Recall effort splits Grand Lake
Petitioners secure enough signatures for a ballot, but Mayor Kudron and his allies are calling foul
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Grand Lake Trustee Tom Bruton and to reflect the hearing was on Wednesday.
Grand Lake should know by next week whether an effort to recall Mayor Steve Kudron will make its way to the town’s electors.
Administrative Hearing Officer Karen Goldman was appointed as an independent third party in June to preside over an hour-long protest hearing at the Grand Lake Community House on Wednesday. The hearing was sparked by a group of locals who are challenging the recall petition and the way in which its signatures were gathered.
A recall committee composed of Diane Mahoney, Craig Wilkerson, Janice Bruton and Kathy Weydert filed the petition accusing the mayor of “bad decisions and poor leadership” in early May. For the recall to go to voters, the petitioners needed at least 25 signees. Ultimately, the petitioners and their backers collected 45, of which the town clerk certified 44.
At the same time, Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron and a group of people who support keeping him in office have been fighting back by citing inaccuracies and untruths in the petition and saying that people were misled or coerced into signing it. The mayor is also taking issue with some of the individuals propelling the effort.
“I don’t believe that the intent or the extent of the law allows people to make up lies, to be able to bend the truth, to be able to weaponize facts and (parts of our town law) that they have knowledge of,” Kudron said.
During Wednesday’s hearing, he listed some of the individuals who have previously served as trustees or planning commissioners and signed the petition.
“I make this point because I believe that the leaders of the past are not respecting the electors of today and they’re trying to take this town back by any form necessary,” Kudron said. “I believe that voters have spoken and that our town is moving in the direction to not only protect it but to steward it into the future.”
In a bullet point outline, the petition lists alleged infractions it says Kudron committed since he became mayor in April 2020.
Among them, the petitioners claim Kudron has been fiscally irresponsible, offered improper leadership, violated open meetings law and failed to produce sufficient financial and comprehensive town planning. Many of the bullet points listed in the petition offer little in the way of specifics about the mayor’s alleged offenses, though some do.
In terms of improper leadership, for example, the petition says Kudron dismissed overwhelming opposition to the purchase of the Stanley property, misused his power to pursue a plan to relocate the town’s public works facility to a remote, high-density residential area — also the Stanley property — and refused to listen to the community by not allowing questions during public meetings while giving town staff and trustees inadequate guidance on important decisions.
As far as financial irresponsibility, the petition alleges Kudron purchased property outside town and donated another piece of town property to the ArtSpace workforce hosing project, all without public hearings or community input. The petition doesn’t specify which property Kudron bought, but it’s talking about trustees’ decision to buy the Stanley property.
The petition also says that Kudron committed taxpayers to annual payments of $129,000-plus through 2035 and then used the Grand Lake Center as collateral for it, which is another element of the Stanley property purchase.
Alleged violations of open meetings law detailed in the petition include claims that Kudron failed to inform the public about the purchase of the Stanley property prior to executive sessions in which the matter was discussed, refused to release the minutes from executive session meetings afterward and has been lacking with open community meetings prior to important decisions.
On Wednesday, none of the four people who filed the recall petition spoke during the meeting. Only Tom Weydert appeared in defense of the petition. He said that he was speaking on his wife’s behalf because she was unable to attend.
Loose with the truth
While the recall petition contains a number of accusations, some of them are inaccurate. Others are more opinion than fact. However, the mayor and his supporters are calling most all the petition’s accusations “lies.”
For example, the petition accuses Kudron of buying property outside of town without holding public hearings. In fact, the town board unanimously approved the Stanley property purchase during trustees’ public meeting Sept. 28, which was covered by the Sky-Hi News.
Kudron has also been accused of failing to inform the public about the potential purchase before going into executive sessions, but it’s common — and completely legal — for government bodies to go into closed-door sessions when discussing potential land deals.
As for a lack of public meetings, after approving town staff to sign the contract, the town board held more public meetings and community forums directly related to the purchase, which backed by the board of trustees. During the board meetings and community forum, many residents, including the Weyderts, were able to speak and did.
