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Avon recall dispute now unfolding in district court

A judge has been asked to resolve a dispute over how many signatures are required to trigger a Town Council recall.
File photo

A contentious recall effort sparked feuds and colored campaigns for Avon Town Council last summer and fall. But the last word on a so-far failed attempt to recall two councilmembers will come from an Eagle County District Court judge.

The town of Avon and the Avon Recall Committee — locked in a fight over how many voter signatures the committee needed to submit to force a recall election for Sarah Smith Hymes and Tamra Underwood — have each filed a first round of briefs in a pending case before Judge Russell H. Granger.

Last November, the town determined the committee did not submit enough voter signatures for a recall election to proceed. On Dec. 1, the town filed a complaint against the Avon Recall Committee, asking the district court to weigh in with an opinion.

“This is not a matter of the town disagreeing with the Avon Recall Committee as to their right to pursue a recall or their rationale for undertaking a recall effort. Rather, it is a fundamental disagreement with respect to the proper interpretation of law related to the recall process,” Avon Town Attorney Paul Wisor said in an emailed statement about the case. “The town is asking the court to tell the town and the Avon Recall Committee the proper way under Colorado law to calculate the number of signatures necessary to trigger a recall election.”

While some have bristled over the complaint, characterizing it as town officials suing residents for exercising rights to pursue a recall election, Wisor said the complaint is the mechanism available to the town to ask an independent judge to settle the dispute.

“The town is not suing the Avon Recall Committee members in the traditional sense,” Wisor said. “In its pleadings, the town has reserved the right to seek attorney’s fees in the event that the Avon Recall Committee or its legal representatives assert a frivolous claim or defense against the town. The town, however, is not otherwise seeking damages or fees in this case.”

Leave it to the judge

Town officials did not have to file the complaint. They could have done nothing and left it up to the Avon Recall Committee to challenge the town’s decisions denying the recall effort in court if it chose to do so.

“Having a district court judge exercise his authority … to determine the proper methodology under Colorado law is the most fair and public way for the town, the Avon Recall Committee and the community as a whole to reach an answer with respect to this disagreement,” Wisor said of the town’s decision to move forward with the complaint.

The recall effort continued throughout much of last summer and fall. It marks the first recall attempt in Avon’s history, town officials said, and prompted numerous conflicts and disagreements between the people supporting it and people opposing it.

According to the town’s complaint, the Avon Recall Committee submitted 452 valid voter signatures to recall Underwood and 462 valid voter signatures to recall Hymes on Nov. 3. Those totals were less than the 496 voter signatures the town determined were needed to trigger a recall election. That prompted the town clerk to issue “certificates of insufficiency” for both recall petitions on Nov. 9.

In its complaint, the town also alleges that the Avon Recall Committee submitted a protest against those certificates of insufficiency on Nov. 24, after deadlines to protest the decision had passed — something the committee disputes in its initial answer to the town’s complaint.

Both petitions contained more than the 330 signatures the Avon Recall Committee believes were actually needed to trigger a recall election for Hymes and Underwood.

Differing math

Each side points to provisions governing recall processes in the Colorado Constitution and Colorado Revised Statutes. Those require signatures equaling 25% of the “entire vote cast” for all the candidates for the particular office in the last preceding election, with that 25% of the entire vote cast then divided by the number of candidates who were elected to the office in that preceding election.

The town and the Avon Recall Committee seem to agree that 1,984 voters cast 5,276 votes in the 2018 election for the Avon Town Council, when Hymes and Underwood were elected to their seats. Disagreement seems to center around the “undervotes” in the election, and how they should factor into the tally of votes cast.

With eight candidates running for four open seats on the Avon Town Council in 2018, people could vote for up to four candidates. Not every voter cast all four votes, however, resulting in 2,660 undervotes.

The town of Avon argues that the undervotes, along with the 5,276 votes cast, make up the “entire vote cast” total used to determine how many voter signatures the Avon Recall Committee needed to submit. That results in the town’s calculation of 496 voter signatures.

