Read Part One
Part-time resident Bill Hudson had attended the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Reservoir Hill trailhead on Saturday night, December 22, where he'd watched two downtown residents — event organizer Christine Funk and mayor Ross Aragon — cooperate in plugging in the festive tree lights as the sky overhead was growing dark.
Mr. Hudson had also attended the Town Council meeting two days earlier, where he'd heard five members of the Town Council vote to delay a special Town election to accommodate a surprise petition — without giving the slightest hint at the meeting that those same five Council members were also the sponsors of the new petition.
Later, he discussed his surprise at learning that Ross Aragon, Don Volger, Tracy Bunning, Kathie Lattin and Darrel Cotton had attached their signatures to the so-called "counter petition".
"I assumed, from the way the Council members and attorney Bob Cole were discussing this 'last minute' petition during the discussion at the Thursday meeting, that the petition had been sponsored by Bob Hart and other members of the Town Tourism Committee, since they have been the people pushing hardest to get this amusement park approved. I never, in my wildest dreams, would have guessed that five members of the Council were also the petition sponsors, from by the way they were acting as if the petition were a surprise to them as well."
The new proposed petition, as it was described at the December 20 Council meeting, would place on the ballot an alternative 'Charter Amendment' issue for Town voters to decide.
The original measure, for which sufficient signatures had already been collected, would ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter to require voter approval before amusement rides could be placed within the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area. The new letter of intent — submitted to Town clerk April Hessman just that morning, and for which no signatures had yet been gathered — would apparently ask the voters to amend the Town Charter to allow the Town Council to place amusement rides on Reservoir Hill without voter approval.
In other words, a 'Yes' voter on this newly proposed 'Charter Amendment' would have exactly the same effect as a 'No' vote on the original measure.
Following some Council discussion which focused on setting a special election date in late April instead of in early March, precisely to accommodate this last-minute petition, Mr. Hudson — former editor of the Pagosa Daily Post website and its main political columnist for eight years — was recognized by mayor Aragon. He stepped up to the microphone.
"Thank you. I have enjoyed reading the Town's Home Rule Charter over these past years, and studying the issues involved. What is apparently being proposed is an attempt to confuse the voters, by putting two opposite measure in front of them at the same moment.
"Right now, the Town Charter specifically allows the Town Council to make decisions about Reservoir Hill. That already exists. You don't need to get voter approval for the Town Council to make decisions about Reservoir Hill; it's already in the Home Rule Charter.
"So what is going to be put on the ballot [by this new petition] is already in the Charter.
"The only benefit that could come from this petition that we are now hearing about, is to confuse me, as a voter. 'What am I supposed to do here [with this ballot]? I have two questions that ask opposite things.'
"I am confused as I walk into the voting booth. The Town Council already has the power to vote on developing Reservoir Hill. So what is this confusion that is being generated by some citizens here?"
As Mr. Hudson reminded the Council, a 'No' vote on the already-approved ballot measure would leave the power to develop Reservoir Hill in the hands of the Town Council, where it has been since the Home Rule Charter was first approved in 2003. The new petition was apparently proposing an 'amendment' to the Town Charter that doesn't amend anything.
"It's so simple," Mr. Hudson continued, addressing the mayor and his Council. "And this Council, voting to move the date of this special election to accommodate a confusing ballot measure, is your decision to try and confuse me — not to clarify what I wish."
After an uncomfortable silence, mayor Aragon told the Council he wanted to entertain a motion.
Council member David Schanzenbaker moved to schedule the election for March 12 — the date asked for by the sponsors of the already-signed Reservoir Hill petition. Only Mr. Schanzenbaker and Council member Clint Alley voted in favor of that motion — which makes sense, considering that the other five Council members were themselves sponsors of the "second petition."
Following the failure of Mr. Schanzenbaker's motion, Council member Don Volger made the motion the mayor was waiting for — a motion to delay the election until April 23. After making his motion, Mr. Volger continued to speak as if he were not one of the five sponsors of the new petition.
"The reason that I'm doing this is because I think there are more reasons to try and hold one election, and because of the constraints it places on staff to hold the election as early as March 12. Those are the primary reasons. I also have questions whether the petitioners of the second petition will have time to get signatures in time to get on the [April 23] ballot. And if they do, then I would hope we would make it as clear as possible what the public is voting on, so there wouldn't be confusion.
"Clearly what we've heard today is, one, the first petition wants to place the decision in the hands of the voters, for the development on Reservoir Hill — before we can put in amusement rides, then it has to be approved by the voters. And it sounds like the second petition is to keep that Reservoir Hill development specifically in the hands of the Town Council, for making that decision. Just making that more specific, even though we already have that authority. Now, if we just have that one election, then we will know which way we are going to proceed — if both of them pass, which one gets the most votes. And I hope that will be clearly explained to members of the public."
Then Ross Aragon, Don Volger, Kathie Lattin, Tracy Bunning and Darrel Cotton voted to delay the special election until April 23, in spite of the language in CRS 31-2-213:
"... the election shall be held as near as possible to the approximate date stated in the petition..."
The Council's decision appears to have violated that state law to accommodate a political move by the very Council members who voted to delay the date.
It remains to be seen whether the sponsors of the already approved petition will file suit to correct this situation, and force the Council to set the election date according to state law — on March 12.
Whether the Council has made a decision that will only further alienate Town voters already unhappy about the Reservoir Hill amusement park pro, also remains to be seen.