Woodland Park City Elections Looming

Nearly a Dozen Candidates Seek Seat on the Dais

Trevor Phipps

Election season has officially kicked off in Woodland Park, as close to a dozen candidates are now bolting from the starting gates.

This is the most contenders for the city’s spring election showdown in recent memory.

Every four years not only does our calendar bless us with an extra day, but we are also thrown into the tides of election fever. 2024 happens to be the year voters from across the country will decide on the nation’s commander-in-chief. And locally, the action also heats up as Woodland Park voters will have the chance to pick their own elected representatives.

The past municipal election, along with the most recent special election,  featured a slate divided into two groups quickly coming across, giving voters choice A or B. This year there is not necessarily a hot topic, drawing a political line in the sand like the most recent special STR (short-term rental) vote. Still, the number of candidates entering the arena is relatively unprecedented.

Although it is young in the election season, the final deadline recently approached for submitting candidate petitions and verifying signatures.

According to city officials, there are a total of 11 official candidates running for office. Out of this lineup, nine are contending for four open council seats, while two candidates are running for the top mayoral position.

In Woodland Park, a new mayor is elected every two years for two-year terms and city council rotates with four-year terms with three spots open every two years, and then two spots open the other two years. But since former Councilmember David Ott resigned, there is an extra city council position open this time around. In addition, Mayor Hilary LaBarre has opted not to seek re-election.

This year, only council members Catherine Nakai and Kellie Case will stay on the dais because they are both at their halfway points on their four-year council terms.

However, Case has put her name in the hat to run for mayor against resident Jerry Penland. As a result, Case will either become the mayor, or remain on the council for another two years.

During the 2022 city election, there were also four open seats due to a resignation, but there were only seven candidates vying to fill the four spots. This year Tim Northrup, Frank Connors, Don Dezellem, Eric Lockman, George Jones, Teri Baldwin, Jeffrey Geer, Steve Smith and Karen Sherrill are all running for the four open city council seats.

Connors is the only one of the nine candidates that has held a spot on the dais prior to his 2024 run.

Dezellem has run for council unsuccessfully in the past and he is back in the race for 2024.

George Jones is a local entrepreneur, and he has served on several city committees. But this year’s race will feature some new faces to the Woodland Park political scene.

The Woodland Park election year recently became official, as the WP clerk’s office finalized the list of contenders. The election is slated for April 2. This is the date of a number of municipal elections in the region, including Colorado Springs and Green Mountain Falls. However, GMF may opt out of this spring timetable (see related story)

Two Familiar Faces Run for Mayor

Kellie Case is currently in the middle of her second city council term after being elected for the first time in 2018. She currently works as a real estate agent. Prior to serving on council, she was the city’s finance director. This year is her first time running for mayor.

Jerry Penland, her opponent, previously served as a member of the planning commission, and has been a frequent speaker at council meetings.  However, this marks his first run for an elected position in Woodland Park.  He first came out of the woodworks in late 2022 to lead a group of citizens with a major pushback against a pro-short-term rental (STR) ordinance passed by council.

He then played a key role in forcing the special election for an STR ordinance pushed by a group of citizens. After the group’s ordinance was passed by voters, Penland then decided to run for mayor.

The mayoral race could get interesting this time around because Case and Penland aren’t new to being on opposite sides of debates. During the STR saga, Case fought against Penland and his group expressing a regulatory approach to STR properties as opposed to a ban in residential districts.

Managing Growth and Other Hot Issues

Even though many residents are tired of hearing about STRs, expect the STR subject to arise again and again. This has been a hot topic in many mountain communities in Colorado. Some have speculated that a new council could try to somehow change the STR ordinance that was put forth by a vote.

In any case, the STR issue will be revisited at least to specify regulations for the ones that will be allowed after 2024 in commercial zones.

Managing growth always seems to be a major topic that comes up during elections as city representatives tend to have varying mentalities when it comes to how the city should handle the future.

During the last election, two groups quickly split down the middle with one calling themselves the “Conservative Choice.” This year, there have not been any groups or alliances formed. But it is still early in the season, and there is a chance some candidates could choose to campaign together.