Council members Lehnertz and Kolodziej
By Kendra Walker
Two recall petitions are being circulated in Mt. Crested Butte to remove council members Dwayne Lehnertz and Roman Kolodziej from town council. The recall petitions are in response to the Mountain Express shifting several Mt. CB fixed bus routes to a new on-demand service. Lehnertz and Kolodziej serve on the Mountain Express board of directors, which approved the contract with the on-demand service provider Downtowner to implement the upcoming pilot program.
Represented by a petitioners’ committee that includes Mt. Crested Butte residents Michael Jennings, Torrey Carroll and Rajiv Narayana, the petitions read: “We, the concerned citizens of Mt. Crested Butte have undertaken this recall petition due to our dissatisfaction with Dwayne Lehnertz’s (and Roman Kolodziej’s) representation on the Town Council. We believe that Dwayne Lehnertz (and Roman Kolodziej) has failed to fulfill their duties and we are left with no choice but removal from office.”
Each petition continues with, “Our reasons for this recall petition include but are not limited to: 1. Oversaw aggressive spending in a reduced tax revenue environment without consent from Mt. Crested Butte Town Council. 2. Lack of engagement with voting constituents on public matters. 3. Failure to represent voting constituents’ interests. 4. Oversaw the allocation of taxpayer funds from local organization to out-of-state organization without Mt. Crested Butte Town Council awareness, discussion or approval.”
Town clerk Tiffany O’Connell explained that the petitioners committee has 60 days, until November 6, to turn in the petitions with a required 41 signatures each. Signers must be registered electors who are citizens of Colorado and registered to vote in the Town of Mt. Crested Butte. “The number of required signatures is per C.R.S. 31-4-502 which requires 25% of the entire votes cast for all candidates for the office. We had to go back to the last time we elected town councilors (2006) to determine that number,” O’Connell said. “If the signatures are deemed sufficient, following the required examination and potential protest process, this will eventually be set for a Special Election.”
The Crested Butte News reached out to Jennings for comment regarding the petition, who responded that he had nothing further to say.
The recall petitions emerged earlier this month after the Mountain Express announced in July an upcoming operations shift to replace the Columbine, Snodgrass and Summer Condo regular fixed bus routes with a new on-demand service. The pilot program will allow riders in north Mt. CB to hail a minivan for transport to the transit center via a smartphone app.
Residents of Paradise Road and the surrounding neighborhoods in Mt. Crested Butte have voiced their concerns about the service replacing their fixed bus route and said the change was not communicated to the public prior to the board’s approval and signing of the contract. Community members have written letters to the Crested Butte News, town council and Mountain Express, attended town council and Mountain Express meetings, and circulated a separate petition with more than 362 signatures to date requesting that the pilot program not affect existing routes in Mt. Crested Butte.
The Mountain Express is moving forward with Downtowner to develop a rollout plan and communicate how to use the service. During a recent town council meeting, Mountain Express director Jeremy Herzog said, “While this is going to change the way people interact with this service, this is an opportunity for us to test out something new through a one-year pilot program. This has been thought out for two years. If this program is successful there are so many other things we can do…This isn’t about taking away service from Paradise Road. This will give service to Paradise Road at the same time as giving service to people that don’t have it.”
Council member comment
The Crested Butte News reached out to Lehnertz and Kolodziej for comment regarding the petitions.
Kolodziej shared, “My reaction to this petition is that it seems misguided and vindictive. Removing me from public office does nothing to affect the on-demand service for this winter. Over the last few months, the petitioners and the people they’ve tried to rally around them have perpetuated a lack of understanding of how Mountain Express is organized, how decisions are made regarding the service and how the on-demand service will function. Their petition language illustrates that. Heck, if I read the petition in a vacuum, I’d probably sign it myself.”
Kolodziej also responded to the reasons for recall listed in the petition. “Mountain Express is an independent organization specifically created by both towns whose sole task is to manage free transportation…Mountain Express staff and its board of five directors have been discussing on-demand service for two years in public meetings. Though public outreach would have been beneficial, the ridership and financial realities of providing services would not have changed. I’ll only speak for myself and not the rest of the board, but it’s a lesson learned for me.”
He continued, “By maintaining capital reserves, operational reserves (which is partially funding the on-demand service), responding to rising material costs and increasing compensation and benefits for staff and bus drivers, Mountain Express largely operates at a break-even.”
Additionally, he said, “What these petitioners are failing to address is the fact that all of North Mt. Crested Butte citizens will now have access to free public transportation for the first time ever. Plus, North Mt. CB condo loop wait times that have been 30 or 60 minutes will be reduced to 15. That seems like an improvement for as many constituents as possible.”
He also clarified how the on-demand service will operate regarding children, a topic of concern that has been brought up in letters and public comment. “Petitioners keep telling parents that out-of-town child predators will be driving the on-demand vehicles. In fact, these drivers will be locals living here that are W2 employees, not contractors. Not only will they be drug tested, but Downtowner will perform full background checks on them. Parents need to clearly hear this. The safety of our community is important to Mountain Express.”
The News did not hear back from Lehnertz as of press time.
The petitioners’ committee has until November 6 to return the petitions and valid signatures to the town clerk.