The recall election against Councilwoman Helen Collins stands.
Colorado Springs City Clerk Sarah Johnson, with input from Colorado Springs Municipal Court Judge HayDen Kane, ruled Thursday that recall petitions are valid and voters in District 4 will be asked on the April 7 ballot if they want to recall Collins, who also faces an investigation by the city's Ethics Commission that alleges a questionable real estate deal with tax-limitation author and felon Douglas Bruce.
Southeast resident Robert Blancken, who filed a protest Feb. 17 against the recall petition, said his initial reaction to the city clerk's decision was disappointment.
In his protest, Blancken said some of the petition pages did not have appropriate headers and some signatures didn't include complete addresses, including missing ZIP codes. One section of the petition was notarized by notary public Aaron Ellis, who also was paid to collect signatures for the recall petition - something Blancken says is against the law.
Blancken was given a public hearing March 2, with Kane presiding. Kane took evidence and heard testimony, much like a trial. But he only provided his findings to Johnson. The final decision on what to do with Blancken's protest was hers.
"It really doesn't surprise me," Blancken said of the judge's findings. He objected that Johnson chose Kane - a fellow city employee - to review her work but said he read through the judge's findings and thought they were thorough.
Kane turned over his findings to the city clerk Tuesday, and they were released Thursday with Johnson's decision that the recall will stand.
Kane found many of the assertions about problems with the petitioning process to be invalid and not sufficient to warrant throwing out petitions wholesale.
Blancken's criticism that the petitions didn't have proper headings of columns showing signors where to put their printed name, signature, address, etc., for example, "do not constitute grounds to invalidate the signatures on the petitions," Kane wrote. "Even assuming these column heads were required, to invalidate electors' signatures based on a lack of column headers would apply a 'hypertechnical type of approach', requiring strict compliance, well in excess of the applicable substantial compliance standard of review."
Kane supported his findings with extensive citations and quotations from previous applicable court cases.
"I am not an attorney and I am not a legal expert, but it's apparent that he did do a thorough investigation of what would be required in a petition," Blancken said.
Blancken disagreed with Kane's ruling that signatures gathered by petition circulators who are not registered voters in the city of Colorado Springs should not be invalidated because a previous court case found such restrictions to be prohibitive to petitions. Blancken said he and other people are going through the findings more thoroughly but that as a resident of Colorado Springs he does not "have the resources to constantly go ahead and try to fight the city of Colorado Springs." He said he has requested a meeting with Mayor Steve Bach but had not gotten a response.
In her release Thursday, Johnson said she found 42signatures to be invalid because of similar handwriting, a bad address or date errors. But even with the 42 signatures thrown out, the petition met the required number to be valid.
In December, three District 4 residents headed by Deborah Hendrix launched a recall effort against Collins, who represents southeast Colorado Springs. Collins was elected in 2013 to a four-year term, beating Hendrix and Dennis Moore. Hendrix has said she is not interested in the seat.
Hendrix, who is heading a committee called Citizens for Integrity in City Council District 4, called the protest of the petition an unnecessary process. She was confident after the hearing this month that the signatures and the recall petition would stand up to scrutiny.
She was pleased with the city clerk's decision, she wrote in an email. She and her "fellow District 4 voters will be able to remove an arrogant and out-of-touch politician like Helen Collins from the City Council."
She called for Collins to step down ahead of the election.
"City government faces enough challenging issues just ahead of next month's election without having to deal with this cloud of controversy a day longer," she wrote.
Collins has no challengers in the election. If voters recall her, the City Council will appoint someone to represent District 4. Blancken said he and other Collins supporters plan to campaign Saturday against the recall during the St. Patrick's Day parade.
But no matter how the election ends, Collins faces an ethics complaint that alleges she participated in a real estate deal with Bruce that helped him avoid payment of a nearly $7,600 court judgment he owes the city.
The complaint, brought against Collins by the Colorado Springs City Attorney's Office, was filed with the city's Independent Ethics Commission on Jan. 21. After a 70-minute closed-door meeting March 5, the commission found that the complaint against Collins was within the panel's jurisdiction and wasn't frivolous and therefore should be investigated.
The complaint cited portions of the ethics code that require officials to demonstrate loyalty to the city and avoid activities that conflict with their official duties and responsibilities. It also cited a provision in the code that says any individual who breaches the public trust and does so for private gain should be liable to the city for "double the amount of financial equivalent of any benefits obtained by such actions."
As a result, the Attorney's Office asked in its complaint that any financial penalty levied against Collins should be "double the amount of the judgment that was avoided as a result of her participation in the (Bruce) transaction," which would be $15,139.22.
Blancken said he was not fazed by the ethics complaint, which was made public after he filed his protest. He had remained hopeful that the recall would have been invalidated.
Gazette reporter Kassondra Cloos contributed to this story.