Commissioners face recall over jail decision

Petitioners will have 60 days to get signatures

The Gunnison County Commissioners could soon see their seats challenged in a special recall election. A committee seeking their ouster has officially taken out petitions that could put all three commissioners up to a vote this spring.



Gunnison County Clerk Stella Dominguez says three people turned in paperwork on Tuesday, March 16 that could allow them to start gathering signatures of people who support putting the commissioners’ seats to a vote.     
The people listed as the committee that will represent the voters signing the petition are Robert T. Allen, Betty Eberhard and Alex Laird.
According to the petition, “The officeholder has taken action to cause construction of a new Gunnison County Jail. This action by the officeholder is in defiance of the United States Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution, The State of Colorado Constitution and The Sovereign Citizens of Gunnison County, Colorado who voted no on the new jail proposals…”
Wednesday morning, Dominguez said “We have accepted the petition and we’re going to approve it. We will call them and then we have to follow it up with a certified letter to the committee members and notify the commissioners.”
Now the committee will have 60 days to collect signatures from a percentage of the voters in each of the three districts in the county from the last general election. Petitions regarding commissioners Hap Channell and Paula Swenson will need more than 2,100 signatures; the petition against commissioner Jim Starr will need just over 1,500 signatures.
Those petitions can be amended one time, but it has to happen before the 60-day period is over. Once the petitions are turned into the County Clerk, the clerk’s staff will have 10 days to check the validity of the signatures against the current voter registration lists.
She said the cost to county taxpayers of a special recall election could reach as high as $25,000 depending on the amount of resources it requires.
“This is a very rough estimate because we have some calls into the vendor, Secretary of State about whether we will be able to have combined polling places for the election. If that’s possible, then we wouldn’t need as many judges and the cost would come down,” Dominguez said.
Any registered voter will be able to sign all three petitions and not just petitions for the commissioner representing their district.
The commissioners said they would withhold comment until the County Clerk has finalized the petition language.
There has been talk of a recall petition over the contentious decision to build a county jail near the rodeo grounds. With regard to the unrest over that decision, Commissioner Paula Swenson said, “There’s a sentiment in the United States right now that people are angry, and they’re angry with government. So anytime there’s the slightest bit of misinformation out there, it expounds on itself.”
The division in the community over the commissioners’ decision regarding the jail site and construction has caused some of those opposed to the commissioners’ agenda to speak out. Whether that opposition is enough to oust the commissioners from office remains to be seen.
“If those signatures are approved, there’s a time period for a protest, and if there’s no protest then we have 45 to 60 days to set up a recall election,” Dominguez says.
The recall, if it happens, would be just like a general election, in which the challenging party or parties could put up a candidate to run against the sitting commissioners.
“It would just be a regular election. The ballot might say, ‘Do you want to recall so-and-so,’” Dominguez says, “and the parties would have to nominate some successors. Once they get the signatures, then we’re going to call an election.”
Any candidates elected in the recall election would take their respective seats immediately after the election. The winning candidates would finish the current commission terms. That would mean a three-year term for anyone trying to replace Channell and Swenson and a term of less than a year for Starr’s seat.

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