By Jodie Henley
A committee of concerned Cortez residents has initiated a recall of five city council members which includes Betty Swank, Donna Foster, Matt Keefauver, Robert Rime and Mayor Dan Porter. The committee cites misuse of tax dollars, lack of due diligence and secrecy in city government as three of the major reasons for recall.
The final approval of development of the Flaugh-Clark subdivision at tax payers’ expense was the spark that ignited the recall. The council has already sanctioned the spending of more than $300,000 of our tax dollars for the Flaugh-Clark subdivision. Council will argue that this project was started by previous city staff and they were obligated to continue the process. However, all five of these persons were on council when the contract was signed in 2008 and there was no “obligation” until the contract was signed. A recent editorial in the Cortez Journal alleged that the council could not foresee the economic downturn and just made “an error in judgment” when they allowed this project to progress. The economic downturn was already in full swing in May of 2008 and at the May 27, 2008, council meeting, city manager Jay Harrington stated, “is it worth $250,000, no way; is it good public policy, no way.” Yet the council voted to move forward with the project. Had the Flaugh-Clark subdivision project been presented as an expense of our tax dollars, more citizens may have been at the August 24, 2010, to protest the final approval. Once again, the council cast an affirmative vote even though the majority of the citizens at the meeting were against the development. City officials have stated that the development of the subdivision was posted as all other subdivision projects. This is true and therein lies the dishonesty as all other subdivisions are paid for by the developer and not with city tax dollars.
City officials assert that the Tucker Lane extension is a vital thoroughfare for Cortez however, it will be years before the road is completed and hinges on development in Brandon’s Gate. Why are they spending upwards of $300,000 in this current economic downturn for a road to nowhere?
Mayor Porter and others have stated that a recall election would cost the tax payers $8,000 to $10,000. The city is wasting much more than this year after year for their personal benefit. In 2008 and 2009 the city council spent $5,860.25 on Christmas parties and since April of this year, they have spent more than $1,534.82 catering in meals on council nights. The citizens of Cortez pay them a good wage ($400 per month for council members; $500 per month for Mayor) to be on the council and they should not be using tax monies as their personal entertainment fund. This is an appalling use of our tax dollars as there are families in Cortez who cannot afford to go out for dinner or even buy their families a turkey for Christmas dinner. I am not against the city having Christmas parties – they should just have potlucks like everyone else and not waste our tax dollars on such frivolities.
These city-council members blatantly overlook the concerns of citizens and have acted in a manner inconsistent with the values of the citizens of Cortez. They have allowed Jay Harrington to utilize emergency ordinances to pass controversial issues (such as the Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and the Hydro-Electric Plant) instead of putting the issues to vote, by the public, as they should.
In an article in the Cortez Journal, Mayor Porter mentioned a lawsuit the city has with the developers. This is merely an attempt to deflect the citizens’ focus from the real issues. The lawsuit has no bearing on the recall. However since he brought it into the discussion, we would like to know why the city put a gag order on this action to keep the citizens of Cortez from finding out the true issues. What does the city have to hide?
We feel that the current city council is not doing the job that the tax-paying citizens of this city elected them to do. When elected to an office we believe that you are there to serve the people and watch out for their best interests. The people we are seeking to recall have failed in that job. If you would like a say in the future of Cortez and how our tax dollars are spent, please sign a recall petition.
For more information please visit our website (www.cityofcortezrecall.com) or visit the Recall Headquarters at 34 E. Main.
Jodie Henley is a citizen of Cortez.
By Dan Porter
You may have noticed the recent efforts to recall five members of the City of Cortez Council. Many of the issues and accusations listed in the petition have been brewing for the last three years and, as the mayor, I welcome the opportunity to have the appropriate public discourse of the recall issues.
A small group of developers and contractors have been continually questioning the decision- making process of the City of Cortez. Many of the issues raised in the recall petitions follow the political campaign launched by the “Group of Four” in April during the recent city council election against myself and the other incumbents.
This small group of developers and contractors, who live outside the city limits, spent over $3,400 this past spring in an effort to influence the city’s voters. After their efforts failed, they have had to wait the required six months before supporting a recall effort. That time has now come. Members of this group filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court in April 2009, and trial is set for July of 2011. Members of this group have admitted to secretly recording discussions with city officials, have attempted to insert themselves in city personnel issues, have filed 20 Colorado Open Records Act requests since June, 2009, receiving approximately 8,055 pages of documents, 45 DVDs, and have addressed City Council at least 40 times since the beginning of 2009.
Recently, one member of the group accused the city of bribery or paying “shut-up money” referencing a double payment of one of their invoices. After reviewing the issue with the finance department, the double payment was a basic human error and internal controls have been strengthened to prevent this in the future.
While I welcome participation in the public process, the actions of this small group borders on obsession. I often receive comments from the public about this group attempting to bully our city. It is a credit to our staff that they have continued to provide quality services and complete innovative projects for the city while these distractions continue to occur.
I am proud of how the city’s employees have addressed our financial challenges over the past two years and have maintained services (in some cases increasing them) with declining financial resources. The costs of holding a recall election are estimated between $8,000 and $10,000. To spend $8,000 to $10,000 of public funds so soon after a regular election is extraordinarily difficult to justify.
I do realize there is some public concern about the extension of Tucker Lane to serve the Brandon’s Gate Subdivision and the Flaugh-Clark Subdivision. I can assure you that the failure to complete the city’s obligations outlined in the land purchase agreement would potentially have cost the city significant funds.
When I voted for the contract to purchase the land from the Flaughs, I truly believed that the long-term connection provided to Brandon’s Gate through Tucker Lane out to Highway 145 would be a public benefit. While this was a difficult decision, the majority voted for what we felt was the best option. In retrospect, the developers of Brandon’s Gate should have been required to pay for this connection as a requirement of annexation to the city.
I am proud of the work accomplished by the city during the past few years during difficult financial times. From improving our alleys for a relatively low cost to upgrading our irrigation systems to operate more efficiently, the city staff has worked hard to do more with less. The city recently completed many innovative projects such as the energy upgrades at the recreation center and the construction of the hydroelectric plant at the water plant. Our on-going “fiber to the business” project is designed to help economic development and even our modest signage and mural projects have enhanced the downtown.
Last year, the full-depth reclamation and chip-sealing of the roads in our low- to moderate- income neighborhoods with 50 percent paid by outside funds has improved the quality of life in our community. A section of the Mesa Trail has been completed and we have plans to finish Mesa Trail and improve pedestrian safety along 7th Street next year. The annual sidewalk and drainage improvements continue to upgrade our infrastructure. We have continued to move forward during these fiscally challenging times with a diverse city council that agrees to disagree on contentious issues.
Please feel free to contact any of the seven council members with questions. We need to work together as a community and not be bullied into stepping back in time. Electing city-council members that are sympathetic to this group’s cause could adversely impact the federal court case.
The real outcome of a frivolous recall election is that good people avoid public service in the future, and critical community discussions that we need to have are diminished. The question becomes, “What do you want for the future of our community?”
Thank you for your time.
Dan Porter is mayor of Cortez.