Fraser Rec district lawsuit cost time, money | SkyHiNews.com

Fraser Rec district lawsuit cost time, money

by Stephanie Miller
Sky-Hi Daily News

The lawsuit filed contesting the result of the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District’s election has been dismissed in court, but in the end, how did the lawsuit affect the overall project?

Cyndy Flores, the recreation district’s executive director, said the district spent over $10,000 in legal fees. The lawsuit also prolonged the sale of the bonds for the recreation district, which decreased the premium the district anticipated, she said.

Flores originally anticipated a premium of $750,000. Instead, the amount was closer to $500,000.

Also, because of the delay in sales, the project probably lost about $400,000 to $500,000 in interest, she said.

“It’s not going to hurt the project, but it would have been extra money toward the project,” Flores said.

The delay also forced the district to slow down its hiring process for the projects, said director of parks and recreation Scott Ledin. Now, the district is playing catch-up, and is forced to move along at a quicker pace, he said.

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“Now, our timeline is relatively tight. It doesn’t give us as much flexibility as we would’ve hoped,” he said.

Why the lawsuit?

Pat Rupert, a longtime Tabernash resident, contested the district’s election regarding the Community Enhancement Project. He claimed the election was fraudulent because the designated place for the deposit of the ballots, which was a mail ballot, was in Hot Sulphur Springs ” a location, he said, is out of the voters’ jurisdiction.

According to election law, all places of deposit and any walk-in voting locations should be located within the political subdivision “where feasible.” But if the political subdivision decides to establish the place for dropping off votes outside of the district, permission needs to be obtained from the secretary of state, and the alternate location must be in the proximity to the political subdivision.

Rupert feels the rules for the election were not followed, and filed a lawsuit against the secretary of state, County Clerk Sara Rosene, and president of the rec. district board, Jim Fox. Because there were no nearby voting locations, he believes many residents in the district didn’t vote.

“This is not about sour grapes. It’s about citizen’s’ right to vote, and they didn’t get it,” he said.

The lawsuit was dismissed by District Court Judge Shelley Hill, however, because the court felt there weren’t enough facts to contest the election, or show fraud.

Rupert’s claim also did not prove the results of the election would have been different had it been conducted differently, the court documents state.

Rupert feels he did not get a fair chance in court, and if he had, he would have pointed out a number of other violations he felts were conducted during the election. He did not appeal the lawsuit because the cost of legal fees is too great, he said.

Rupert said that some residents didn’t receive a mail ballot, some where received “torn,” and the last time the rec. district asked to raise the mill levy for a rec. center, which was not a mail ballot, there were 300 or so more voters compared to November’s election. Hot Sulphur Springs, Rupert feels, is not in “reasonable” proximity to his political subdivision.

“I wasn’t asking for money or anything else. I just wanted another election with a (closer) polling place,” Rupert said. “I just did what I thought was right.”

Rupert added he was really disappointed by the outcome, but asked whether he regretted filing the lawsuit, he stated, “Absolutely not.” Because of his actions, he feels confident that the next election will be under “total scrutiny.”

“You can’t just lay back and be apathetic about something when people are coming out of the woodwork to tell you how badly the election was mishandled,” he said.

Why just sue the rec. district?

There was more than one district in the county that placed a question on November’s ballot. The East Grand School District passed a $18.2 million bond issue that month, and a Winter Park Water and Sanitation was also passed. All votes were part of a coordinated election, and involved a mail ballot system.

Yet Rupert only sued the Fraser rec. district for its election handlings. Why?

Rupert said the school district had it’s drop-off location for votes within its political

subdivision in Hot Sulphur Springs, but the Community Enhancement Projects, being on the east end of the Valley, did not.

“That was the election that I could protest, because that was directly within my political subdivision,” he said.

County clerk did elections “to the book” Flores said

During a phone interview, Rosene stated she did file with the secretary of state for the mail ballot plan before the deadline.

As for having a drop-off site in Hot Sulphur Springs, the election was a coordinated election, she explained, so the county complied with the “appropriate drop-off site” according to rules set by the secretary of state for coordinated elections, she said.

The drop-off site was in the political subdivisions of the coordinated election, which included the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, the Hot Sulphur Fire Protection District, the Fraser Valley Rec. District and the East Grand School District, Rosene pointed out.

“If they were a voter in the Fraser Valley rec. district, they were a voter in the East Grand School District,” Rosene said. “That’s why the drop off site (in Hot Sulphur Springs) was appropriate.”

The reasons for a mail ballot was the county’s decision she added, due to cost and convenience.

“Not only is (a mail ballot) cheaper, but it’s very difficult to find election judges every year. It doesn’t take as many election judges to run a mail-ballot election,” Rosene said.

Election law is challenging and changes every year, Flores pointed out. But Rosene did an “excellent job,” she said. “She did everything to the book.”

It was the district’s decision to do a coordinated election, Flores added; the district has done them before, she pointed out. But it was the district’s first mail ballot, she said.

“It was advertised. We put it in our newsletters, in our Web site. We thought we educated our residents enough to understand that it would be a mail ballot,” Flores said. “It was a fair election. No laws were broken and the courts agreed.”

To reach Stephanie Miller, call (970) 887-3334, ext. 19601 or e-mail smiller@grandcountynews.com.

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