Stan Whinnery Resigns as Commissioner
Three-term District 3 Hinsdale County Commissioner Stanley Whinnery submitted his written resignation last Thursday afternoon, September 26.
Succinctly worded and addressed to Hinsdale County Administrator Jami Scroggins, the two-sentence, typed letter states, “I hereby give my resignation as District 3 commissioner to the office of County Board of Commissioners of Hinsdale County.
My resignation shall be effective as of 5:00 pm on this day.”
Last Thursday’s resignation is the most recent twist in the 54-year old commissioner’s political career dating back to election to his first four-year term when he defeated his GOP challenger, incumbent District 3 Commissioner Linda Matthews, in the Republican Primary in August, 2008, and Unaffiliated challenger, Schuyler Denham, in the November, 2008, General Election.
Whinnery was facing a recall election to remove him from office and last Friday was the state-mandated deadline for him to resign. If he had remained in office, balloting would have been scheduled during the county’s November 5 Coordinated Election asking voters whether to remove Whinnery from office and, if so, if retired Hinsdale County Road & Bridge Supervisor Robert Hurd should be named as his successor.
Whinnery’s resignation eliminates the need for a recall election and the task of naming a replacement now falls to the Hinsdale County Democratic Party Vacancy Committee.
The Democratic Vacancy Committee — comprised of its officers, chairman Jennifer Rightsell, vice chair Carol Robinson, secretary Grant Houston and
treasurer Lorie Stewart, together with Henry Woods, Ed and Mary Nettleton, and Bill Stewart — has met on an occasional basis since last summer to review potential candidates for the vacancy. The vacancy committee was scheduled to meet Friday evening, October 4, to name Whinnery’s District 3 successor.
Per state statute, members of the Hinsdale Democratic Vacancy Committee have reviewed potential replacement candidates who meet the criteria of being registered Democrats of at least one year who are residents of Precinct 3 in Hinsdale County.
The Democratic replacement for Whinnery will fill the remainder of his term through December, 2020, and may choose to seek re-election next November.
Whinnery is a long-term Hinsdale County Republican but in the wake of his recall abruptly changed his party affiliation to Democrat on June 25, 2019; he remained a Democrat at the time of his resignation last Thursday, September 26, but as of Friday, September 27 — and a potential indication of his future political aspirations — changed his political affiliation yet again, this time as Unaffiliated.
Commissioner Whinnery’s resignation is the direct result of efforts to remove him from office led by a recall committee including Diane Bruce, Hector Gomez, and Walthard Hays. The chronology of this recall effort began last spring when recall petitions identifying District 3 Commissioner Whinnery began to be circulated.
Following approval of petition format by Hinsdale County Clerk Joan Roberts, petitions began to be circulated on April 25 with the state-mandated requirement that the petitions be returned to the county clerk in no less than 60 days with the signatures of a minimum of 145 registered county voters.
Grievances listed on the recall petition as reasons for recall are “misfeasance and malfeasance of his elected office” in violation of Hinsdale County policies and procedures, specifically citing failure to exercise fiscal responsibility, creating adversarial county employment environments, failure to effectively communicate with his constituency, conducting himself in an inappropriate manner to peers, subordinates and external persons, and dereliction of duty.
Petitions with 183 signatures were returned on May 31 and on June 21 County Clerk Roberts ruled that the recall could proceed based on her verification of 168 signatures.
Simultaneous with authorization for the recall to proceed June 21, petitions were also prepared naming District 3 resident Robert Hurd, a Republican, as Whinnery’s replacement in the event he was recalled. Hurd’s Successor Candidate petitions were returned July 2 with a total of 91 signatures of registered Republicans, of which 79
signatures were accepted. The minimum number of
signatures on the Successor Candidate petition was 54.
Next in the evolution of the commissioner’s recall was a crowded August 2 Protest Hearing which was overseen by Chaffee County Clerk & Recorder Lori Mitchell in her role as Hearing Official.
Whinnery was represented at the multi-hour hearing by Montrose attorney Martha Whitmore, while Diane Bruce, on behalf of the recall committee, was on hand to cross-examine witnesses.
Recurrent themes at the hearing was recall committee’s challenge that taxpayer funds had been squandered as a result of the multi-year courthouse renovation and the contention it was inappropriate for one of the courthouse contractors to be Whinnery’s brother-in-law, Tony Warren. Whinnery’s fitness for office was also questioned with intimations of a bullying personality.
In his defense, Whinnery forcefully testified that he had intentionally recused himself from both the discussion and vote leading up to a vote by his fellow two commissioners — Cindy Dozier and Susan Thompson — to hire Warren for installation of metalwork for acoustic panels in the downstairs offices of the courthouse.
