Election Season Kicks Off in Southern Teller

Key ballot issues and races at stake

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Election season has arrived in southern Teller, with a slew of contested races and key ballot issues.

Although the actual voting won’t occur until early November, much of the preliminary election activity will hit center stage this month, starting on Aug. 9. For the most part, candidates have until the end of the month to file final petitions and launch official campaigns.   

And term limits will play a big role for races in both Cripple Creek and Victor, with voters asked to pick new elected leaders in both municipalities and to discard familiar incumbents.  

In Cripple Creek, voters will decide two open positions in both Ward Four and Ward Five. The current officeholders for these positions, Steve Zoellner and Milford Ashworth, can’t run again due to term limits. They are both well-known civic figures who haven’t been challenged in the past.

As a result, much competition could occur, with a considerable amount of speculation regarding potential candidates. Based on past trends, incumbents are rarely challenged or beaten in Cripple Creek. Consequently, interest will remain high for these races this year.

Concept Illustration of Best Choice: Row of candidates or employers or people with a single candidate being served on a platter and another hand choosing the best

Aug. 9 marks the initial date candidates can pick up petitions for office. In order to snag a spot on the ballot, candidates, who must be a registered voter in the ward for a certain period and not be convicted of any felonies, must garner 25 signatures from qualified electors.

The winner of these races will join fellow council members Chris Hazlett, Tom Litherland and Mayor Bruce Brown. 

Besides picking two brand new council members, voters will decide the fate of a proposed 6 percent lodging tax that could generate between $300,000 and $400,000 in extra money a year initially.  The levy will be paid by overnight, paid guests at local hotels, motels, recreation hubs and bed and breakfast homes. If the tax is approved, the money would be equally spent three ways among the following: economic development and marketing/special events pursuits; street and road improvement needs; and   police/fire department purposes.

The elected leaders have approved the issue, but remained slightly divided on the specific language. This levy hasn’t done too well in the past, and was defeated a year ago by a fairly substantial margin. City leaders, though, say they plan to do much more voter education on the issue within the next few months.

In addition, fiscal issues dealing with the running of the city government could command much attention. Last year, the council rejected a plan to diversify the economy by approving plans that could have opened the door for recreational marijuana outlets and cannabis clubs.

Based on the views of a few of the possible future candidates, this issue could get revisited. At the very least, the city may have to review ways to generate more revenue.  Currently, the city’s main funding source, betting devices fees, has declined considerably.

Victor

In Victor, term limits will hit home big-time.  Voters will be forced to pick a new mayor and city clerk. Veteran office-holders Mayor Byron (Buck) Hakes and City Clerk Sandy Honeycutt can’t run again due to term limits.

This will have a big impact on the local government landscape, as both Hakes and Honeycutt have played dominant roles in Victor for the last decade.

Victor voters handily defeated a bid to eliminate term limit restrictions two years ago, which would have allowed both to stay in office for as long as they wanted, pending the outcome of regular elections. Proponents argued that it is tough finding qualified candidates for high profile elected positions in Victor. But voters opted to keep the same term limit rules in place that dominated Teller County since the 1990s. A similar anti-term limit proposal, impacting county seats, was also rejected a year ago by an even larger margin.

The other seats up for grabs are those of Ward One and Ward Two, currently held by Bruce Davis and Michelle Stevens. The incumbents are both eligible to seek re-election. Economic development and the need to attract more businesses and generate tourism are on the top of the list for key issues.  In addition, working with the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, owned by Newmont North America, with the American Eagles relocation project, is a big priority.  

Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School Board

Voters of the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School District, meanwhile, will decide the fate of three elected seats. These include seats currently held by Tim Braun, Dennis Jones and Tonya Martin. In addition, they will ether approve or reject a new redistricting plan that would create more at-large seats and consolidate the boundaries, with two positions representing the Cripple Creek and Victor districts

According to board president Tim Braun, the current alignment almost sets the stage for having three and possibly four of the five board members who live in the Cripple Creek area.  With the new proposal, he says it would make it easier to find qualified candidates for board seats and to have broader representation.

Critics, though, argue that this is part of a power play by the current administration. A group of parents and former employees have criticized some of the practices of the current administration, led by Superintendent Les Lindauer. They have accused the superintendent and current board for a lack of transparency, along with threatening certain parents and creating a bad working atmosphere within the district. They also have questioned the administration’s use of certain grant funds and the way contracts are awarded. 

Proponents of the administration, though, say much progress has occurred, with pursuits for a vocational school and in their pre-school and day care programs and even for a potential housing area for teachers. “We are on the right track,” said Braun, who plans to run for his seat again. “Les is doing a great job.”

Some parents in the district disagree and say they plan to rally for changes by lobbying for candidates who want to challenge the current administration. 

These issues could hit the center stage during the forthcoming election.