Fraser Rec recall: Petition signatures verified; date to be set
December 10, 2008
It’s official. A recall election will be held this winter for three directors of the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District (FVMRD).
The three directors who are the subjects of the recall ” Dan O’Connell, Pete Strohecker and Beth Sands ” are saying they plan to fight to retain their seats by running as candidates in the recall election.
The recall election became official at Tuesday’s FVMRD meeting when the board received a letter from Todd Holzwarth, the court-appointed election official overseeing the recall petitions. Holzwarth stated that the petitions have a sufficient number of registered voters listed on them to warrant holding a recall.
Under the recall requirements, 300 signatures of registered voters from the district were needed. Holzwarth said he had confirmed the petitions had more than 400 valid signatures.
A second letter was also handed to the board at Tuesday’s meeting by Winter Park attorney Mark Rudis who represents the Concerned Citizens, the group seeking the three directors’ recall. His letter requested the directors “cooperate in a community-minded manner to draft a ballot” and set a date for the recall election.
As explained in Holzwarth’s letter, the district has 45 to 75 days from the election official’s certification of the petitions to set a date for the recall election. Holzwarth’s certification became official Tuesday.
Also in his letter, Holzwarth said there are only two ways to cancel the recall election at this point.
One way is by a successful protest of the recall petitions. The protest period, which also began Tuesday, lasts for 15 days.
The only other way for the recall to be stopped, Holzwarth said, is for the three board members to resign within five days. However, none of the three directors indicated Tuesday they are considering that option.
The recall effort by the Concerned Citizens is over the construction of FVMRD’s recreation center.
Approved in the district’s November 2007 bond election, the recreation center’s construction began after ground-breaking in late August. Its foundations have already been poured and the walls for its gymnasium and indoor pool facilities are currently going up.
The biggest bone of contention has been the recreation center’s location. It is being constructed on 4.9 acres of land at the Grand Park development in Fraser. That land was donated by Clark Lipscomb, Grand Park’s owner.
The Concerned Citizens are objecting to the board signing the contract to accept the donated land from Lipscomb.
Held in the Winter Park Town Hall, Tuesday’s meeting was packed with district residents concerned over the recall.
The majority voiced their support for the board and the recreation center project. They also questioned the motives of the Concerned Citizens for bringing the recall.
Rudis defended the Concerned Citizens’ actions during the meeting. Interviewed afterward, he emphasized the recall is not an attempt to end the construction of the project.
“From the comments of most of the people at tonight’s meeting,” he said, “it was obvious that they are under the strong misconception that the Concerned Citizens want to stop construction of the rec center. That is utterly false.”
Instead, Rudis said, the Concerned Citizens are seeking the recall for two reasons.
“This board has ethical issues and were not appropriately diligent in negotiating the contract and deed with Grand Park,” he said.
The “ethical issue” is alleged conflicts of interest by board members. The Concerned Citizens specifically leveled this accusation at Sands, who was an employee of Cornerstone Holdings LLC, the developer of Grand Park during the time of the contract negotiations.
“The ethical issue involving Sands is that she was an agent of Clark Lipscomb while on the board,” Rudis said. “While she was there, Libscomb effectively sat on the rec district board.”
Sands repeatedly denied having influenced the contract negotiations, and abstained from signing it when the board approved it last July. She is no longer an employee of Cornerstone.
The Concerned Citizens’ other objection is the terms of the contract and its possible effects on the recreation center’s tax-exempt status. Rudis said the Internal Revenue Service may not interpret it as a “public facility.”
“As laid out in the contract, it has the attributes of a private facility because Clark Lipscomb has control over the design of the building and its name, which will be called the Grand Park Community Recreation Center,” he said. “Also one of the contract’s reversionary clauses requires it to be attached to a private hotel that may be built in the future. Those three attributes makes it suspicious and doubtful as a public facility by IRS codes.”
Rudis also denied that the Concerned Citizens have any political motives or ambitions behind the recall.
“The Concerned Citizens have no slate of candidates and will have none,” he said. “We are not a political organization. However, there are supporters of this recall whom we know are planning to submit nominating petitions to run as candidates.”
Before ending Tuesday’s meeting, the FVMRD directors approved the district’s 2009 budget and set the dates for its public meetings next year. They also went into a 20-minute executive session to discuss the recall with Owen Oliver, the recreation district’s lawyer.
After emerging from the executive session and adjourning the meeting, the three directors expressed their views on the recall as well as their determination to retain their seats.
“The frustrating thing about this recall is that the taxpayers are now going to have to pay for this new election and all the legal fees,” Sands said. “It’s frustrating because we have been transparent about the contract from the beginning.”
O’Connell, the board’s president agreed. “I’m disappointed that we have to deal with this recall because it is taking away from our efforts to build this project on time and on budget,” he said. “And I plan to continue to represent this district and want to thank the public for its support.”
Strohecker said he also plans to run as a candidate in the recall because he believes the board’s actions in regards to the recreation center project were appropriate.
“I feel this board has represented what this district has wanted and followed the mandate of the people about this recreation facility,” he said. “As a board, we have already put in too many hours attempting to make our actions clear in the eyes of some people, especially when we all know that what we have done is right, correct and legal.”
All three directors said they were greatly encouraged by the show of support by majority of residents attending Tuesday’s meeting. They said their plan is to get “accurate information” to the public about the recreation center project and let the voters decide for themselves in the upcoming recall election.
O’Connell even held out the hope that something positive may result from the recall.
“I’m hoping people will want to weigh in and get revved up by this election,” he said. “Because of it, people will get excited again about the recreation center and want to make it a success when it opens.”