Card Draw Decides Disputed Cripple Creek Council Seat

Victor veteran leader wins ward spot by a single tally

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Election 2017 is now in the history books for southern Teller County, but not without a spree of question marks and head shaking.

In fact, the reality that every vote counts during an election has been reaffirmed with pronounced fashion in our local abode.

Early last week, a card draw was held to decide the final contested position, a Ward 5 Council seat for the city of Cripple Creek. Melissa “Missie” Trenary, a long-time Cripple Creek resident and member of the historic preservation commission, emerged as the grand winner by selecting a 10 of diamonds. She beat out Jeff Regester, who pulled a 7 of clubs out of the deciding card deck.

Both candidates ended in a dead heat for the Nov. 7 municipal vote. A recount, done just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, still resulted in a tie verdict.

This led to the only way to resolve the council contest, a “drawing by lot,” a fancy bureaucratic term for the election to be decided by a card game, coin toss or pulling a name out of a hat, or any other chance contest. Statutory guidelines have provided Colorado municipalities with no other options, such as doing an appointment or having another vote. Many Teller citizens have expressed bafflement over the way these tie verdicts are determined. “It is so Cripple Creek,” quipped Trenary, in describing the final card draw process.

This chance process isn’t unusual for Cripple Creek or Victor. In fact, a previous council tie between Ed Libby and Noel Perran for a council seat about 15 years ago was decided the same way. This actually propelled Libby’s ascent into Cripple Creek power circles. In a subsequent election, he won top nods as mayor and embarked on bold efforts to turn the town into a heritage tourism hotspot.

In keeping with tradition, election officials last week decided on having the candidates draw a single card among a 52-card deck, a process monitored by a Teller County canvass board in the council chambers. City officials served as spectators, and the candidates themselves got a chance to reshuffle the deck. In many ways, the usual precautions were taken governing most official card games in casinos.

Trenary, who works at a local casino, showed off her card selection talents. But she claims no strategy was involved in her decisive card pick.

With Trenary’s victory, Cripple Creek’s council slight reputation as a good ol’ boy club will take a slight beating. The council now has two female members, Trenary and Meghan Rozell, who handily beat Scott Marshall. This marks a change from previous council make-ups.

The new Cripple Creek council members will be sworn into office on Dec. 6.

They will join fellow council members Chris Hazlett and Tom Litherland and Mayor Bruce Brown.

Big changes could occur with this new council lineup, according to sources. However, the city will face some big challenges with declining betting device revenue and a push for more recreation and tourism activities

“The real work begins now,” said Trenary, who admits the city faces many challenges. “I am excited.”

Like many local residents, she was stunned that the vote ended in a dead heat, a rare development but one that isn’t unprecedented for Cripple Creek/Victor and even for Woodland Park. WP Mayor Neil Levy, the owner of the Swiss Chalet restaurant, gained his initial political power surge by a name-drawing contest, held in the WP Council Chambers, about three years ago

In a later interview with TMJ, Trenary thanked her supporters and expressed much satisfaction over the success of the lodging tax proposition. After several failed tries, the city council finally was able to garner voter approval of a 6 percent levy on overnight rooms, with the money to go towards marketing and special events and community development. This tax faced stern opposition from some people in the community, but this time it received strong support from the casino industry.

Trenary, a long-time resident, is well-known in the community. She has served as a leader of the Two Mile Club, and worked for the Cripple Creek District Museum, and even did a stint with TMJ. In addition, Trenary, who works as a valet manager for Double Eagle, has been on the historic preservation commission.

Victor race decided by one vote

In Victor, an earlier tie vote declared between Diana Bowman and Buck Hakes, was broken recently in the final tabulation of tallies and in a recount. Hakes, a veteran mayor and well-known business owner, edged past Bowman by a single tally.

As a result, a well-known city leader will remain on the council. Changes, though, could occur with a new mayor, Don Daniel, a current Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School Board member.

Initially, this Ward 1 race ended in a dead heat, with both candidates garnering 40 votes on Nov. 7. But Hakes gained an additional vote from a small handful of ballots that had to be “cured,” meaning that the signatures didn’t quite match what the clerk’ s office had on file. Election officials then contacted these voters to assure they were the persons casted these tallies.

One of these ballots impacted the Ward 1 race in Victor. A recount further reaffirmed Hakes’ single tally victory.

No other additional ballots counted after the Nov. 7 election impacted other races. The election has now officially concluded, according to officials from the Teller County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

As for finding a way to change these tie verdicts, election officials have one sure answer: Get more people to vote.

Even with a variety of contested seats in southern Teller, with nearly 20 candidates bolting from the gates, election 2017 ended with a dismal 1,074 ballots cast, representing only a 27.54 percent turnout rate. This is lower than most off-year elections.