed he made the call to Cole, saying, “Mr. Cole is drafting a response and his opinion is that the council members have done nothing illegal and Mr. Roane’s allegation is inappropriate. He’s still researching the matter and he’s going to put something in writing.”

Mitchem went on to confirm that the mayor and those members of town council listed above have drafted their petition and have started gathering signatures. “There are multiple petitions out, being carried by multiple people at this time, including members of council.”

“If it was illegal, we would not be doing what we are doing,” Aragon affirmed in a separate interview. “We are going to hold fast that we are not doing anything illegal as Mr. Roane keeps on insisting.”

Aragon couldn’t speak for the other petition sponsors, but said, “As far as I’m concerned, I have talked to a few people, and I have explained that 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.”

While Aragon admitted he has been talking to people about the second petition and his reason for sponsoring it, when pressed, he refused to say he had collected any signatures on it yet. “We’ll wait on that for now,” he said, “And I’ll tell you why: I just don’t feel comfortable, when we have a legal issue and people trying to sue us, saying something that I will be accountable for.”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on January 10, 2013.
  • Brian Griffin

    The Town Council (and residents of Pagosa Springs) should have their hands on Mr. Mitchem’s back, pushing his sorry butt out of here once and for all. The guy is nothing but a useless figurehead. If he had a conscience, he’d quit tomorrow – but he hasn’t found the next “River City” to inhabit, yet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cobb.98 David Cobb

    I grew up in Pagosa Country and fondly thought of it as home. After reading all of the articles concerning the town council, the city attorney and over all politics I now proudly say the I am a native of New Mexico and hope the people of Pagosa Springs are able to straighten things out in that town before it is no longer thought fondly of by many, many more.