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Recall effort kicked up a notch

by Bill Knowles

LA VETA- A legal challenge to the town of La Veta, Town Clerk Nancy Culbreath and Town Trustee Dawn Blanken, has been filed at District Court in Walsenburg thus raising the cost to the town of a possible recall by at least $4,000. 

    The complaint claims that the town clerk “abused her discretion” and “made erroneous legal conclusions, used incorrect legal standards, and erroneously applied the law,” when she made determinations about signatures on a recall petition that had been circulated around town in October.

    “Abuse of discretion” can be defined as a failure to take into proper consideration the facts and law relating to a particular matter, an arbitrary or unreasonable departure from precedent and settled judicial custom.  In this case abuse of discretion refers to the disqualifying of certain signers of the petition because of a discrepancy in addresses.  However the municipal code is at best ambiguous and is surrounded by very little case law to help guide the town clerk in making a decision.

     “Erroneous legal conclusions” can then arise because of the ambiguities or even the complexities of the law, or in this case the municipal code.  However, the sequence of events suggests that signatures on the second recall petition were declared invalid because of an unforeseen intersection of local and state laws.

    When the petition for recall was filed with the town of La Veta on Oct. 20, it followed a path through the county clerk’s office.  There were 102 signatures on the petition; however, 19 insufficiencies were found on the petition with 7 of those 19 signatures being listed  “address did not match registration records.”  The insufficiencies were found by County Clerk Judy Benine on Oct. 22 when she went through the petition verifying that the names on the petition were registered as voters in Huerfano County.

    When Benine found that some addresses and names didn’t match, she kicked them out even though address corrections were filed in her office on Nov. 4 by the voters whose names were in question.  In the meantime there was a general election on Nov. 2.  “I can’t change any addresses in my files until after state notification following the 2010 general elections.  Address changes can be made following general elections and that usually happens in December,” Benine told the Huerfano World Journal.

    Meanwhile the group working the recall filed another page of the petition containing eight more names.  On Oct. 29, the town clerk notified the committee for the recall that the eight names were not a part of the original document and were invalid.

    The committee also filed an amendment to the petition that contained two new signatures and documents showing that the addresses of five original signers had been corrected at either the office of the La Veta town clerk or at the office of the county clerk before the filing of the amendment on Nov. 5.

    Culbreath notified the committee for the recall on Nov. 12 that the amendment was insufficient and that the addresses could not be corrected and that the additional signatures could not be added.  The Nov. 12 date falls within the time frame when the county clerk was waiting for notification from the Colorado Secretary of State that the votes in Huerfano County were correct.  During that time frame Benine was unable to change addresses of legitimate voters so the changes to the addresses of the five names on the petition couldn’t move forward and were declared as insufficient.

    To date, the recall effort has cost the town of La Veta over $4,000 in attorney’s fees.