The Avon Recall Committee, in its answer to the town’s complaint, argues that the undervotes should not be part of the total, resulting in its calculation of 330 signatures needed to trigger a recall election.

“Had each elector cast their maximum allowable votes for town councilor positions, i.e. four votes for four open candidate seats, there would have been 7,936 total votes cast for the town councilor candidates. Under that scenario, there would have been no undervotes,” the Avon Recall Committee writes in its answer to the town’s complaint, filed Jan. 11 by attorney Alan Sweetbaum, of Denver.

“However, the town contends there were undervotes, which necessarily eliminates the possibility that there were 7,936 total votes cast in the 2018 election for the town councilor positions. Yet, the town contends that 7,936 total votes were cast for purposes of determining the number of signatures required to trigger a recall election … The town clerk’s miscalculation improperly increased the number of signatures the town claimed were required to trigger a recall election.”

Wisor and Sweetbaum declined to comment on why the undervotes should be included or excluded from the total vote used to calculate the signatures needed, with more filings in the case expected in coming weeks.

In its complaint, the town of Avon argues that interpreting Colorado law for recalls and the “entire vote cast” as the Avon Recall Committee proposes would “violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution because they require a town elector to cast the maximum votes allowed in order to have their participation in the town council election equally and fully counted for purposes of a recall.”

Having now gone through the first recall effort in Avon’s history, town officials are considering adopting recall procedures to help eliminate future confusion around processes and requirements. The idea was one of nearly 90 goals the town identified as a possibility for 2021 at the most recent Avon Town Council meeting.

“We’ve seen other communities that have adopted recall procedures that are basically citizen handbooks that explain the process and how a group can pursue a recall, and make the process more understandable to the citizenry,” Avon Town Manager Eric Heil said.

But for now, the town is asking Eagle County District Court to affirm that it correctly handled its first recall dispute and to uphold its decisions to deny the two recall petitions. Meanwhile, the Avon Recall Committee is asking the court to do the opposite, and find that it submitted enough voter signatures for a recall election for Hymes and Underwood to proceed.

Two injured after furniture truck drives off I-70 and lands on Edwards road

A furniture truck drove off Westbound Interstate 70 on Thursday at Winslow Road in Edwards. Two men were injured, and clearing the scene took most of Thursday morning. (Eagle River Fire Protection District)

Two men were injured in a Thursday morning crash that sent a furniture truck off Interstate 70 and onto Winslow Road in Edwards.

The truck’s driver, a 22-year-old male, and a passenger, a 23-year-old male, sustained “serious bodily injuries” according to Colorado State Patrol Master Trooper Gary Cutler. The driver had to be extracted from behind the steering wheel by first responders.

Cutler said one man was transported to Vail Health hospital. The other was taken to Denver Health hospital.

According to Cutler, the westbound truck left the interstate at the overpass over Winslow Road. The crash and its cleanup closed the road from just after 9 a.m. to just after noon.

Winslow Road in Edwards was closed Thursday morning for several hours due to a truck crash. The impact from the crash knocked the truck off its axles, and the vehicle had to be loaded onto a flatbed truck.
Mark Bricklin

According to Eagle River Fire Protection District Community Risk Manager and Public Information Officer Tracy LeClair, the road was closed for the morning because the truck’s cargo had to be emptied. The force of the crash — into one of the retaining walls on the overpass — knocked the truck off its axles, so the vehicle had to be put on a flatbed truck and removed from the scene.

Colorado Pacific Railroad plans to persist in Tennessee Pass deal

The Colorado Pacific Railroad intents to object to a deal between Union Pacific Railroad and the Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway company for Colorado, Midland to operate the Tennessee Pass line between Canon City and Eagle. (Special to the Daily)

Stefan Soloviev is skeptical about a deal announced last week to return rail service to the Tennessee Pass line between Canon City and Eagle.

