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ELDORA, CO – OCTOBER 24, 2019: Eric Meyers, well-known resident of Nederland, hangs out in the middle of town on October 24, 2019. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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An independent hearing officer retained by the town of Nederland on Tuesday issued a ruling after reviewing protests filed over recall petition signatures for the town’s mayor and two other trustees that those petitions are sufficient.

Karen Goldman, a former deputy city clerk for Aurora, conducted a hearing concerning protests filed by five individuals at the Nederland Community Center on Thursday and issued her written findings in a 10-page ruling on Tuesday.

“It is determined that the petitions to recall Mayor Kristopher Larsen, and trustees Julie Gustafson and Dallas Masters from the town board of Nederland, Colorado, are sufficient,” Goldman wrote, summing up an extensive summary of arguments made at Thursday’s session.

That finding was hailed by frequent trustees’ critic Kathleen Chippi, who coordinated the recall petition drive, although she lives outside the town itself.

“We knew,” she said, Tuesday afternoon. “We had turned in the signatures in a timely fashion to get the recall, and we knew we had sufficiency, because we had people sign, and we had our own copy of the registered voters, so they signed correctly.”

The petitions were submitted originally on Sept. 26, and initially deemed sufficient Oct. 2.

It was not immediately clear, however, for what date a recall election would be set. Chippi filed suit in Boulder District Court Oct. 11 versus Town Clerk Miranda Fisher, challenging the town’s timeline for determining when a recall vote must take place.

Fisher had posted notice to the town’s website Oct. 3, stating in the event of a protest, and subsequent finding of sufficiency — as Goldman reached on Tuesday — the petitions are then to be submitted to trustees at their first meeting subsequent to that determination.

Due to next Tuesday’s regularly scheduled election, Nederland trustees don’t meet again until Nov. 12. They will set a recall election date at that time, Fisher said.

The guidelines posted by Fisher Oct. 3 state the recall election should be not less than 30 days nor more than 90 days from the submission of the petitions by the town clerk to the trustees, “but if a regular election is to be held within 180 days after the date of submission of said petition, the recall election shall be held as part of said regular election.”

It also states that if the target of a recall is seeking reelection at that time, “only the question of such officer’s reelection shall appear on the ballot.”

Larsen, Gustafson and Masters are all up for reelection April 7.

In an email on Tuesday, Gustafson wrote, “As I understand it, the ballot will look like any other, come April. Because Kris, Dallas and I are each at the end of our term, there won’t be a recall question to the ballot. If any one of us decides to run again, it will simply be a name on the ballot.”

Gustafson pointed out state law does not require ballot language to be factual or verifiable — something of which Goldman took note in Tuesday’s findings — meaning that stated grounds for the recall, including dissatisfaction about trustees’ actions in passing a new short-term rental ordinance, cancellation of the popular NedFest, the town’s abandonment of a greenhouse under construction on a public ballfield, and more, were essentially beside the point for the purposes of her review.

“Persons may either agree or disagree and are eligible to express one of those opinions when voting,” Goldman ruled.

Gustafson conceded that point Tuesday, but added, “I am hopeful that in the 2020 legislative session, our state representatives will pass legislation to reform the recall petition process, at both the state and municipal levels, and require that ‘grounds for recall’ be factual and verifiable, and that the cost of administering the recall petition and any subsequent election be written on the petition itself.”

The cost of a potential recall vote, put by one who unsuccessfully protested the recall petitions at about $10,000, was indeed dismissed as an issue by Goldman.

“The $10,000 figure to run a special election in the town of Nederland is merely an approximation,” Goldman found. “If the recall petitions are found to be sufficient and a recall election must be held, then the cost of the election is not a factor that can be used to deny the citizens their right to vote on a recall.”

Chippi on Tuesday was passionately opposed to any interpretation of the timeline that could put the recall on the previously scheduled April 7 town election ballot, as opposed to a separate election event.

“One hundred and eighty days before the next general election is not a roaming date, and the town did not interpret it as a roaming date, until we had already handed in our signatures, in compliance with what their guidelines suggested,” she said. “You don’t get to change the goalposts after we have complied. This is shameful.”

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