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Questions about petitions to recall Colorado Springs councilwoman raised at hearing

March 3, 2015 Updated: March 3, 2015 at 9:15 am
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photo - Municipal Judge HayDen Kane (foreground) takes notes while Tom Bjorkland, CEO of Tactical Data Solutions, answers questions about petition signatures that were gathered for the recall of City Councilwoman Helen Collins. She was speaking at a hearing at the City Administration building on Monday, March 2, 2015. (JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE)
Municipal Judge HayDen Kane (foreground) takes notes while Tom Bjorkland, CEO of Tactical Data Solutions, answers questions about petition signatures that were gathered for the recall of City Councilwoman Helen Collins. She was speaking at a hearing at the City Administration building on Monday, March 2, 2015. (JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE) 

Southeast Colorado Springs resident Robert Blancken raised questions Monday about the recall petition against District 4 City Councilwoman Helen Collins, including whether people who collect signatures need to be registered voters.

Some of the petition pages did not have proper headers, and some of the signatures didn't have complete addresses including missing ZIP codes, he said. And one section of the petition was notarized by a 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 to air his concerns about the way the signatures were collected on the petitions to recall Collins. The hearing, at the City Administration Building, played out like a court trial with expert witnesses and testimony taken under oath.

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 out Hendrix and Dennis Moore. Hendrix has said she is not interested in the council seat.

Hendrix, who heads a committee called Citizens for Integrity in City Council District 4, said she turned in 3,007 signatures. The City Clerk's office checked them and tossed out 1,292, but Hendrix said she feels confident that the remaining 1,715 signatures - 230 more than needed - will stand up to review.

Hendrix was represented at the hearing by attorney Mario Nicolais, whose tab is being picked up by the Colorado Springs Government Watch group - the group that paid more than $14,000 to individuals to collect the signatures for the recall. Hendrix was not called to testify.

"I have faith in our city clerk's office," Hendrix said during a break at the hearing. "This is an unnecessary process."

Blancken filed a protest Feb. 17 against the petition. He said the partial addresses might seem like a minor point, but a complete name with a complete address is required by law.

Blancken said he was immediately concerned that the city clerk had not given residents the 40 days allowed in the city's charter to file a protest. Further, he said the city code says the city clerk can take up to 30 days to review the petition, but Sarah Johnson certified the petition within five days, which included a weekend. The City Council voted Jan. 27 to put the recall question on the April 7 ballot.

Collins has no challengers in the election. If voters recall her, the City Council would appoint someone to represent District 4 residents for the two years left on the term.

Colorado Springs Municipal Court Judge HayDen Kane presided over the hearing and will review the documents. He will give his decision by Friday.

About 15 people from the El Paso County Republican Conservative Men's Club attended the hearing to show support for Collins, said Mark Wuerflein, the group's president.

During testimony, city attorney Britt Haley said that a Supreme Court ruling said that cities cannot make a requirement that petition signature collectors be registered voters. Collecting signatures is considered core political speech covered by the First Amendment.

Blancken said several of the signature collectors in the Collins recall petition were from out of the state, therefore not registered to vote in El Paso County. The city's charter says signature collectors must be registered voters in the city of Colorado Springs. Blancken said he is basing his protest on what is stated in the charter. It's not clear to residents that a Supreme Court ruling trumps the charter, he said, therefore the petition should be thrown out.

"I am not trying to squash the petition process," Blancken said after the hearing. "But there are procedures. He (Kane) should set aside this petition and let them go back and collect valid signatures on a valid petition."

Kane received piles of evidence, including affidavits, case law and a disc of the petition and a line-by-line review of each signature by Tom Bjorklund, CEO of Tactical Data Solutions in Grand Junction, who has reviewed other local and state petitions for validity.

Bjorklund, who testified in the hearing, said Ellis, the notary public, listed two addresses, which is not allowed. He said some signatures had similar handwriting and were worthy of further investigation. He also compared every signature against the El Paso County voter registration lists and found several petition signers were no longer registered to vote - which is a requirement to sign the petition.

"In my professional opinion, this is one of the sloppiest petitions I've ever seen," he said.

Nicolais argued that the protest was based on "hyper technicalities" and should be thrown out. The petition was in complete compliance with the rules outlined by the city clerk, he said. He also said Ellis is in good standing at the secretary of state's office.

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Contact Monica Mendoza: 636-0187

Twitter @ Mendo1987

Blog: City Hallways

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