by Rick Langenberg:
Ouster critics question group’s agenda
Besides dealing with a historic flood and storm event, the town of Green Mountain Falls is now grappling with a local political bombing.
Recall petitions were submitted to the city clerk’s office last week, seeking removal of five of seven of the current board of elected leaders. According to long-term residents and political observers, this effort, started by the Concerned Citizens of Green Mountain Falls group, marks the biggest recall ever attempted in GMF recent history. If accepted by election officials for format, an official ouster campaign will begin this week.
The group, which held an informal gathering last week to publicly present their petitions, has approximately six weeks to collect autographs from registered GMF voters on the recalls. These target council members Mac Pitrone, Howard Price, Ralph LoCascio, Jane Newberry and Margaret Peterson. Excluded from the recall effort are Mayor Lorrie Worthey and Trustee Tyler Stevens, who have often found themselves on the losing side of many trustee votes. Ironically, three of the recall targets– Pitrone, Newberry and Peterson– face an election next April or can’t run anyway for their council seats due to term limits.
Recall organizers, though, say, they can’t wait any longer due to the lack of communications between the board and GMF citizens and the constant turmoil at regular meetings. Two meetings in the last year have resulted in walk-outs by some of the targeted council members. Critics of the effort, however, are questioning the substance of the recall campaign and say the current political woes amount to nothing more than personality clashes.
In any case, the recall will most likely move forward, pending any technical delays. “We need to bring people together,” said Judith Wiedner, one of the main recall committee organizers. “They (a few of the veteran leaders) have done some wonderful things, but this just can’t go on. We have to do this now.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by former mayor Dick Lackmond, a leading member of the committee. During last week’s public recall meeting, he lauded a few of the veteran leaders for what they have achieved in the past. However, he and other recall organizers say that most board members have become dysfunctional and are refusing to listen to the citizens. “They don’t care about citizen input,” said recall group member Nancy Bernard during last week’s gathering. According to the petitions initially submitted to city hall, the group cites a laundry list of grievances, such as opposing open and transparent social media policies, refusing to listen to public input prior to making decisions, not providing the police department with enough resources and thus endangering public safety, exhibiting conduct unbecoming that of an elected official and threatening citizens at meetings. Their reasons for wanting to fire five council members are similar to a list of complains the group outlined in their initial organizational meeting at the end of June.
The petitions will be reviewed by the city’s attorney for format, according to City Clerk Chris Frandina. The group’s first petition submittal was already rejected, but the committee re-submitted them on Friday afternoon and made what they believe are the necessary adjustments. Committee organizers are confident that the latest petition documents will meet the proper guidelines, and they can start their ouster effort this week. When the petitions are approved, the recall will be handled by a designated official from El Paso County. The costs for the potential recall election, though, will be footed by the city, according to local officials. These costs for a special recall vote could range from $5,000 to $10,000, according to preliminary estimates.
The group also wants to remove Frandina from having any involvement in the recall situation. In several of the group’s meetings, the city clerk has been the subject of much criticism. The committee leaders say the clerk has way too much power and control over the trustees and in running the town. But supporters of Frandina contend that she is just doing her job and abiding by state guidelines. They also cite her strong knowledge of government procedures and her detailed experience.
A skeptical response
The recall is getting a skeptical response by the current leaders and some residents. Pitrone says the group certainly has a right to pursue their campaign. But he questions the timing in the wake of the town’s recent catastrophic flood damage, and due to the fact that GMF will have a pivotal election next spring in which four elected positions are up for grabs. “Maybe people will come together in times like this,” said Pitrone, in discussing last week’s flood. He said he is most bothered by the ouster effort against Peterson and Newberry. “They are probably the most level-headed members of the board. They are outstanding trustees,” said Pitrone, who admits he sometimes loses his temper. Past meetings have been accentuated by shouting matches between Pitrone and the mayor.
He also worries that trustee meetings are becoming sounding boards for personal gripes and local feuds “We can only do so much,” said the veteran trustee, who said he is calling it quits when his term ends next April. “You can’t please everyone.” Pitrone, a local resident of 35 years, says he has never seen the political atmosphere in GMF get this ugly. “It used to be that when you had a disagreement with another board member, you had a beer or drink afterwards and moved on. That’s not the case anymore. It has gotten so personal.” Newberry agrees, and believes the expenses of the recall will hurt the town at a time when it needs every penny to deal with emergency disasters, such as last week’s flood. She also says she has tried to work with the committee organizing the recall to explain the board’s limitations. “The costs (of a recall election) are huge,” said Newberry. “It’s a shame. We need to really focus on our infrastructure,” added the veteran trustee, who referred to the recall campaign as an unnecessary distraction.
However, the recall organizers say their paper work was submitted prior to the recent flood. “It’s unfortunate, but events like this happen. We are still moving forward,” said Lackmond. The group leader stated that petition signing areas, under the possible theme of “Take Our Town Back,” will soon be established