Soloviev, an owner of the Colorado Pacific Railroad, said this week the firm will file an objection Friday to the deal with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. That board governs use of rail lines in the country.

Colorado Pacific hauls grain and other agricultural products on the line that stretches from, roughly, Pueblo through Garden City, Kansas. Much of that grain comes from Soloviev’s extensive land holdings in eastern Colorado and western Kansas under the company Crossroads Agriculture. But, Soloviev said, the railroad also hauls grain from neighboring farms.

A complicated story

Colorado Pacific in 2020 offered Union Pacific Railroad, the line’s current owner, $10 million for the line. That offer was rejected, by both Union Pacific and the Surface Transportation Board.

In a pair of rulings issued in March of 2020, the board rejected Colorado Pacific’s request to force a sale. The same day, the board granted Union Pacific a protective order to shield from public view what the company claimed was sensitive proprietary information.

The Colorado Pacific decision was issued “without prejudice,” meaning the firm could re-submit its application.

Soloviev said he intends to do just that, but first his firm has to successfully fight the current agreement between Union Pacific and the Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company.

What kind of use might be on the line remains an open question.

In a Dec. 30 interview about the current deal, Colorado, Midland community liaison spokesperson Sara Thompson Cassidy said that firm would be open to talking with community leaders across the length of the line about those uses, ranging from freight to passenger service.

The prospect of passenger service has piqued the interest of Eagle County officials, who believe commuter rail service could be a boon to Eagle and Lake counties.

Soloviev said he believes the line, if it’s ever activated, will mostly haul oil shale from Utah to the Front Range.

Soloviev added Colorado Pacific will focus on freight and hauling grain to western markets via Tennessee Pass. He left open the prospect of launching daily passenger service, on what would be mostly a tourist train.

Hauling grain over the Continental Divide will be safer than oil shale — not oil, but rock containing oil — he added. There won’t be that many trains running, since one “unit” — 110 jumbo freight cars — will haul roughly 500,000 bushels of grain. It takes some time to put that much grain on a train, Soloviev said.

We might see trails

In addition to rail service, Soloviev said “I’d max out trails for people in that area.”

But, Soloviev added, he’s working mostly for his own company and his neighbors on the plains. Part of that work involves fighting what he called Union Pacific’s “monopoly” on freight service, and the higher costs that imposes on grain producers.

There are only two lines that run over Colorado’s mountains, Soloviev said, the Moffat Tunnel line out of Denver and the Tennessee Pass line through Pueblo. Union Pacific controls both lines and only runs one.

“There’s no more egregious monopoly right now” than the one railroads impose on farmers, he added.

Whoever controls the rails over Tennessee Pass, it’s going to be expensive to get that stretch ready for train traffic.

Soloviev said he believes rehabilitating the Tennessee Pass could cost “at least” $50 million.

Soloviev said he believes there’s enough revenue potential for any operator to make that kind of commitment. Asked if Colorado Pacific had the financial ability to do the work, Soloviev said it does.

Whatever happens on the line, it’s going to be some time before any trains from any firm run over Tennessee Pass.

The first step is an operator gaining approval from the Surface Transportation Board.

Soloviev said he’s going to continue his efforts to secure the line for Colorado Pacific.

“I’m not afraid of Union Pacific,” he said.

The players

• Union Pacific Railroad

• Colorado Pacific Railroad

• Colorado, Midland & Pacific Railway Company

• U.S. Surface Transportation Board

Vail Valley wildlife trail ambassador volunteers needed

Local seasonal trail closures are essential to protect local elk and deer herds.
Rick Spitzer, special to the Daily

Local wildlife enthusiasts who want to help wintering wildlife in the Eagle Valley are encouraged participate in a virtual information and training session about becoming a Wildlife Trail Ambassador. The session will be held Dec. 9 from 6 to 7 p.m.

The Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District since 2017 has partnered with the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Association on the Wildlife Trail Ambassador program, which uses volunteers to help educate the public about the importance of avoiding disturbance to critical winter wildlife habitat.

Winter is a critical time for deer and elk survival in the Eagle Valley, and the U.S. Forest Service closes specific trails in the winter to avoid disturbance from humans and dogs. If wintering big game are disturbed too often, they’ll more rapidly burn through their winter fat reserves and potentially abandon the best winter habitat available. This means they face a greater risk of predation or starvation, and may have reduced fawn and calf survival in the spring.

The need for public education is as strong as ever as the Forest has seen not only record public use of trails this year, but also a sharp increase in winter closure violations.

“Unfortunately, many of our seasonal wildlife trail closures were violated during 2020 winter/spring season. We saw a more than 700% increase in violations on the Everkrisp Trail alone. This is severely detrimental to our big game herds and we must do better. Ambassadors are key to making this change,” Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis said.

This year’s ambassador program will focus on the formation of Ambassador Teams. Existing Adopt-A -Trail teams and new teams are welcome to join. Visit the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance link to sign up for the training.

For information about other seasonal trail closures, open trails, and current trail conditions in the Eagle Valley, please visit: https://www.vvmta.org/trail-closures/.


Eagle County Paramedic Services names operations manager

Steve Vardaman has been promoted to Operations Manager at the Eagle County Paramedic Services. Vardaman previously served as a Paramedic Supervisor. 

“The operations manager is a critical role here,” Eagle County Paramedic Services CEO Jim Bradford said. “Not only does the ops manager work closely with all our field providers and supervisors, but he is also integral in helping us maintain our stellar customer service. (Vardaman) has been an invaluable asset to our organization for almost two decades; we’re thrilled to be able to promote him to this position.”

Vardaman started his career with the paramedic service in 2002 as an EMT, completed paramedic school in 2003 and has been a paramedic supervisor since 2013. In addition, he works as a paramedic ski patroller for Vail Resorts, is a certified Critical Care Paramedic, a BCCTPC Certified Flight Paramedic and a State of Colorado POST-Certified Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy. He’s also one of only 19 IBSC Certified Tactical Paramedics in the state. 

“I am so fortunate to work with such a talented, motivated and dedicated staff,” Vardaman said. “I look forward to serving with our many healthcare and public safety partners to continue providing high quality Emergency Medical Services to our community.”

For more information, go to eaglecountyparamedics.com or call 970-926-5270.

Vail seeks funding proposals for special events in 2021

The Vail Commission on Special Events is accepting funding requests from special event producers for 2021 events. The application, guidelines and accompanying information are available for submission online.

The Commission on Special Events is seeking innovative and exciting proposals for events throughout 2021 and beyond that support the collective vision of Vail as the world’s “Premier International Mountain Resort Community.”

The commission used the town council mission and vision and research results provided by the Vail Local Marketing District and RRC Associates to develop special event rating criteria. This criteria will be used to evaluate all proposals on how they align with a strategic approach to providing a diverse calendar of events which are well matched to the Vail brand and that exceed the expectations of a sophisticated, international clientele and the local community.  Additional criteria are being evaluated for 2021 events relative to the adaptability and flexibility of the event proposal based on the COVID-19 pandemic.  

An online request for proposals submission process is being used. Prospective event producers are directed to http://www.vailgov.com/cserfp to create an account and complete an application.

Producers will self-select one of two categories when submitting a proposal. While all submittals are reviewed with a strong eye as to how well they support the Vail brand, the Community, Recreational and Cultural events are measured primarily with respect to how well they will drive overnight destination visitation. Educational and Enrichment events are evaluated by how they contribute to life-long learning, a sense of well-being and enhanced quality of life. These categories have different criteria and score cards tailored to the type of event or program.

