Council Debates Using Nicknames on Election Ballots

Leaders Set the Stage for Citizens’ Vote on Vacated  Seat

~ by Bob Volpe ~

The Woodland Park City Council recently grappled with an issue that relates to how candidates for public office may place their names on election ballots.

But similar to many decisions these days, the WP elected leaders failed to reach the finish line in resolving this somewhat unusual topic.

This became an issue when, during the last election, one candidate insisted his business name be included with his name on the ballot. This created a large controversy over who can and who cannot use a business name or nickname on a ballot.

The individual in question was challenged by the city clerk as to whether his business name was actually a nickname. But the candidate insisted he is known by his business name; therefore, it fell under the category of a nickname. The city clerk relented to the candidate’s claim, and his business name was included on the ballot.

According to City Attorney Jason Meyers, the state election code differs from the municipal election code, and city elections follow the municipal code. The purpose of the discussion was to clarify the municipal code to prevent such an issue occurring in future elections.

Meyers presented two options for the council to consider. Option one is removing nicknames and to let the city clerk handle these types of situations. Option one does allow for a nickname that is, “a familiar form of a proper name.” That would include names like, Bill for William, Bob for Robert, etc.

Option two, according to Meyers is, “more robust in specifying just what’s allowed.” Meyers suggested option one, saying, “If the state is happy with it, we ought to be as well.”

The discussion on the issue garnered much debate and dominated a great deal of the council’s attention Immediately after Meyers finished his prelude to the issue, Councilman Jim Pfaff inserted his opinion. Pfaff said, “In my opinion we should consider option one. There are nicknames there that someone named William, who is really not known by that name, but rather Bill. I think it’s fair to allow that person to clarify on the ballot. I think it’s worded in such a way that it’s fair for anyone.”

Mayor Val Carr agreed. He stated his real first name is James, and that if he were not allowed to use his nickname, “Val” on a ballot it would work against him.

Carr maintained that neither option was perfect and that perhaps another option should be presented. He said, “We want to be careful about nicknames that end up being a product name, things like that.”

Councilman Rusty Neal stated, “I have a vested interest in this. My real name is Paul and nobody in the real world, other than my family, know me by that name.” Neal stated he does have a legal alias for his nickname Rusty with the Department of Defense.

Option two, according to Neal, would require government documentation as to the validity of the nickname that would include a government-issued identification card. Therefore, with option two, Neal would not be allowed to use the name Rusty on a ballot. He leaned toward option one.

Meyers suggested the council has the option to modify or make changes. He said, “You have the option to do that.”

City Clerk/Assistant City Manager Suzanne stated, “What the issue was, was that this person when asked identified that as his nickname. What I’m hearing is that person would still be allowed to do that.”

Pfaff then commented that the person in question really was using a trade name, not a nickname.

This discussion went around in circles for more than 20 minutes before the council decided to send the matter back to Meyers for another option.

Special Election Set For Determining Vacated Seat

In other government news, the council did approve Ordinance No.1379, on extending the temporary moratorium to January 23, 2021 on accepting applications for detached single-family uses in MFS and MFU zones. This issue was a result of public outrage over the approval of the Village at Tamarac manufactured homes project. That project exploited a loophole in the city code to advance the project.

Council also approved resolution 864, calling for a special election to be held in conjunction with the November 3 vote as part of a Teller County coordinated election. This paved the way for the city to include a ballot measure for the citizens to decide who will fill the seat on council vacated by Noel Sawyer, who stepped down after the last city election.

The council was split on deciding on an appointee for the position.  This prompted the need for an election to determine the issue.