A Palmer Lake citizens group has demanded that town trustees oust the mayor and two other officials.
Mayor John Cressman, Trustee Gary Faust and Town Attorney Maureen Juran have failed to follow the laws that govern the town and contributed to a climate in which citizens feel neither “included” nor “respected,” Citizens for a Better Palmer Lake said in three letters submitted to the town Nov. 21.
The group, which formed this summer amid heated talks to shutter the local fire department, threatened to begin collecting signatures for a recall election if the Board of Trustees doesn’t choose to remove the three officials by a two-thirds majority vote by Dec. 15.
The mayor and trustees issued a joint statement in response accusing the group of engaging in a “smear campaign.”
“The Town Board has continued confidence in the mayor, Trustee Faust and the town attorney,” the statement, emailed to The Gazette by the mayor, said.
According to former trustee and co-founder of the group, Trish Flake, Citizens for a Better Palmer Lake has more than 100 members, including past trustees and three former mayors.
“There’s so many shortcomings and so many things they’re doing illegally and not following the book and not following their own code,” Flake said. “We know what the rules are. We know our code and they just won’t listen.”
The letters were provided to The Gazette by the town in response to a records request.
The group also alleges:
• Illegal commingling of funds earmarked for specific purposes, along with a failure to order an audit to examine discrepancies.
• The mayor and Faust have failed to represent residents’ best interests, “working instead toward personal agendas and interests” and exhibiting “constantly pugnacious” attitudes to citizens at public meetings. Cressman, who owns a custom homebuilder business, has “personally profited” from work the business did for the town under a contract that was not put out to bid, one letter says.
• The town attorney has steered the board toward a manager-council governance model, “which is not a bona fide government structure for a statutory town” in Colorado. Juran has also “advised the Board of Trustees to not engage with the public,” fueling a division between residents and their elected officials, another letter says.
• Cressman and the trustees didn’t have the authority to consider disbanding the fire department. One letter also accuses Faust of colluding with the town manager to “override” decisions made by a citizens fire committee.
In their response, Cressman and the trustees said “the mayor and Trustee Faust have strived to allow for open dialogue and are patient with public input, but this citizen group has been unruly and often disrupts the ability of the board to get the business of the town accomplished.”
At the group’s request, the town hired an accounting firm to vet the fire department’s budget and presented the results at a public meeting, town leaders said. The officials said in the statement they don’t “see any reason to incur the expense of a forensic audit in the absence of any facts that would indicate any misappropriations.”
Juran, who works for a Centennial-based firm that represents other local governments, called the allegations against her “baseless, inaccurate, and defamatory” in an email to The Gazette.
The Board of Trustees has appointed a town administrator to handle daily affairs of the town. This is a “legally recognized” form of government under state law, Juran said. She added that the root of residents’ frustration with the leadership “emanates from misinformation being spread from outside the town government.”
Faust did not respond, individually, to an email from The Gazette seeking comment.
The trustees abandoned the proposal to close the fire department in July after a contentious public meeting. The board agreed at the meeting to draft a Nov. 5 ballot question that would raise taxes to cover expenses for the fire department, which officials said can’t adequately fund its operations.
No fire department tax question was on the Nov. 5 ballot, and leaders opted to postpone the question until 2020 so that they could survey citizens about what, exactly, they would like the measure to propose, Cressman said in an email.
The citizen group formed after the July meeting and has since “taken on a life of its own,” said Karen Stuth, one of three co-founders, who’s lived in the town for two decades.
“Citizens for a Better Palmer Lake is not a group that has organized to try and deconstruct our town. We want to try and make our town stronger,” she said.
The group recently surveyed 118 residents and found that half of them were dissatisfied with experiences trying to get information about the town. Eighty of the respondents said the council doesn’t “seem well-informed” about issues facing the town, and 55 people agreed that the council “is derisive of citizen comments and input,” according to survey results that Stuth shared with The Gazette.
“I’m glad that we’re finally taking action because for 18 years in Palmer Lake I’ve just listened to people grumble,” she said. “It’s time to stop grumbling and see what we can do.”
Contact the writer: 636-0108