In 2020, the Commission on Special Events provided nearly $700,000 to events, after the cancelation of some previously funded events due to the pandemic.  Examples of funded events include the Vail Farmers Market and Farm to Table Dinner Series, Vail Craft Beer Festival, Vail Free Family Fun Fest and 10th Mountain Legacy Parades. The funds are allocated to the commission by the Vail Town Council and come from the general fund and revenue generated annually by the Vail Business License fees.

Also in 2020, the commission allocated funds from the event budget to independently survey selected events to have consistent measurement of the economic return on the town’s investment.

Event funding submissions are due no later than 11 p.m. on Monday, Sept.  28. Qualifying applications will be reviewed by the commission at a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Final funding allocations will be determined at a special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 21.  Questions about the funding process can be directed to Special Event Coordinator Jeremy Gross,   Jgross@vailgov.com.

West Vail master plan process includes ‘virtual open house’

The town of Vail is hosting a “Virtual Open House” for the West Vail Master Plan. Due to COVID-19 conditions, the open house will be entirely virtual, found at EngageVail.com. 

The purpose of this open house is to hear from the public on a vision for West Vail and understand desired conditions for housing, businesses, land use and design, and transportation facilities. The virtual open house will be open for feedback through Friday, Sept. 11. 

EngageVail.com will be the hub for the open house, with information about the project, timelines, an existing conditions analysis and a survey. This 5- to 10-minute survey will ask about a vision for West Vail, concerns, and dive into the plan topics with other questions including desired business types and design character for both housing and commercial properties. Map-based questions will ask about walking and biking around West Vail. Residents, property owners, employees, guests and anyone else interested in the future of West Vail are encouraged to participate.

The town will host a live online open house event at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10. This event will combine a presentation with real-time polling and an opportunity to ask questions and provide comments. Additional information will be provided at EngageVail.com.

The intent of the West Vail Master Plan is to re-envision planning, zoning and design options as well as transportation infrastructure, housing and economic development for the West Vail area. The planning process is expected to take between 12 and 18 months, with adoption by the Town Council in the spring/summer of 2021.

Over the past few months, the planning team has been meeting with the advisory committee, convening focus groups and analyzing the existing conditions in West Vail. To read the land use and design, economics and housing, and transportation and mobility analyses, see EngageVail.com.

The town of Vail is committed to working with the community in innovative and interactive ways to encourage participation across the community. For more information, call Vail Community Development Department Director Matt Gennett, 970-479-2146 or email mgennett@vailgov.com. 

Vail Valley realty company announces new broker hire

Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate has announced the move of broker Dan Burdette from the Breckenridge to Eagle office. Burdette focuses on residential real estate for second homeowners, in addition to assisting local families with primary home purchases.

“As someone who has risen through the ranks of Slifer Smith & Frampton, we’re thrilled to welcome Dan to the Eagle office,” broker Kim Bradley said. “He works hard for his clients and always approaches things in a positive, professional manner. With the energy Dan brings to everything he tackles, he will be a great addition to the team.”

Originally from Kansas, Burdette started with Slifer Smith & Frampton in 2013, acquiring skills in marketing, management, contracts and negotiations. Over the past seven years, he was able to gain experience assisting Summit County’s top producing team, and was involved in more than 100 transactions.

Burdette is excited to continue to bring his Midwest work ethic and Colorado expertise to serving the needs of his clients in the town of Eagle and throughout the Vail Valley. After a long tenure in Summit County, Burdette moved west with a desire to work and live in one of the most special communities in Colorado.

“I’ve loved my time in Summit County and learned so much. I’m looking forward to continuing my real estate career in Eagle and to keep providing the Slifer Smith & Frampton gold standard of service to all of our clients,” Burdette said.

Mind Springs Health unveils new event for Suicide Prevention Month

The Mind Springs Foundation is launching a new event during September’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to not only raise awareness of suicide, but to raise funds for life-saving mental health programs in Western Colorado.

Pedal for Prevention, a virtual multi-activity event, will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27. Participants can take a bike ride, go for a run, play a round of golf, take a hike, or embark on any activity they choose — all in their own community, at their leisure.

