Move muddies Reservoir Hill election


Staff Writer

A special election where Pagosa Springs voters will decide whether or not to amend the town’s charter so that any development on Reservoir Hill will first have to get past voters has been set for April 23, but not before the waters were muddied by the announcement of another petition.

“I want to say thank you for the ordinance you all are considering,” local attorney Matt Roane addressed town council on Dec. 20. Roane represents several members of the Friends of Reservoir Hill and has helped them with the process of getting a special election in place. “I think it was really fairly drafted, and the wording is clear. For voters walking into that polling place who don’t have an intimate understanding of the issues, it will be easy for them to grasp what they are voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on, and they will be able to make an intelligent decision.

“The one part of the ordinance that is still blank is the date, and I know you all are going to discuss that.” Roane went on to explain that the date his clients had asked for was Feb. 28, but, on further research concerning the rules for the first and second reading of an ordinance, the need for public notice, and allowing time for public input, it was discovered that March 12 would be the earliest possible date for the election.

“I hope that’s the date you already have in mind,” Roane concluded, “but if not I would be curious to know the reasons and perhaps have a chance to address you again.”

As Roane resumed his seat, Mayor Ross Aragon asked if there was any discussion and then quickly asked for a motion, but before anyone on the council could speak up, Town Clerk April Hessman interrupted and asked for a chance to address the council.

“As Mr. Roane says, the original petition has asked for a Feb. 28 election date,” Hessman explained. “In the meantime, the clerk’s office has received an intent to circulate a petition to counter the ballot title in the original petition that came through, so I do have someone else who would like to circulate a petition.”

Because of this second petition, Hessman asked that the election date be moved out as far as possible, to April 23, so that, if the second petition is successful, both items could be placed on the same ballot, thereby saving the town the cost of holding two elections.

“This is the first I have heard of a second petition,” council member David Schanzenbaker said. “Does it relate to the first one?”

This second statement of intent to circulate a petition to amend the town’s home rule charter, which was later supplied to SUN staff by Hessman, states, “On November 27, 2012 the Town received a petition proposing to amend the Charter to require an affirmative vote of a majority of the Town’s registered electors prior to the construction or operation of amusement rides on the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area.

“Section 31-2-215, C. R. S. allows an alternative provision to a proposed charter amendment to be submitted for the choice of the voters, with the amendment that receives the most votes taking effect. The Petitioners submit that the members of the Town Council are duly elected and entrusted by a majority of the voters to govern the Town of Pagosa Springs. Individual Council Members are directly accountable to the public for their governance decisions through the electoral process. Within the framework of the Town Charter, the Municipal Code, the Town zoning code and the comprehensive plan, it is the proper responsibility and purpose of the Town Council to make administrative, legislative, and judicial decisions related to the Town’s operations, including determining which uses are appropriate for Town property.”

When the nature of the second petition was confirmed at the town council meeting, Roane returned to the microphone to complain that it was simply an attempt to confuse the voters, since a “no” vote on the original ballot issue would essentially have the same effect as a “yes” vote on the second petition. Either way, it would give the town council the authority to make decisions concerning Reservoir Hill without the need to consult voters, so what is the point of the second petition, other than to create confusion and delay the original vote?

When asked what would happen if voters became so confused by having both issues on the ballot that they ended up voting “yes” for both, town attorney Bob Cole outlined two possibilities. If the second petition garnered enough signatures to allow it to be placed on the same ballot as the original one, then whichever received the most “yes” votes would be the one that would win.

However, Cole admitted, if the original issue passed and the voters decided that nothing could happen to Reservoir Hill without their approval, but then, at a later date, if the voters also voted “yes” to the second charter amendment giving town council the authority to decide on Reservoir Hill, then the second vote would trump the first, regardless of how many people voted “yes” for each.

While the sponsors of the second amendment were purposely left unnamed by Hessman at the town council meeting, and all of the council members acted as if they didn’t know who those sponsors were, only two of them were truly unaware — Schanzenbaker and council member Clint Alley.

Upon receiving the above mentioned copy of the intent to circulate, SUN staff discovered the five signatures at the bottom of the document belonged to council members Donald Volger, Darrel Cotton, Tracy Bunning, Katherine Lattin and Ross Aragon.

Not only were Schanzenbaker and Alley not invited to join in the process, they were completely left in the dark as to the actions of their fellow council members.

As to the source of the idea for a second petition, Aragon noted in an interview that the idea originated with Town Manager David Mitchem, who later confirmed the fact.