Facing ouster, Red Cliff trustee resigns
RED CLIFF, Colorado ” A Red Cliff Board of Trustee member resigned Tuesday, saying he expected his fellow board members to oust him next week, anyway.
Scott Burgess, who was elected last April, was facing accusations of a conflict of interest, which he denies. He had been asked to resign over a dispute with the town about the ownership of a piece of land next to his house.
A judge recently ruled that the town owns the land, vacating a 2006 decree that had established Burgess as the owner.
A Board of Trustees hearing was set for Monday, after which a majority vote would have removed Burgess from office.
“I refuse to take part in a kangaroo court,” Burgess said. “They’re going to convict me, regardless of evidence. So what’s the point? Let’s just be done with it and move on with our lives.”
Red Cliff Mayor Ramon Montoya said Burgess’ removal next week, indeed, may have been a forgone conclusion, pointing to a unanimous vote by the board last month to ask for Burgess’ resignation.
“I don’t know what would have been different about it,” Montoya said.
Burgess basically tried to take land away from the town and pay nothing for it, Montoya said earlier this week.
“The confidence has been lost,” he said Monday.
Burgess was elected last year as the second-leading vote-getter among trustee candidates, with 29 votes. Red Cliff has 198 registered voters.
Several residents have said they object to efforts to remove Burgess.
Red Cliff resident Caroline Bradford, who said she voted for Burgess last year, said she was “shocked” at the situation, calling him a good representative.
“The best trustee that we have, the fairest,” Bradford said. “I think he did not have any conflict of interest whatsoever. I think the specific matter ” of his little driveway that he still uses, and it’s always going to be his driveway ” it’s a tiny piece of property the town can’t do anything with otherwise. … This is all a tempest in a teapot to try to force him to resign.”
Burgess, a three-year resident of the tiny former mining town between Minturn and Leadville, has said that he thinks he was outside the “good-old-boy club” of Red Cliff, and hasn’t been well received by his fellow members since his tenure began.
The allegations of a conflict of interest center around litigation over the ownership of land next to Burgess’ house that includes his driveway. Burgess described the land as 25 feet by 75 feet in size.
In 2006, Burgess got a “quiet title” decree for the land after a title search indicated there was no owner of the land.
In 2008, just before he was elected to the Board of Trustees, the town sued Burgess, claiming it owned the land. Last month, an Eagle County District Court judge ruled in favor of the town.
In the process, the town incurred legal fees of about $20,000. Red Cliff wasn’t awarded legal fees in the judge’s ruling because it made procedural errors in the lawsuit.
In seeking Burgess’ removal, Red Cliff said he had a conflict of interest because he was involved in litigation against the town while he was a trustee. Burgess did not “withdraw or compromise” despite evidence of the town’s ownership of the land, wrote Town Attorney Ruth Borne in a letter to Burgess dated Wednesday. He “asserted a position while a Trustee that was adverse to the Town’s interests,” Borne wrote.
Borne also wrote that Burgess discussed the pending litigation at a meeting, violating rules of confidentiality, conduct and judicial process. Burgess said he explicitly addressed the board on the matter as a property owner, not a trustee.
Burgess also cost the town a lot of money in legal fees, Borne said.
“A higher standard is established for public officials who represent the public interest, and the town has a right to expect conduct from its Trustees that is not contrary to the Town’s interests, particularly where the Trustee has a substantial financial interest in the real property involved,” Borne wrote.
Despite his resignation, Burgess said his career as a Red Cliff politician may not be over.
“I can always run again in 2010,” he said.
Meanwhile, Red Cliff is looking for candidates to appoint to Burgess’ seat. Interested residents should contact the town clerk, Montoya said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.