Two New Council Members Take Office
It’s now official, and as a result, the Teller gaming community could experience some definite political changes, with a more watchful eye looming on the operations of the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, and possibly a push for more special events and festivals.
Plus, the road is now clear for the return of former mayor Bruce Brown, who presided as the town’s head leader for more than a decade, to the council table.
Last week, the final tallies were rendered for Cripple Creek’s first recall election in more than 20 years that netted a victory for those who favored the ouster of council members Mark Green and Charles Solomone.
Green, who won in an uncontested election two years ago for the Ward 4 seat, was given his walking papers by a 58 to 36 vote margin, with the vast majority of electors favoring Brown as his replacement. Meanwhile, long-time resident Jared Bowman got the nod for the Ward 5 spot, with Solomone getting voted out. This tally, though, was extremely close with Solomone only getting removed by four votes in a 48-44 verdict.
Both Brown and Bowman were sworn into office on Monday afternoon.
The final results didn’t differ much from the earlier preliminary tallies, released in the previous week. Officials had to still count overseas ballots and a few votes “held in reserve,” from the evening of Jan. 24.
The recall vote capped a heated political duel that followed an earlier and contested decision last summer to reverse a previous council stand, and give the go-ahead for a new retail gift shop area at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center. This fueled the recall campaign that had its genesis even earlier as tensions mounted between several council members and former leaders and long-time residents.
Recall supporters viewed the idea of a gift shop at the Heritage Center as paving the way for the city to compete against small, struggling business owners. In addition, an earlier letter, penned by previous leaders, “What Happened to Cripple Creek,” gained much traction. This letter sent the message that the majority council members were leading the city in the wrong direction.
Even though Green and Solomone were fired from the current posts, the targeted council members still had their supporters. When the council reluctantly okayed having a special city election late last year, following the submittal of a successful recall petition drive, many spoke in opposition of the recall effort.
In a recent interview, Green stated the current council had done more in the last year that previous leaders had achieved in a previous decade. He cited major progress in the areas of housing, infrastructure and in development incentives. Green noted that they used a different business model and wanted to pursue more long-term economic development benefits, instead of just favoring a previous failed system that wasn’t working.
Green also played a big role in working with the casino association in opening the door for a citizens’ vote on legalizing retail marijuana, which was fueled by a successful initiative campaign. “About 90 percent of what I wanted to do we achieved,” said Green.
New Council Members Face Slew of Issues
One factor remains certain: The newly-elected council members will have little time to gloat over their victories. The council now has to grapple with an overwhelming November election decision by local voters to permit retail marijuana. The council had a workshop on this issue last week, with City Administrator Frank Salvato presenting a slew of questions the leaders must now resolve during the 180-day period a moratorium on issuing cannabis licenses is in place (see related story)
The other big question: Will the recall verdict result in changes in the operations of the Heritage Center, including reversing a decision that permitted them to have a small gift shop area. Plus, the current council now has a few definite critics of the Heritage Center, who question the amount of money being allocated for the facility.
The Heritage Center has always emerged as a facility that has generated much controversy due to the amount of city funds allocated for the project. It was originally spearheaded by former Mayor Ed Libby, who was defeated in a regular municipal election, shortly after the center opened.
Tourism proponents, though, are strongly in favor of the project, and say this is the prime year-round hub for promoting Cripple Creek attractions and its historic assets. But critics argue that more space should be leased out to other operators, or that it can be used for additional options, such as a special events or wedding venue.
The issues surrounding the Heritage Center may get evaluated more, as a result of the recall verdict.
Brown, shortly after the initial results were released and it appeared he would be the new prospective Ward 4 representative, said he wanted to review what options the council had in doing away with the Center’s retail pursuit. “That was really what this (the recall campaign) was about,” said Brown.
But can the city legally get rid of a current business use that currently exists, and that has been approved?
The Heritage Center now houses a very small area for retail items, following the council’s decision of last summer
Another big post-recall question: Will the current council now pursue more special events and festivals? Both Green and Solomone were staunch opponents of using city funds for sponsoring signature festivals, such as the Salute to American Veterans Rally, which now has moved its event to Woodland Park.
This move followed an avalanche of bad blood stirred up between supporters and critics of the Salute Rally, a feud that dominated much attention on social media
The city previously took a lead role in having special events, often nicknaming its lineup as “The Summer of Fun.”
This tradition, though, took a thrashing during the COVID epidemic, and the city opted in 2022 not to be a funder of any special events, period, other than the July 4th festival.
Some former leaders and long-time residents questioned this decision, saying the city had established a strong reputation in the past in promoting family-oriented events and conveying the message that Cripple Creek offers more than gaming.