Cherokee water district president ousted in landslide vote

December 7, 2010

Voters in the Cherokee Metropolitan District decisively ousted their leader Tuesday, ending a long and combative recall effort to kick water board president Robert Lovato from the post he has held for six years.

An overwhelming 82 percent of 1,613 people who cast ballots in the beleaguered water district voted to recall Lovato. About 15 percent of the nearly 11,000 registered voters in the district cast ballots in the election.

Lovato said he was “not surprised one bit” by the results.

“The recall committee significantly misled people,” Lovato said. “They got their word out a lot quicker than we did and the people believed them.”

In dismissing Lovato, residents in the district elected Larry Keleher, a retired Colorado Springs firefighter, to join a board made infamous for its bickering and lack of progress in  finding a cheap, sustainable source of water. No one else ran for the position.

Residents in the district have endured steep rate hikes since the board took poor legal advice and illegally used water from the Upper Black Squirrel Basin. The cascade of water rate increases in recent years were needed to pay for mounting legal fees and the high cost of purchasing water.

While short on specific ideas to help the parched water district, Keleher said he wants to “bring back the respect and bring back the trust of the people.”

“I’m elated,” Keleher said. “We would like to move forward and get the board on the right track and start doing the best service that we can for the residents of Cimarron Hills.”

The prospect of a recall election remained in question as recently as three weeks ago.

Lovato vehemently fought the effort, first protesting it to El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink and later seeking an injunction to stop the election.

A judge at the injunction hearing said members of Concerned Citizens of Cimarron Hills had shown a “cavalier” attitude toward the recall process. One person admitted lying about petitions he circulated, while another mixed up petitions collected by another person.

While finding fault with both parties, the judge allowed the election to go forward, determining the group collected enough signatures to force a recall election.

Gayle Jones, spokeswoman for the group, said Tuesday’s lopsided result was an indictment of what she perceived as a lack of transparency on Lovato’s part. The recall also came over concerns that Lovato was serving on another board with ties to Cherokee.

“The main change we’ll see is that (board members) will be more open with the board and with the public,” Jones said.

But effects from the election likley will linger in the district.

While not planning to challenge the election, Lovato said he plans to proceed with a lawsuit against Concerned Citizens of Cimarron Hills over what he perceived as “unethical” campaign tactics used by the group.

“I’m going to hold them accountable,” Lovato said.

Call the writer at 476-1654.



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