Haymeadow referendum petitions are challenged
Eagle residents may not have the opportunity to decided the Haymeadow issue after all.
On Tuesday, the town of Eagle received a formal protest from resident Charles A. Hair alleging that the petition process for Haymeadow did not meet state statute. With that protest in hand, the town had 10 days from May 27 to name a hearing officer and conduct a formal hearing to determine whether the petitions are valid.
Haymeadow, a 837-unit residential development proposed at the 660-acre parcel located just south of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink property, is slated to go to a referendum vote because the town received petitions containing 373 signatures calling for a citizen referendum for the project. Eagle Town Clerk Sarah Braucht certified that 310 of the signatures were valid, exceeding 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 citizen can question whether the petition process followed state law. In his formal protest, Hair cited six points that he alleges violate the rules. His protest covers 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” which Hair referred to as “Additional Materials.”
Hair alleges that many of the petition circulators presented copies of the Additional Materials to residents as they collected signatures.
“Many of the statements contained in the Additional Materials are misleading or are outright falsehoods. Upon information and belief, multiple circulators of the petition circulated the Additional materials to persons who were asked to sign the petition,” Hair’s protest states.
Hair alleges that the “overt and prevalent use of Additional Materials by petition circulators had the effect of including it in the petition itself, in violation of the requirement that no petition section be printed or circulated unless the form and the first printer’s proof of the petition section have been approved by the town clerk.”
Town board reaction
Members of the Eagle Town Board learned about the petition protest Tuesday.
“There is a pretty narrow body of statute… on how you are supposed to conduct a petition process and this protest claims they didn’t adhere to that,” said Eagle Town Manager Jon Stavney.
Wednesday morning, the town scheduled a June 6 hearing at 9 a.m. before retired judge Sheryl Post to determine if the petition drive process was valid. Tuesday night the town instructed Stavney and Eagle Mayor Yuri Kostick find a hearing officer and schedule the hearing.
“The one direction we got from the board was to find someone who is not from Eagle County,” said Stavney.
Traditionally, a hearing officer is a retired judge who participates in the state’s judicial arbitrator group.
The hearing itself will be a quasi-judicial process and public testimony will not be part of the proceedings. The hearing officer will make a decision based on the statutes governing referendum petitioning and the alleged violations in the Haymeadow case.
If the judge rules against the protest, the Haymeadow referendum process will proceed. The protest period ends June 9 and the town board can set the election date June 10. If the protest is upheld, the vote will not happen.
“There is no ability to go get signatures again. That boat has sailed,” said Stavney.
The only recourse the petition circulators would have is to file a protest in district court.
During the discussion of the issue, Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands advised the board that the standard to uphold the petition drive is “substantial conformance.” The hearing will determine if the circulators met that standard.
Kraige Kinney, one of the people who collected signatures for the Haymeadow referendum, believes the petition process will be validated. He noted that group members presented questions regarding the process and form to Town Clerk Sarah Braucht and to Sands before, during and after submitting the petitions.
“Most petitions processes are done by amateurs,” Kinney noted. “It’s (a formal petition protest) not atypical of what a developer would do to protect his interests.”