The petition says that Kudron donated town property, but that’s also not really true. In reality, the board of trustees has held multiple workshop meetings and forums for the ArtSpace project, which the town won through a competitive process and will require Grand Lake to put up 10% of the total cost of the project; the land would count toward the town’s contribution.
It’s not a done deal. The town is looking at leasing the land to the developers. Once the lease is up, the property would revert back to the town. Trustees are expected to continue this discussion at their next board meeting. The lease also will be subject to voter approval.
Like many of the petition’s claims surrounding the Stanley property purchase, Kudron said the belief that he donated town property for the ArtSpace project isn’t just untrue, it discounts a town board decision that required support from a majority of trustees.
The one accusation that Kudron didn’t seem to disagree with Wednesday was that the Grand Lake Center has been used as collateral for the Stanley property purchase, though that is actually a more detailed deal, involving a certificate of participation and the paying off of another piece of town property, which the recall petition does not describe.
“It is used as collateral,” Kudron asserted. “It is used as collateral for a very important project that will protect not only the values of our community for our future but provide future leaders the opportunity to solve problems by having land.”
Kudron’s full video response to the petition is available at http://kudron.webflow.io/.
It gets personal
In addition to disputing the accuracy of the claims in the recall petition, Kudron and his supporters are also questioning some of the people behind the effort.
In a full-page ad taken out in the Sky-Hi News, the group supporting the mayor pointed out Janice Bruton is wife to Grand Lake Trustee Tom Bruton, while Weydert is married to Grand County Assessor Tom Weydert.
In 2020, Tom Weydert unsuccessfully ran for election to the Grand Lake Board of Trustees after he was appointed into the role in 2019. The appointment came after Weydert had previously served on the board.
While Kudron has faced criticism from more people than the Weyderts, they’ve been two of the mayor’s most vocal opponents since Kudron took office as mayor and Tom Weydert was voted out as a trustee.
On Wednesday, Kudron highlighted a number of other people who’ve previously served in town government and have now signed on to the petition, including Hayden Southway, Judy Burke, Phyllis Price and Diane Mahoney.
Kudron said he brought them up because he believes the recall is a result of policy disagreements, not actual wrongdoing, and that former public officials who spearheaded or signed the petition are trying to control town policy by lying about the issues.
The petitioners, petition protestors and Mayor Kudron were all allowed to present evidence and call their witnesses as Kudron and the protesters challenged the recall petition at Wednesday’s hearing.
Speaking in support of Mayor Kudron were protesters Virginia Wilkinson and former Grand Lake Mayor Jim Peterson.
Wilkinson called Kirsten Heckendorf, Suzy Macki, Jim McComb and Jennifer Brown as her witnesses. They all offered testimony that they had spoken to people who signed the recall petition without ever reading it.
They also said that the group pushing the petition misrepresented the document when asking people to sign it, and named a handful of individuals who told the witnesses they never would have signed the petition if they had known what it said.
“I would like to enter into the record that, in addition to the testimonies given by these witnesses, we have identified several additional people who have valid testimony in our opinion but declined to come forward at this administrative hearing because they did not want to be identified to the designed recall committee,” Wilkinson added. “Their reasons included fear of bullying and harassment and more serious reprisals by the members of the recall committee.
“Other witnesses were unwilling to publicly join sides in a political dispute, and one signer had faith that forcing a recall election was the best way to stop the petitioners once and for all from making more trouble for the town in the future.”
During his time to respond, Tom Weydert noted that the witnesses’ testimony was “second, third and fourth-hand information” as he passed out copies of statements from the four members of the recall committee saying they had never spoken to Wilkinson.
In addition to having support among some local residents and the former mayor, Kudron also has gotten letters of support signed by Grand Lake Fire Chief Seth St. Germain and the Grand Lake Fire board, and from the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce.
For anyone who’s been attending Grand Lake town meetings, hours upon hours of public comments have been taken since April 2020.
However, there have been at least two occasions in which Tom Weydert was either cut short or not allowed to make remarks.
