Grand Lake recall was a last resort, petitioners say
Residents explain their reasons for pursuing mayor’s removal
Whether or not Grand Lake electors remove the mayor from office next month could be a referendum on decisions of town policy or how those votes were handled.
Four town residents — Diane Mahoney, Craig Wilkerson, Janice Bruton and Kathy Weydert — filed a recall petition in May and then collected 19 signatures more than the 25 they needed to trigger a recall ballot. Now, Grand Lake electors will decide whether to keep Mayor Steve Kudron in office in a mail-in ballot Oct. 5.
In the recall petition, the four residents accuse Kudron of poor leadership, bad planning, fiscal irresponsibility and abuses of power. Overall, they say the mayor has ignored the community’s will, stifled public participation in vital town decisions and led Grand Lake trustees in the wrong direction.
“Nobody wanted to go to this extent, but there have been numerous community members who did try to reach out, and we weren’t successful, so if you’re not going to listen, then what recourse do concerned citizens have,” asked Tom Weydert, as he and just over a half-dozen people supporting the recall effort sat down with the Sky-Hi News to explain why they went through with it.
Among them were Wilkerson, Kathy Weydert and her husband Tom Weydert, former Grand Lake mayor and recall challenger Judy Burke and Bruton, along with a handful of others who’ve circulated the petition and support its aim.
Most said they said they don’t dislike Kudron — and some admit voting for him — but they all deeply worry about where the mayor is taking the town and don’t like the way that things are being done.
In response to the recall effort, Kudron has refuted the accusations and posted an online video at https://kudron.webflow.io/. At the same time, the mayor has gone on offense, out campaigning with a group of his supporters, who characterize the recall effort as former officials’ dishonest efforts to wrest control of Grand Lake away from the current leadership.
But the group behind the recall has a different perspective and say the recall petition was their last resort to put important town decisions back before the voters.
Much has been made about the town buying 21 acres off Mad Moose and Foxy Lanes, more commonly known as the Stanley Property. The recall petitioners don’t argue the purchase is one of their major concerns, but for them, the recall effort goes much further than that.
“There’s a whole pattern to this behavior,” Tom Weydert said. “(The Stanley Property purchase) is kind of a fulcrum — a tipping point — but there are all sorts of other issues that it’s the same pattern of the process.”
The Stanley Property
Responding to how they got to this point, Bruton said that had trustees put a retainer on the Stanley Property and started holding public meetings and offering plans for the land before deciding to buy it for the town, things would have been different.
“We want the community to be a part of this solution and we were not,” she said.
Other petitioners added that recall effort follows disagreements on unrelated issues, such as ArtSpace’s desire to build next to the Grand Lake Center, the fire department’s “take over” of the Grand Lake Center early into the pandemic and much more. For those pushing the recall effort, the Stanley Property isn’t the only reason; it was the last straw.
And with the Stanley Property purchase, the recall petitioners don’t feel like there was adequate public discussion before the town went forward with the contract. They believe that the opportunities, such as potential trail connections, were grossly misrepresented and hate that town officials have never detailed what they plan on doing with the land.
Negations to buy the property were done behind closed doors in executive sessions — which is explicitly allowed under open records law. Afterward, the town held subsequent public hearings and forums as trustees finalized financing, but the recall petitioners believe that once the town had reached a contract, trustees should have brought the purchase before voters. The recall petitioners even circulated an online petition against the purchase and collected over 420 signatures opposing it, but they say that was ignored.
As proof town officials were trying to avoid putting the purchase before voters, the recall petitioners point to the way the purchase was financed, which did not require voter approval, along with an email they obtained through an open records request in which Town Manager John Crone wrote: “We would prefer not to go to a vote.”
“From the get-go, they didn’t want to take it to the people to find out if they approved of this purchase,” Kathy Weydert said.
The petitioners also do not believe trustees have thoroughly vetted the purchase, and they point to the town paying almost $3,000 for 2020 property taxes on the land despite not buying the property until March 2021 as one example of incompetence.
Town staff have said the erroneous payment will be corrected, but the petitioners are convinced that public forums held by the town were lip service for a rushed decision that had already been made and was never vetted.
“We can go on and on and on about the things any prudent buyer should do as far as due diligence, and (the town) did absolutely nothing,” Tom Weydert said.
On the mail-in ballot, voters living in town limits will be asked if they wish for Kudron to remain as mayor before a second question lists potential replacement candidates. With only Burke filing to run in the recall election, only her name will appear on the second question.
Along with other people pushing the recall, Burke worries about the information the board of trustees is getting. If the recall is successful and Burke replaces Kudron as mayor, she said she would start by building trust and accountability, starting with town staff.
“The entire board is basically new with no background, no history,” Burke said. “Most of them didn’t even see the Stanley Property (before the town decided to buy it). I think that’s my biggest concern is that nobody is getting information.”
She continued, saying the board is only getting one side of the story, hearing why measures like the Stanley Property would be wonderful for the town, “but nobody is saying, ‘What are the unintended consequences? What are the costs? What are the plans?’”
For Burke, a change in leadership is the key to solving many of the problems that she and the recall petitioners are seeing in town government.
The day after
The recall petitioners have been criticized for opposing development, berated for not proposing solutions and attacked personally on social media and around town over the recall effort.
In response, the people behind the recall effort say they have no problem with growth in Grand Lake, as long as it’s done responsibly and with public input, and they have no problem losing an important vote, as long as it’s done in public and the decision is supported by a majority in the town and Grand Lake’s surrounding community.
The people pushing the recall have been accused of being a small group of former elected officials trying to seize control from the currently elected board, and they’ve faced accusations that their recall effort is just “sour grapes” after important board decisions didn’t go their way.
“To say that we’re all a bunch of losers and a bunch of sour grapes — no,” said Tom Weydert, pointing to a handful of actions taken by previous boards of trustees, including the purchase of the Conoco Property for housing solutions. “In so many things, we have been proactive. Our track record demonstrates it.”
From their perspective, the petitioners argue that the board has been little more than a rubber stamp, and that trustees have failed to do their “due diligence” when addressing critical town matters.
Even though accusations of bullying, personal attacks and dishonesty have now come from all sides in the recall debate, if you ask the petitioners, there’s still room for Grand Lake to come back together after this is over.
They say they haven’t enjoyed pushing for a recall, but they take some satisfaction feeling like they’ve put these issues and more back in front of voters.
As a result, the recall, at least in some ways, could shape up as a referendum on town policy and process, and the petitioners say they can live with voters’ decision.
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