As to bullying, Whinnery stated that “extreme passion” for his job may at times be interpreted as obnoxious or bullying. “I’ve been elected three times because I don’t take no for an answer.”
At the protest hearing, Diane Bruce observed “there is a lot of emotion going on here… it’s not about emotion, it’s about specifics and facts.”
Protestors who testified under oath at the hearing in reference to alleged wrong-doing in the collection of recall petition signatures were Keith Chambers. Robert Quinn, Burton and Nora Smith, and Michael Murphy. Also called to testify were Frances Yeager, Susan Thompson, Cindy Dozier, and Tony Warren.
On behalf of the recall committee, Diane Bruce called retired county sheriff Ron Bruce, Monte Hannah, and Robert Hurd.
Commissioner Whinnery was the last witness called by Martha Whitmore.
Hearing Official Mitchell pondered testimony from the hearing over the weekend and returned on Monday, August 5, with a ruling that protests to the recall were insufficient and that the process could continue. Mitchell “did not find any preponderance of evidence that petition circulators substantially misled 24 persons who signed the petition.”
Based on the outcome of the protest hearing and the fact the ruling was not challenged by Whinnery in District Court, County Clerk Roberts scheduled balloting on the commissioner recall and successor candidate simultaneous with the already scheduled Tuesday, November 5, county Coordinated Election. Per state statue, the recall election could be cancelled if Whinnery resigned from office 37 calendar days prior to the election, September 27.
A Lake Fork native with a multi-generation family history dating to the 1870s, Stan Whinnery was a multi-term member of Hinsdale County Planning Commissioner prior to becoming Hinsdale County Commission. The planning commission served as a farm team of sorts for both Whinnery and fellow county commissioner Cindy Dozier, both of whom were planning board members prior to their election as co
Whinnery cited his experience as owner of a locally-based excavation business, together with service on Hinsdale County Planning Commission and multi-years on the Colorado Division of Wildlife Citizens Task Force in his election bid for District 3 Commissioner in summer, 2008. Also key to his early campaigning in 2008 was that fact that he was one of the key instigators of a massive emergency wildlife feeding program which had ensued the prior winter.
Whinnery’s first election victory came in August, 2008, in the county GOP Primary when he defeated incumbent District 3 Commissioner Linda Matthews 179 to 111; his election success continued that fall, November, 2008, when he defeated Unaffiliated candidate Schuyler Denham 371 to 185 for District 3 Commissioner.
Whinnery proved politically astute in his re-election bids for second and third four-year terms in both 2012 and 2016. In both elections, he prevailed in both the primary and general elections. In the June, 2012, GOP primary, he successfully sought re-election against challenger Gavin McNitt, 191 to 94 votes, and in November, 2012, was re-elected, garnering 356 votes compared to 240 votes for his Democratic challenger, Joe Marshall.
In his most recent re-election campaign to his third successive four-year term, Whinnery faced Mike Tuttle in the June, 2016, Republican primary, vote tally 139 Whinnery, 90 Tuttle; he faced Democrat Rob Hudgeons in the November, 2016, general election, beating Hudgeons 312 to 266.
Recall elections, and appointments to fill vacancies by either political party, are relatively rare in Hinsdale County. The last — and perhaps only — recall election in the county’s history was in August, 1992, when two incumbent commissioners, District 2 Commissioner Ed Toner and District 3 Commissioner Hubert Laird were recalled from office. The process began earlier in the year based on 154 signatures on petitions citing “failure to reflect basic philosophical views of constituents” and, specifically, the commissioners’ consideration of long-term lease of county-owned lands at Lake San Cristobal.
Following the recall of both Roner and Laird, a special election was held September 22, 1992, resulting in the election of Claire Jessee as District 3 Commissioner and Cathedral resident Flynn Mangum as Hinsdale County Commissioner for District 2.
Per state statute, when a vacancy occurs in county political office, the vacancy committee of the political party which was represented in the office is charged with making a replacement within 10 days and, barring that, the vacancy is filled by the Governor of Colorado.
Crystal Lodge owner Ralph Black resigned as Hinsdale County Commissioner in late spring, 1978, following sale of the business and his impending move to Gunnison. In June, 1978, Colorado Governor Richard Lamm named the county’s Democratic Party Chairperson, Patsy White Smith, as District 3 Commissioner. The tenure of Smith — who served a matter of months and was replaced in the November, 1978, election by Independent candidate John Bevenuto — represented the first woman Hinsdale County Commissioner in the county’s history.
Female county commissioners are now routine on the county board. When Hinsdale Democratic Vacancy Committee names a replacement to Whinnery on Friday evening this week, he or she will join two incumbent women county commissioners, Susan Thompson and Kristie Borchers.