The event is sponsored by Alpine Bank, Bay Equity Mortgage, and Doehling Law.

“Suicide has impacted many people in Colorado, and we wanted to create an event where those who have lost family or friends to suicide can honor their loved ones while raising awareness of suicide prevention measures,” said Roger Sheffield, president of the Mind Springs Foundation. “With the ongoing pandemic, it seemed most logical to host a virtual event instead of an in-person gathering.”

As the philanthropic arm of Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital, the Mind Springs Foundation hopes to increase awareness of suicide prevention and raise funds through the event for mental health programs and services. Participants can register for the virtual event by visiting www.MindSpringsFoundation.org/pedalforprevention. Registration fees begin at $25 per participant and include a commemorative t-shirt.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should call the Colorado crisis line at 844-493-8255 or can text TALK to 38255.

The Mind Springs Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital and supports mental health services, programs, and innovations in the organization’s 10-county region. 

Mind Springs Health is the Western Slope’s largest provider of counseling and therapy for mental wellness and assists individuals and families dealing with and recovering from substance abuse and addiction. Covering a 23,000-square mile area in Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Mesa, Moffat, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties, Mind Springs Health offers a continuum of mental health care with crisis response services, 12 offices for outpatient treatment, and West Springs Hospital, the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City.

Vail Board of Realtors Foundation awards scholarships

The Vail Board of Realtors Foundation recently awarded $35,000 to local students through its annual scholarship program. 2020 is the third year of the Vail Board of Realtors Foundation scholarship fund, with 21 receipients receiving funds. The honorees will attend a mix of institutions around the United States. 

This year’s scholarship recipients, and the college they plan to attend, are:

Bridgett Courtois, Regis University.

Bronwyn Crick, Suffolk University.

Caleb Dennis, California Polytechnic.

Aynsley Gehman, Colorado State University.

Luke Grimaldi, University of Oklahoma.

Lillian Johnson, University of Wisconsin.

Emma Judge, University of Colorado.

Saphira Klearman, Oberlin College.

Claire Krueger, University of Notre Dame.

Davis Krueger, University of Colorado.

Kingston Lindner, University of Colorado, Denver.

Saroja Manickam, University of Denver.

Katherine Mitchell, University of Colorado.

Addison Nothnagel, Ithaca College.

Samantha Nothnagel, SUNY Cortland.

Arianna Pena, Colorado Mesa University.

Taylor Petrowski, University of Oklahoma.

Carlos Taal, University of Colorado.

Diana Trifonova, University of Colorado.

Brooklyn Vargas, Colorado School of Mines.

Karsen Williams, Elon University.

Scholarship recipient Bronwyn Crick aims to work toward a law degree. 

“The overall goal is to work for the United Nations and work internationally,” Crick said. “Money from the (Board of Realtors) scholarship will help me finish my undergraduate degree with less overall debt, and will help me minimize the cost of getting an education with the amazing faculty and facilities that Suffolk offers.”

University of Denver student Soroja Manickam said, “This scholarship money will make it easier for my family to help me get career ready and live on campus during these difficult and unexpected times.”

Bev Trout, Realtor and Vail Board of Realtors Foundation Scholarship Committee chair, expressed her congratulations to the recipients on behalf of the committee. 

“In addition to your outstanding academic achievements, you are being recognized for your volunteerism and lofty goals,” Trout said. “Best wishes for your continued success in the upcoming academic year.”

Scholarship qualifications are based on academic merit, volunteer and philanthropic involvement, and residency in Eagle County. Each recipient was awarded up to $2,000 to attend a college, university, or accredited educational institution of higher learning. 

The Vail Board of Realtors Foundation was established in 1996 to help promote community efforts for the Vail Board of Realtors. Today their mission is to assist the community and association members with need-based financial assistance, not-for-profit support, education, and disaster relief.

For more information, go to www.vbr.net.