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Smith Hymes: Correcting falsehoods in Avon recall effort

Sarah Smith Hymes
Valley Voices

To say it’s been a bumpy road in the Heart of the Valley over the past seven months is an understatement. I don’t need to tell you why — you’re living it.

COVID-19 hit and Avon took immediate action: grants for food and rent relief, weekly panels of experts to provide advice to our businesses, an innovative restaurant voucher program, and changes to liquor licensing.

We took the lead on requiring masks, and were first out of the gate with safety protocols for outdoor special events. Budgets that support economic activity were spared, others were cut. We entered the summer season ready to accommodate the worst of our financial projections and survived it relatively unscathed, thanks to our nimble businesses and capital investments made over the years to make Avon an appealing destination for summer fun. 

Now onto August. Despite the fact that a regular election was right around the corner, and the world was still in the throes of a pandemic, Michael Cacioppo and Tom Ruemmler decided it was a good time to launch a recall for three Avon Town councilors: Amy Phillips, Tamra Nottingham Underwood, and myself. (Spoiler alert: Earlier this week, the Avon town clerk determined that the number of signatures turned in was insufficient to trigger a recall election; the recall committee has 15 days to “cure” or correct the insufficiency.)

Given that three seats on the Avon Town Council are up for election on Nov. 3, you might wonder why those behind the recall effort didn’t just run for council themselves, or get like-minded candidates to run. In fact, Ruemmler and Adrienne Perer — a member of the recall committee — ran in 2018 and lost to Tamra Underwood and myself. Even more puzzling is that Amy Phillips is up for re-election on Nov. 3, so why not just run against her instead of attempting to recall her? Some would say it’s an effort to subvert the results of the 2018 election.

Whatever the motivation, which I’ll address shortly, they absolutely have the right to recall. And, as you likely witnessed over the past two months, they worked very hard at it. They circulated petitions themselves, going door to door (in a pandemic, no less), and offered payment of $5 per signature for circulators to help them. All legal and within their rights.

Now to the motivation. The stated justification for the recall is these councilmembers are acting contrary to Avon residents’ desires. They cite support for moving the Hahnewald Barn, and failure to repeal the real estate transfer tax. In a fact sheet that was distributed by the circulators, and in comments made both in public and to people whose signatures they were soliciting, building affordable housing in Wildwood, the cost of the Performance Pavilion in Nottingham Park, and the improvements to West Beaver Creek Boulevard was additional justification for the recall.

Unfortunately, unlike the election Blue Book we’ve all been studying to understand both sides of the initiatives on this November’s ballot, the recall statute does not give targets of a recall the right to include a counterpoint on the recall petition.  

So, that’s what I’m doing here. I’m correcting the misrepresentations and falsehoods:

 The barn

The Avon Planning and Zoning Commission supported the vision of moving the Hahnewald barn to the park. The costs of the feasibility study are part of a planning process that occurs for any and every project. Although the majority of the Town Council voted to move the barn, and could have done so, instead those same councilmembers chose to poll the community before proceeding. When the results were clear, they reversed their decision. The barn is gone.

Real estate transfer tax

The real estate transfer tax has been in place since 1980. It has kept property taxes low and financed all the town’s capital improvements:  road work, roundabouts, safety and pedestrian improvements, upgrades to the recreation center and the beloved beach at Nottingham Lake. The list is endless. The current council has unanimously reaffirmed it, including one councilmember who ran in 2018 on repealing RETT, but now understands it and supports it. There are RETT exemptions for people who work in Eagle County and make Avon their primary residence. Full RETT exemptions are granted for deed-restricted homes and affordable housing developments. Why do people move to Avon if buying here is such a bad deal? A recent market analysis from Land Title states that so far in 2020, Avon has the highest number of real estate sales in the county.  All of the other locations listed for exceptional sales volume also had transfer taxes or transfer fees. 

Sales tax in the Village at Avon

This was also identified by the recall committee as a substitute for RETT. However, all the sales tax generated by the Village at Avon is rebated to their metro district per the original 1998 development agreement. A 0.75% public improvement fee supports the municipal services we provide them. None of the PIF is left over to provide services to the rest of Avon.  

Performance Pavilion

Neither Tamra, myself, nor Amy was on the town council when the stage was approved and built.

Affordable Housing in Wildwood

The council never decided to build affordable housing in Wildwood. The council was exploring the idea. After extensive public outreach, the entire council approved the Town-Owned Properties Plan and the Community Housing Plan, which included researching a potential housing project in Wildwood. After conducting a long-planned survey of the Wildridge and Wildwood neighborhoods, the council decided not to proceed with it.  

Vigorous and respectful discourse on policy differences is at the heart of what we do every day on behalf of this community. We are your neighbors, and your friends. Recalls, while the right of every elector, should be rare and reserved for misconduct. Policy differences fall far short of this standard.

What is best for the town is always first and foremost in my mind. I remain open to input from everyone in our community — especially those who introduce the opposing view.      

Sarah Smith Hymes is the mayor of the town of Avon. Email her at shymes@avon.org.


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