Recall election possible for four Arvada councilmembers

Possibility stems from single trash hauler debate

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/12/20

Update: At its June 15 meeting, city council voted to enter into the proposed contract with Republic Services on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Dot Miller and councilmembers Bob Fifer, Nancy Ford …

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Recall election possible for four Arvada councilmembers

Possibility stems from single trash hauler debate

Posted

Update: At its June 15 meeting, city council voted to enter into the proposed contract with Republic Services on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Dot Miller and councilmembers Bob Fifer, Nancy Ford and Lauren Simpson voting yes. All others voted no.

The city plans to implement the contract with a program start date of July 2021.

Six days before city council's vote on contracting with a single waste hauler, two residents filed notices of intent to circulate petitions to recall councilmembers Bob Fifer, Nancy Ford, Lauren Simpson and Mayor Pro Tem Dot Miller.

The notice regarding Simpson, who represents District 2, was filed by resident David Palm. Notices regarding District 1's Ford and at-large councilmembers Fifer and Miller were filed by city resident Jonah Hearne.

Palm's effort to recall Simpson is not affiliated with Hearne's notices, Palm said.

But all four notices were filed on the same day and use identical language claiming that the councilmembers are prioritizing their “own bias, agenda and special interests above the will of the voters." Palm and Hearne both said they primarily feel these claims are true in regards to the current issue of whether or not the city of Arvada should contract with a single trash hauler.

Out of Arvada's seven councilmembers, Fifer, Ford, Miller and Simpson have been perceived as the most likely to vote yes on the proposed single hauler contract. The contract outlines that waste hauling company Republic Services would provide trash and recycling services to all non-HOA residents of Arvada.

Residents could opt out and use another company for a monthly fee of $5.13, while still maintaining access to some Republic events, like bulky item drop-off events.

Palm and Hearne say the people have voiced their thoughts and displayed that the community is split on the issue, but the four councilmembers have formed opinions based only on their own judgments and not resident comments.

The councilmembers contend that their opinions are driven by what they've heard from constituents.

“I always listen to my constituents who contact me, my neighbors, folks in the local grocery store and when eating at restaurants,” Fifer said. “Having an intent to recall good, honest, dedicated and hardworking city councilmembers is upsetting and disappointing.”

Fifer and Miller both cited citizens' surveys showing a majority of responding residents want single hauler trash and more recycling options. Ford and Simpson also pointed out that their stances on the issue have long been well-publicized to citizens, with Simpson even incorporating her stance into her 2019 council campaign.

Simpson also highlighted her disagreement with the notice's claim she has not well-represented District 2 over the past seven months.

"I have striven to listen to my constituents and engage them in good faith," she said. "How do I know the recall is about organized waste hauling — an issue where I have not yet cast a vote — and not about how I have represented District 2? On June 8, I received an anonymous threat telling me that I have many decisions to make, and that if I voted in favor of this ordinance then 'this will likely be the last.'

"On June 9, Mr. Palm and Mr. Hearne announced their recalls," she continued.

The single hauler issue has gained significant attention from the public and hundreds of emails have flooded councilmembers' inboxes, with some residents in favor of the contract and some opposed.

Those in favor cite many benefits of the program, including that it will boost Arvada's recycling rate, reduce the number of heavy trucks on the road and lower the average cost that each resident is paying for trash services. Those against the contract feel their choice in trash service is being restricted by the government and the contract would create a monopoly. They also oppose the opt-out fee and an initial amount of more than $5 million the city will pay to purchase trash bins.

Residents have appeared evenly split to Mayor Marc Williams and in a previous council meeting, he asked the city team to explore the logistics of putting the decision in the people's hands with a November vote.

Republic later told the city its proposed contract would no longer be on the table if such a vote took place. But community conversation around a public vote has continued, with councilmembers expected to vote June 15 on essentially two issues.

First, councilmembers will decide whether to vote on the issue as a council or put a question on the ballot instead. If they voted to decide as a council, a second vote would take place at the June 15 meeting on whether to enter into the proposed contract.

The notices of intent come across as a way to intimidate council into voting a certain way, some councilmembers said.

“I am sad that a very small group of people are using an intimidation tactic to try to change votes,” Miller said. “I hope we do not set a precedent that will happen every time a group does not agree with an upcoming council decision.”

Mayor Williams, who is not the subject of the notices, said that he feels the effort is a misuse of the recall process.

“I don't like the use of recall over policy issues. You have the regular election cycles to make decisions about what candidates to support on policy issues,” Williams said. “We haven't even voted and I view it as an intimidation attempt to try to influence those four councilmembers. I would urge people not to sign the recall petitions.”

But those who filed the notices say they are simply exercising a right afforded to those who feel their councilmembers no longer represent their interests.

“I'm offended by the use of the word `intimidation' when you have citizens speaking up on what our desire is in a representative government and have our elected officials ignoring that,” Hearne said. “If our elected officials stop representing the will of the people, it's incumbent on the citizens to recall them out of office.”

Hearne, who says he is a 20-year resident of the city who watches politics closely, added that he and others he has spoken to feel it is unfair for the council to hold the vote June 15, when public comment cannot proceed exactly as normal and some populations cannot participate in-person at all due to COVID-19. The city has plans to allow some in-person, phone and video conferencing testimony while limiting the number of people in council chambers at one time.

Palm added that he feels this is the only option to get the issue — which some residents have said they want to vote on — on the ballot. To get a question about the trash hauling issue on the ballot would require petitioners to gather thousands of signatures in a shorter period of time than they will have to get signatures for a recall, making that process “prohibitive,” he said.

“If they won't listen to us, what other recourse do we have?” he said.

Palm, a longtime Arvada resident, has run for city council on several occasions, most recently in 2019 for mayor against Williams.

Under the city code, Hearne and Palm have until June 19 to submit petition forms to the city clerk. Councilmembers then have 10 business days to provide a statement in defense, which will be included in the petition.

Once the necessary documentation has been submitted by both sides, the petition can begin to circulate. Petitioners will have 60 days to acquire signatures. To result in a recall election, each petition must have a number of valid signatures equal to 25% of the total votes cast in a councilmember's race for office.

In other words, the petition to recall Fifer needs 9,229 valid signatures; the petition for Ford, 1,102 signatures; the petition for Miller, 6,691 signatures; and the petition for Simpson, 2,170 signatures.

If petitioners use the entire 60-day time frame to gather signatures, there won't be time to get the recall elections on the November ballot, city clerk Kristen Rush said. Instead, the city would hold a special election at a later date.

While Rush and the city do not yet have an exact prediction of how much that election could cost the city, based on recent special elections held by other municipalities, Rush estimated it would cost about $200,000.

Meanwhile, with the single hauler vote just days away, the four councilmembers said they will not let the possibility of a recall influence how they vote.

“I am not a person that gives into bullies,” Ford said. “I look at reason and information, I look at what my constituents want, and that's what's going to determine my vote.”

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