Judge throws out petitions for Haymeadow referendum in Eagle
June 9, 2014
EAGLE — Eagle residents likely won't get the chance to vote on the future of the Haymeadow development after all.
Judge Cheryl Post, acting as hearing officer for a formal protest of the Haymeadow referendum petition process, has issued a ruling upholding each of the challenges formally presented by resident Charles Hair. As a result, the petitions have been declared invalid and the Eagle Town Board's Haymeadow approval stands.
Haymeadow, a 837-unit residential development proposed at the 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink property, was slated to go to a referendum vote because the town received petitions containing 373 signatures calling for a resident referendum for the project. Eagle Town Clerk Sarah Braucht certified that 310 of the signatures were valid, exceeding the threshold of 214 valid signatures required to refer the issue to a municipal election. The Eagle Town Board approved the Haymeadow proposal in a 6-1 vote on March 25.
However, as part of a referendum process, there is a protest period during which a resident can question whether the petition process followed state law. In his formal protest, Hair cited six points that he alleged violate the rules. His protest covered issues ranging from technicalities laid out in state statute detailing the specific form for petitions and their accompanying affidavits, to questions about the propriety of a document titled "Haymeadow: Why to vote for a better plan for Eagle" that was carried by the petition circulators.
"I think Judge Post really just upheld the law," Hair said. "A petition drive shouldn't be taken lightly."
Hair said collection of 214 signatures is a low threshold for a referendum petition effort.
"To make it even lower by not adhering to the state statute is a dangerous precedent in my opinion," Hair said.
In her 12-page ruling, Post noted that state statute clearly outlines the petition process and mandates that the various provisions "shall" be met. "The generally accepted and familiar meaning of 'shall' indicates that his term is mandatory," Post said.
However, she also noted "Cases decided under the state initiative standard holds that substantial compliance is the appropriate standard to use when examining sufficiency of petitions."
But even under the substantial compliance standard, Post ruled that the petitions were improperly circulated because:
• Petitions did not include affidavits detailing the names and addresses of each person who circulated the documents.
• The petitions were not pre-numbered serially as required in statute.
• A non-biased statement summarizing the reasons for the petition effort did not appear on each page of the petition as required.
• Evidence presented at the hearing showed the circulators had not read the state stature governing petition circulation, as required by law.
"If the circulators had read the law, they would have known that their addresses needed to be on the affidavits; that the complete summary needed to be on each signature page; that pages in each petition section needed to be numbered; and that the electors should receive a clear, approved summary that was true, impartial and which was not an argument or likely to create prejudice, either for or against the measure and to which no extraneous material was added," states Post's ruling.
Post additionally upheld Hair's argument that the "Haymeadow: Why to vote for a better plan for Eagle" document was improperly circulated by people who were collecting the petition signatures.
"It has numerous opinion statements, as well as factually inaccurate or misleading statements," stated Post. She noted that the referendum proponents argued the information was not "extraneous materials" — precluded by state statute from inclusion in a petition packet — because it was not stapled to the other materials.
"Exhibit Q is an argument to vote no. That is not relevant to the question of whether to have a vote," states Post's ruling. "Exhibit Q (the Haymeadow document) also came from outside the approved petition section. The town clerk was not aware of its existence until the protest. Thus, by definition, Exhibit Q is extraneous. The purpose of the statute would not be served by allowing the requirement that there be no extraneous material to be circumvented by the mere absence of a staple," Post said.
Rosie Shearwood, one of the two petition proponents who defended the process during last week's hearing responded to the ruling.
"I hope something positive can be taken from this experience. For me, the hard lesson has been you need to have very deep pockets if you're going to challenge Town Hall," Shearwood said.
"Two non-professional citizens without that kind of money didn't have the proverbial snowball's chance of surviving the legal machine we faced," Shearwood said. "But most importantly, I think the 370-plus signatures on our petition should send a message to both the Town Board and the developer that a lot of citizens would prefer to see a different plan for Haymeadow. We wanted to send that message, and in a way, I think we did, and I'd like to thank our many supporters."
Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick also reacted to the ruling Monday.
"On the one hand, I understand and support the rights of citizens to challenge the agreement between the town and the developer," Kostick said. "On the other hand, as the judge said in her ruling, there are compelling reasons to preserve the integrity of the process. These are serious matters and the rules of the process need to be upheld. I have reached out personally to the group that filed the petition and will continue to work to find common ground with them and all the citizens of Eagle. Eagle is at a critical juncture on a variety of fronts, and it is important to me and the other trustees that our constituents feel fairly represented at Town Hall."