Town Trustees Set OHV Special Mail-In Ballot Election July 23

At times rancorous discussion characterized Town of Lake City’s Wednesday, March 6, meeting on the future of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) in Lake City. At the conclusion of the more than an hour-long discussion, a motion was made and seconded by Town Trustees Jud Hollingsworth and Marty Priest, and passed unanimously, setting Tuesday, July 23, 2019, as the date for the mailed ballot election.
The ballot question will ask registered town voters whether a 2016 town ordinance allowing OHV access in Lake City should be rescinded.
In addition to Hollingsworth and Priest, the March 6 meeting was attended by Lake City’s Mayor Bruce Vierheller, trustees Richard Moore, Jeff Heaton, Dave Roberts, and Alan Rae, Town Clerk Jamie Turrentine and Town Manager Caroline Mitchell. Hinsdale County Commissioners Susan Thompson and Kristie Borchers were in attendance as well.
Also present in the Armory’s packed meeting room were a variety of Lake City residents and business owners, many with strong views on the OHV issue.
By way of background, the March 6 town meeting was the most recent in a sequence of meetings dating back to January 3 this year when a petition seeking to ban OHVs in Lake City was received by the town government. After verification of signatures signing the petition, a review period followed during which two protests were received. The protests were later ruled insufficient and following a public meeting, which was reported in last week’s WORLD, the March 6 meeting was an opportunity for community members and business owners to give their opinions and ideas on a date for the special election.
In his Mayor’s report, Vierheller began the conversation by saying, “I know OHVs are important to everyone, but I think we need to broaden things and look at the great outdoors that we have here. We have hiking, climbing, biking, skiing, fishing, rafting, running, ice climbing, OHV driving, wildflower viewing, birdwatching, and snowmobiling. So I think we need to keep advertising those wonderful items also to keep people coming to Lake City on a year-round basis.”
A procedural question was raised by an audience member asking if overcoming what had already voted for was as easy as adopting a new ordinance. Trustee Hollingsworth responded, “This is state statute, this is not a Lake City statute, and so we, the mayor and trustees, are obligated to follow the guidelines of the state of Colorado and that is what we’re doing. When things like this come up, one option is to accept via majority vote, one is to have a special election.”
Trustee Heaton said that he wanted to repeat what protest filer Jesse Kendall cited at the February 27 OHV special meeting. Kendall, according to Heaton, said, “Someone in the Turn Around Lake City group told him ‘I’ve always been impressed that a small portion, five percent of the electorate — such a small number of people in Lake City, approximately 19-20 — is able to impact the status quo by requiring these elections. This effort could be repeated enough times to become very costly and destructive to the town’s finances and ongoing business.”
Heaton said, “That’s evidently the goal of some of these folks in that group. So because of this group’s goal to make it very costly and destructive to the town’s finances and ongoing business, we as a Board of Trustees, I believe, need to look at raising the 5
percent requirement of only 19 people to 15 percent, which is 57 people’s signatures to file a petition. This can be done, it has been done in other municipalities. I’m not trying to sequester people’s rights to do it
[petition], I just think it needs to be a little more difficult to do. In a big town like Denver, five percent is a lot of people. In a small town like here, you can get those signatures at a bar.”
Trustee Mayor pro-tem Hollingsworth told Heaton that such a discussion, in the interest of transparency, would need to first be placed in a workshop and advertised so citizens would have an opportunity to weigh in on it.
Former Mayor Larry Iiams and co-initiator of the petition said that the five percent “is a statutory number, not just some number we pulled out of a hat. The only way you can get away from that five percent is if you become a Home Rule municipality. That’s how Denver and a lot of cities and towns do it, and then they can set their own numbers. It’s in the State Constitution as well as Title 31 in the Revised Statute. We’re just following the rules. We looked at Home Rule a number of years ago and it carries a lot of baggage.”
Local business owner Charles “Hutch” Hutchins, during citizens’ communications, said, “I’m appalled from the information that Jeff read, that they can wreak havoc on Lake City and the budget with so few people. Its just crazy that can be done with so few people to affect the city and businesses. It makes me wonder if businesses can refuse to serve those people, or if that is discrimination, because I disagree with my whole heart on that.”
