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September 18, 2019

Trustees Consider Ordinance to Increase Number of Signatures Needed to Petition


It was determined by the Town of Lake City Board of Trustees at their August 7 meeting that approval of an ordinance to increase the number of signatures required for petitions merited further discussion.
The matter was originally brought to the table by Trustee Jeff Heaton amidst the fervor over a petition placing an initiative on the ballot prohibiting Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on town streets, which prompted a special election July 23.
In agreement with Heaton, Trustee Dave Roberts said, “We have approximately 300 people who can vote. Right now, we need five percent of those people to sign a petition in order to place an initiative on the ballot. That is 19 people. You can collect that in a half an hour. In a town this size, it needs to be higher.”
Concurring, Heaton said, “You can go down to the bar [and find enough people who agree with you that will sign a petition.]
“What is the cost?,” he asked Town Manager Caroline Mitchell, who replied that the final numbers for the July 23 special election were not yet available, but that a special election typically costs the town approximately $15,000 to $20,000.
“Its not sustainable,” Heaton continued. “I know for a fact that there are certain individuals who are anti-OHV, two or three days after the election said they are not going to stop; they are going to do it again and again. They want to put a strain on the town and the businesses in town. There should be three times more signatures required on a petition, because otherwise, we are going to wind up having two to three special elections per year, and it could literally bankrupt the town.”
“In the special election,” Heaton continued, “Ninety-one percent of voters voted, with sixty-one percent voting to keep OHVs. The people have spoken. If they [anti-OHV protestors] want to continue playing this game, we need to make it harder on either side, because we are not home-ruled. That might be something we need to look at down the road. I hope some of the other Yrustees will agree.” 
Roberts did agree, saying, “It’s not just from an OHV standpoint. The percentage should be higher, because we’re always going to have disagreements, and I personally would like to see more than 19 signatures to cost the town money.”
Trustee Marty Priest said she had looked up the Colorado State Statute, and that the five percent is the lowest possible percentage in the state. In other municipalities, the standard is 10 percent for referendums and 15 percent for initiatives.
Mayor Bruce Vierheller said, “I like that it only takes 19 voters to bring initiatives, but I would like it better if petitions could correlate with regular elections.” 
Trustee and Mayor Pro-Tem Jud Hollingsworth noted, “ I think the 10-15 percent is fair, because if a group feels that strongly about an issue, and they are able to get that amount of people to sign, it says [the issue] is legitimate and it most likely can and will pass.”
Trustee Richard Moore said he didn’t feel an increased number of signatures will make a difference, adding, “It could maybe help with some of the pettiness by making it more of a realistic number. I want there to be checks and balances and appropriate representation, and the ability to say ‘no, you got this wrong.’ Nineteen people is not a fair representation of the majority. I honestly believe that Turn Around Lake City (anti-OHV group) could have gathered 60 signatures if they had tried, because it is a very real issue and there is still a lot of work to be done. I don’t think a ‘no’ vote really means that we want OHVs everywhere. But I do believe enlarging the number of signatures somewhat wouldn’t be a bad thing.” 
Town Manager Mitchell interjected that the town would be bringing in Gunnison-based consulting group Welborne and Associates to do an input study to see who agrees and disagrees with the outcome of the election. “They will help us gather input in a non-biased way,” she said. “Input regarding signage, parking, dust, speed enforcement, noise. They would come within the next six to eight weeks, and the cost would be $1,700. They are the same mediation group that worked with the school on the bond issue, as well as with the medical clinic.”
Moore said, “We need to figure out what the town wants. A lot of people voted ‘no,’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want OHVs to totally overrun the town. We need these guys to come in and help us find out what the people want moving forward.”
Hollingsworth said, “Bringing in an outside group that has worked in the community before to help us gather information is a good idea, and I think the town’s citizens would appreciate it.” 
With the hour allotted for the workshop expired, Vierheller excused the audience and Trustees for a ten minute recess, reconvening afterward for the regular meeting. There was an action item on the agenda to pass the ‘signatures’ ordinance. Hesitant, Roberts said, “I don’t want anyone to feel rushed.”
Vierheller agreed, saying, “I would like the citizens to know more about this [before we vote on it]. It definitely merits further discussion, but not consideration of an ordinance at this time. I would like to see it placed on the workshop with comments from the public for our next meeting. I’m pretty opposed to having something discussed in a workshop and then immediately voting on it. We’ve barely even had a chance to read it. I think we need to think about it.”
Mayor Vierheller and the other trustees agreed that the topic would appear on the next workshop prior to the regular meeting scheduled August 21. Vierheller concluded the meeting, saying he hoped the public wull attend the August 21 meeting to weigh in on the matter.

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