~ by Bob Volpe ~
The results are in. The citizens of Woodland Park have chosen a new mayor and three new council members.
Mayor Pro Tem Val Carr won the highly contested race for mayor, defeating Kellie Case,
Noel Sawyer, and Darwin Naccarato. Carr won by a margin of 266 votes over his nearest competitor, Naccarato.
In the race for city council, three seats were up for grabs. There were five candidates running for the three open seats. Rusty Neal received the most votes with 1,448 votes. Robert Zuluaga garnered the second most votes with 1,100 and Jim Pfaff took third in the vote count with 1,062 votes.
Carr’s mayoral victory came as a surprise to many local political insiders. Carr was defeated by incumbent Mayor Neil Levy in his last run for mayor in 2018 by a convincing margin. Levy declined to run for reelection this time around.
And apparently for Carr, his second try in the bid for mayor emerged as the charm.
With Kellie Case in the race for mayor, many thought she was the preliminary favorite to win this seat. In Case’s 2018 run for council, she received the most votes of any candidate with 1,205 votes, trouncing her nearest competitor by 146 votes. Surprisingly, Case came in last in the race for mayor this time, behind Sawyer, and Naccarato.
Carr ran an effective, high profile campaign, showcased by many newspaper ads, signs and articles in local publications. He focused on his experience and ability to be a “full time” mayor. Being a retired businessman, Carr can devote all of his efforts to being mayor.
The race for the open city council seats was sought after by five candidates. First place vote winner, Rusty Neal, ran on the promise to take a look at city codes and zoning. During the Chamber of Commerce candidate’s forum Neal said, “There’s several things I’d like to change. One that comes to mind is the open space rule. The definition in the code is the space between buildings. The way it’s worded, every single little yard between every one of the 53 buildings, the 16×20 foot added together makes up the 40 percent requirement. There is no open space.”
Neal’s decisive victory may indicate that residents are looking for a leader who will rein in on the city’s explosive growth trend. Neal was instrumental in the fight against the Tamarac manufactured housing project, which exploited loopholes in the city’s zoning laws.
Second runner up in the council race, Jim Pfaff ran on fiscal responsibility. Pfaff has been involved in political circles in the state for many years. In a statement after his win, Pfaff said, “This was a victory for the people of Woodland Park who have for years been looking for leadership in the city council. After too many misguided policies which benefited political insiders instead of the people and businesses of our community, change is coming.” During the Chamber of Commerce candidate’s forum Pfaff scolded previous councils for allowing the debt to accumulate to such a high level. Pfaff said, “We got ourselves into the situation we’re in. You can’t move forward with the kind of debt we’re running.”
The third place winner of a seat on council, Robert Zuluaga put out a statement on his Facebook page after the results came in. He said, “Congratulations to our new Mayor-elect Val Car, Councilmen-elect Rusty Neal and Jim Pfaff; and I look forward to working with our
existing Councilwomen LaBarr, Case, and Councilman Noel Sawyer. I am honored that I have been elected to be a new voice that will represent you, the citizens of Woodland Park, on city council as we set sail for a positive vision for our city. I hold this office in sacred trust, to serve you in the halls of government.”
Although the election is over, r there are still questions as to who serves on the final council. The three seats up for grabs were those held by Paul Saunier, Val Carr, and Darwin Naccarato. The three winners of this election filled all three of those open seats.
Naccarato was appointed by council, to fill Carrol Harvey’s seat when she resigned. Her term was up as of this election. Since Naccarato ran for mayor and not council, he is out.
Another interesting turn of events is that Councilman Sawyer, a veteran leader for some time, has resigned. Now council will have another open seat to fill. Sawyer’s seat will be filled by a council appointment, just as Naccarato filled Harvey’s seat. There are two years left on Sawyer’s term. Asked why he resigned Sawyer responded, “Personal reasons. I’ve done my civic duty it’s time to pass it on to the next group of council members.”
Sawyer’s seat will come before council for appointment sometime in mid-May. The city must post the opening first and allow 30 days for those wishing to fill the seat to come forward. Naccarato may apply for that open seat, but has not decided if he will apply.
Voters trounce plans for council pay and tougher rules for citizen petitions
Of the 11 ballot measures up for consideration, six passed and five failed, indicating mixed messages for city leaders. The six questions that passed dealt mainly with housekeeping issues, allowing the government to operate in a more efficient manner. The five that failed were typically questions that have been rejected by voters in the past. Several of these also dealt with key policy decisions.
The question to give council members a financial stipend failed by 950 votes, a verdict that was similar to previous sentiment on this issue. This is a question that has been brought before the citizens before and continues to fail.
The question to amend the charter to replace gender specific terminology, phrases, or words with gender neutral descriptions also failed. It lost by 959 votes.
The question on whether to remove penalties for violation of the city charter failed by 1,402 votes.
The question to remove requirements for the city from the charter by re-codifying the requirements for the budget into the city ordinances for future flexibility and best practices failed by 164 votes.
The question on should the charter be amended to modify the standard for citizen-initiated charter and municipal code modification petitions fell short by 302 votes.
Asked about the ballot measures that failed, City Manager Darrin Tangeman said, “I don’t really have much to say about the ballot initiatives, other than the voters have spoken. We are still waiting for definitive outcomes on several of the close charter amendment votes. I think some of the charter amendments that failed were not well understood and just require some additional community engagement, voter education, and discussion on a future ballot.”