Jim Gowdy told Trustees, “I own Gowdy Properties; we just started last year. I’d like to say before you guys decide when the election is going to happen, I’ve had three cancellations so far because of this issue, because of FaceBook and the proposed [route] map. People are concerned their rental houses aren’t located on the route, and also I have people I’ve got to call tonight after you guys decide to see if they’re going to come in July. Its about $18,000, my July. For a second year in business, that’s a lot of money.”
Gowdy implored trustees to push the election as far back in the season as possible, so at least ”I’ll have a chance to market to a different demographic,” he said. Gowdy also added, “I heard someone call you bullies at the February 27 special meeting, and I’m sitting here listening, and you guys are wonderful. You guys really care.”
Newly appointed Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katrina Kent-Menzies added, “From a commerce point of view, the longer you hold out, the more revenue for the town. This is extremely important for the town and to stay afloat. We need to do what we can whether its OHVs or hiking and fishing and birdwatching. My phone has been ringing off the hook, and one of the things I do say is that currently you can ride your OHVs, and I try to remind them of the rules and educate.”
According to Danielle Worthen, long-time local, Hall Realty business owner and member of the OHV special Work Group, “This is a difficult decision no matter what date you pick, but I have a little different point of view. I’ve had two phone calls from people wanting to book our vacation rentals wanting to know what decision has been made, because they are not going to book in August and September unless they know the decision right now.”
“My personal feeling.” Worthen continued, “is let’s rip the bandaid off, let’s go to election earlier, because then we can start the education piece earlier, going into the season. I also hear what these guys are saying too. I just think in our business, people are not booking because a decision has not yet been made.”
Owner of Lake City Auto and Sport, Jeff Guthmiller took his turn to weigh in, saying, “I’ve lived here 21 years, and do you know how many times I’ve voted in the Town of Lake City? There’s a large amount of people in this community who pay their taxes and bring a lot to the table and have no say because of the geographic boundaries. In the 21 years that I’ve lived here, can you imagine how many businesses I’ve seen come and go? I can’t count that high. The bottom line is it is very tough in this town to make a living and a handful are going to spoil it for all the rest of us and make it that much different.”
Guthmiller went on to add, “I am all for pushing this [election] as far off as you possibly can. Do you know how many phone call my wife has taken a day? How many emails? I’m telling them it is business as usual, because it might be our last hurrah if for some reason this actually goes through. So pushing it late would give people one more shot at Lake City.”
Guthmiller relayed communication from an OHV rental customer who said “my family and friends have been coming to Lake City for 14 years now. Some trips we have as many as 35 people. We eat, we buy, we spend dollars for campsites and cabins. I guess we may have to move to Silverton. Please leave it as it is.”
“I can give you dozens of these if you’d like,” Guthmiller said. “I get them every day. People don’t beat on you, they beat on me because I’m the go-to guy, so I’m the one that hears about it. My wife spends an hour or two a day on the phone with these people. People need to understand what’s going on.
As far as the election goes, I agree with Danielle, take the bandaid off, but more importantly I think it needs to be pushed late so all of us as business people at least have a chance to survive the winter. What needs to happen is the education process. People need to know it’s business as usual so we don’t scare everyone away, because that’s what’s going on right now.”
“I bet if you interview nine out of 10 business people,” Guthmiller continued, “they will tell you they had a great summer last summer. Probably the best ever. I had the worst winter I’ve had in 20 years the winter of 2018, but nobody can fix Mother Nature [lack of snow for snowmobiling], but we picked it up in the summer. If we scare everybody away, it’s not going to get better.” Guthmiller concluded his statements, encouraging the trustees to “look at the big picture.”
The meeting moved on after everyone’s comments to the action items, the first of which was the possible approval of Resolution 1029 to set the date for the special election.
Town Manager Mitchell said, “Mr. Mayor, we are required after the sufficiency of the petition being determined, which was officially declared on February 25, that this body take up an ordinance within 20 days. That follows the quasi-judicial hearing that occurred with regard to the protest and the decision thereof. At that time, the petition was demonstrated to be sufficient, so you are now required to look at the petition in ordinance form. It was converted into ordinance format by our attorneys for your review this evening.”
Mitchell explained the trustees had three choices: an affirmative motion with a vote, a negative motion with a vote, or no motion whatsoever, with the matter then moving to special election regardless.
A negative motion was made and seconded, and the action was passed unopposed.