Colorado Chautauqua Association staff members Martha Lunshy, left, and Jack Heebink put away some deliveries on Thursday at Chautauqua in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote in an email to Mary Young; it has been correctly attributed to Shelly Benford, from whom Young forwarded the message. A new statement from Young has been added.

Colorado Chautauqua Association members have decided it is time for a change in how the manager of Boulder’s most famous open space property operates.

After a bitter, months-long community debate, new bylaws were passed that will disallow paying members of the nonprofit association from voting on association board matters and electing board members. Election results were announced Thursday.

In essence, a majority of association members voted to never again vote.

The proposal to make the association board that manages the Chautauqua campus self-perpetuating, with no more voting among members who pay the association for discounted concert tickets at its auditorium, passed with 76% majority. It required 75% to take effect.

There were 1,381 votes cast in the election held by email among the association’s paying members between late January and Monday night, when voting ended. It far surpassed previous association election participation, according a news release from Colorado Chautauqua.

“CCA members have resoundingly affirmed that Chautauqua belongs to all of us,” Shelly Benford, executive director of the association. “Because of our members’ participation and support, we are now in a position to address the governance concern identified by the Boulder City Attorney and take an important step forward in securing a healthy Chautauqua for generations to come.”

The matter will likely not go to bed with the election results, though.

A lawsuit filed by some owners of the more than three-dozen private cottages in the Chautauqua neighborhood, with representation from former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, is seeking to invalidate the election results. It also named the city government as a defendant, and both Boulder and association lawyers requested an extension to respond to the complaint moving through Boulder District Court; those filings from the defendants were initially due Thursday.

Garnett’s clients do not want their ability to vote on association board matters, including in board member elections, taken away under the new governance model, while city officials have pushed the nonprofit association to make the change to eliminate the possibility of vote-buying in elections, and to substantially raise the land rents paid by cottage owners to the association.

The plaintiffs have argued there has already been a substantial increase in the land rents paid by his clients with the last leasing agreement between the association and the city, struck in 2015.

Garnett, now working for Denver firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, noted it was a slim margin of victory for the change, which was advocated by a majority of the association board and the city. He believes the lawsuit will reveal more about how the election was conducted.

“Of course we’re not surprised it was passed, because it was set up and handled in a way that made sure it was going to,” Garnett said. “… When we filed the lawsuit, sometimes you have to go to court to make sure the majority does not unfairly treat the minority, or silence it. I think what’s happened here, is the people with the power in Chautauqua are trying to silence the cottagers.”

Memberships in the association can be purchased for between $25 and $75, and offer discounts on tickets for events at the Chautauqua Auditorium, among other perks, in addition to the right to vote in association elections, prior to Thursday.

City Attorney Tom Carr in a November letter to the association took issue with cottage owners paying lease rates to the association that he claims are lower than what mobile home owners in Boulder pay for their lot rents. The more than five-dozen cottages owned by the association are rented to vacationers and visitors for what Benford has said are comparable market rates for similar lodging on the Front Range. Carr has said the city could find the association in breach of its lease of the Chautauqua area if the bylaws are not updated to eliminate vote-buying, or if the cottagers’ rental rates were not increased.

The average cottage owner’s land lease is $353 monthly, with $153 of that considered a base charge that varies based on the size of the cottage, and $200 of the monthly costs attributed to a $2,400 annual charge required by the city’s latest lease to the association in 2015, Benford said last month. Members in the past, including cottagers, were able to buy multiple additional memberships to influence board elections, which normally had lower turnout and were easier to steer, according to association leadership.

“The record turnout for this vote is a testament to just how important Chautauqua is to our entire community,” Nan Anderson, president of the association board of directors, stated in the release. “We look forward to collaboratively advancing our shared goals of a healthy and sustainable Chautauqua that truly belongs to all of us.”

Cottage owners will still be represented with a guaranteed seat for one on the board under the new association governance model, should it remain the nonprofit’s structure as the lawsuit moves through court. The current board would appoint new members, with two other seats filled by the city including a City Council member, and the rest of the 15-member board choosing future appointees for the other 12 seats.

Councilwoman Mary Young, an association board member, celebrated the result.

“I’m just so glad that Chautauqua still belongs to all of us,” Young said.

Added Benford in an email to the association leaders that was shared with the Camera:

“It was an incredible challenge to get the approval of 75% of voting members and winning by such a close margin makes it very clear that every conversation you had, every letter to the editor you wrote and every phone call you made proved critical in this effort. Those of us who worked so hard for this outcome simply cannot thank you enough for your support.”

blog comments powered by Disqus