The recall petition does not list any specific infractions on Kudron’s part when it says he has squashed public comments, but it’s likely referencing, at least partially, those instances in which Kudron and Weydert clashed over comments.
During a community forum, Kudron had Tom Weydert’s mic muted when Weydert eclipsed the allotted three minutes that’s given to each public commenter as the town weighed the Stanley property purchase. The three-minute limit was expressed before public comments were taken, as is usually the case, but other people often go over the limit without interruption.
On the second instance, Weydert demanded a chance to comment before a board vote regarding a contract with Mountain Paddlers during the April 12 board meeting. However, Kudron said it was time for the board to vote and did not afford Weydert the opportunity.
Still, Grand Lake has held numerous community meetings and forums regarding ArtSpace and the Stanley property purchase, along with other controversial issues, well before the measures were finalized, and those forums were all well attended with everyone, including the Weyderts, given a chance to be heard.
“The public has a role in every one of my meetings,” Kudron said Wednesday while acknowledging he “may not be perfect in Robert’s Rules (of Order).”
In introducing herself for Wednesday’s hearing, Goldman said that small town recall efforts can often be “very, very divisive.”
While many of the attacks on the mayor have focused on issues that came from votes made by the entire board of trustees, some of the mayor’s supporters are making a case that public officials who’ve pushed the petition or signed it, or have spouses pushing it, have used their public positions to promote issues in which they or a group they represent had a direct interest.
When Tom Weydert introduced himself during Wednesday’s hearing, he said he was not speaking as the county assessor, marking a turnaround from some statements he’s made during public meetings in which Weydert has identified himself as the county assessor and did not say he was speaking on his own behalf.
In another instance, Weydert used the assessor’s office letterhead while lobbying against the Stanley property purchase, which seemingly has nothing to do with the assessor’s office.
Tom Bruton also recently recused himself from a vote about public funding for a local nonprofit because he sits on the that nonprofit’s board. However, that conflict of interest was nowhere to be found when Bruton lobbied, motioned and voted to approve the funding on April 12, only weeks after he expressed it was a conflict of interest for him.
As a result, some of the mayor’s supporters have started suggesting they should start their own recall efforts.
On Friday, Tom Bruton contacted the newspaper to say he is staying neutral in the recall effort.
“I am impartial,” Tom Bruton said. “Whether yea or nay, I have no voice in that. My wife has her own opinion, and she can do what she wants. She is an adult. I am impartial to this whole thing.”
The mayor’s supporters also calling the petition fiscally irresponsible, eyeing the cost associated with Wednesday’s hearing and the potential recall ballot.
‘Let voters decide’
During his remarks, Weydert didn’t spend much time defending the way the signatures were collected.
He talked about his contributions to the community over more than three decades and said he believes that Kudron should be removed from office for stifling citizen participation and accused Kudron of being deceptive.
As for the hearing, Weydert said the only purpose for it was to determine if the petition was sufficient for a ballot.
“I believe that what they’re discussing, what we’re discussing, that is for the voters to decide should we go to a recall election,” Weydert said as he explained why he didn’t want to go through the protesters or petitioners’ responses line by line.
Rather, he pointed out that the witness testimony was all hearsay. He also cited a bolded warning at the top of the petition that told electors they must read the document before signing it.
Citing a 2017 recall effort in Broomfield, Weydert said the responsibility for reading and understanding the petition rests with the signees, not those who distributed it.
“In this finding, state law does not restrict the circumstances under which electors can initiate the recall of an elected official,” he said. “While some people believe a recall should only be used in situations of corruption, malfeasance or other major wrongful activities, the reality is that a recall can be demanded for any reason whatsoever…
“The third bolded paragraph of the warning is very clear,” Weydert continued. “It admonishes people not to sign the petition unless they have read it or have had it read to them in its entirety and they understand its meeting. This statement places the burden on the signers rather than the circulators.”
Additionally, even if the signatures from people who told the protesters they didn’t read the petition were excluded, Weydert said he believed there would still be sufficient signatures to send the recall to a ballot.
Goldman has a Monday deadline to issue her findings.
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