The Colorado Springs City Council voted Tuesday to put the Helen Collins recall question on the April ballot despite concerns from District 4 citizens that the city has not allowed the proper protest period.
Robert Blancken, who lives in District 4, said the city's charter gives residents 40 days to file a formal protest against a recall petition questioning its validity. He said putting the recall election on the April 7 ballot is fast-tracking the issue without proper citizen scrutiny.
"It would be premature for the City Council to move forward on a vote to place (the recall question) on the ballot prior to the protest period expiration," he said.
But if the city waited 40 days, it would miss the deadline for the April ballot. That would mean holding a special election - a cost that could reach $300,000, City Council members said.
Instead, Britt Haley, the city's corporate division chief in the City Attorney's Office, said the City Council could place the question on the April ballot and if a formal protest is filed and found to be valid, the recall question would be ignored.
The effort to recall Collins, who represents southeast Colorado Springs, has sparked questions and concerns from some District 4 residents about who ran the movement and who paid 30 people to collect signatures.
The recall effort was funded by the newly formed Colorado Springs Government Watch group headed by Dede Laugesen, who is the wife of The Gazette's Editorial page editor, Wayne Laugesen.
Dede Laugesen said the group did not initiate the recall effort but joined it over concerns of Collins' relationship with Douglas Bruce, former state legislator and convicted felon.
The group paid people from $1.75 to $5 per signature, but Laugesen will not say who funded the effort. But on Tuesday she revealed some of the group's board members. The board had been unnamed since November when the group formed and began filing public records requests. In an email to The Gazette, Laugesen wrote:
"Our advisory board is comprised of local, community members and residents of Colorado Springs. They are at this time: Willie Breazell, Deborah Carey Collins, Trevor Dierdorff, and Paul Kleinschmidt . We continue to vet additional people who have expressed an interest in joining our advisory board."
Questions about who is backing the recall effort and who was out collecting signatures led to a discussion Tuesday at City Hall about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says people who collect signatures for any petition do not need to be registered voters. Helen Collins also raised concerns whether the signature gatherers live in the state.
"It's atrocious that people from out of the state can come in and tell people here how to vote," Collins said during the Monday council work session.
Haley said that in a 2002 case in Arvada, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that residency cannot be a requirement for those who collect signatures for petitions. Collecting signatures is considered core political speech covered by the First Amendment.
Deborah Hendrix, one of three District 4 residents who took out the recall petition, said one reason she wanted to recall Collins is because Collins opposed creation of a stormwater authority and fee. The proposal failed in the November election and was defeated in 16 of 17 precincts in District 4.
Blancken said he intends to file a formal protest.
"She (Collins) has voted along lines with her constituents," Blancken said.
The City Council cannot refuse to put the recall question on a ballot, it can only choose a date, Councilwoman Jan Martin said. The council voted 7-2 to put the question on the April ballot.
"My heart does go out to Councilwoman Collins," Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said. "She may be right and there is grounds for protest. But it seems appropriate to save $300,000 and choose a date when we already have an election."
Councilman Andy Pico voted against setting the recall election date before the end of the protest period. Waving his checkbook, he said he would donate to Collins' re-election campaign.
In other business: The council voted unanimously to lower natural gas rates by 14.3 percent effective Sunday. That equates to $7.17 a month, or $86.16 a year, for the typical Colorado Springs Utilities customer. Natural gas bills for typical commercial customers will drop by 18.6 percent or $148 a month, and typical industrial customers' bills would decrease by 19.1 percent or $1,482 a month.