ERIE — In the northern Colorado community of Erie, County Line Road divides two worlds.
The stark differences between the more liberal Boulder County on the west side of County Line Road and the more conservative Weld County on the east side of this community of 23,000 residents have never been more apparent than now.
A municipal election less than two weeks away has brought vandalism, criminal investigations, accusations of collusion, lack of transparency by town leaders, resignations, private investigations, and possible violations of open meeting laws to a normally quite community.
Residents are hesitant to go public with their concerns on either side of the political spectrum because the vast degree of division can be profound from one neighbor to the next, and they must find a way to co-exist in one of Colorado’s fastest growing areas, they say.
“It is so expensive to live in Boulder County that people are starting to move across the county line into Weld,” one woman said. “And they are bringing their liberal politics with them. We chose to live in Weld County for a reason.”
“Times are changing,” another man said. “People are finally starting to realize the ‘Weld Way’ isn’t the right way. It’s time to stand up to the decades of politicians catering to oil and gas.”
The differences have led to vandals destroying and stealing signs. Current trustee and mayoral candidate Dan Woog had several of his signs stolen, spray painted and then thrown at the door of his family business. Others took signs from multiple properties and located them all along County Road 5 near and oil and gas facility in a likely attempt to negatively tie Woog to oil and gas.
And even though the election is supposed to be non-partisan, the partisan divide is clear across town, as most homes and business display one “slate” of candidates or another.
CONCERNS ABOUT COLLUSION
At the center of the issue is former Town Clerk Nancy Parker, current Town Trustee and mayoral candidate Jennifer Carroll, current Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Gruber and Current Mayor Tina Harris.
On Jan. 26, Town Administrator A.J. Krieger questioned Parker about her process for drawing the order the names will appear on the ballot, specifically that she changed the previously announced date of the drawing from Jan. 31 to Jan 23, and that she did it on Jan. 22, giving candidates less than 24 hours to respond. Parker also used different sized sections of paper to write the names, leading some to believe she had intentionally rigged the drawing in favor of the candidates she
The day following being questioned about possible election inconsistencies, after nearly 12 years of employment, Parker abruptly submitted her resignation, saying only that it was for personal and professional reasons.
According to an email obtained by Complete Colorado from Krieger to Harris, Parker divulged information to Krieger that included possibly inappropriate conversations with other elected officials in the fall of 2017:
- Trustee Carroll told Parker — who in her duty as Town Clerk oversees elections — that she intended to run for mayor because she didn’t trust Woog.
- Parker attended Carroll’s son’s birthday party and had discussions with Carroll and Gruber, about the 2018 mayor’s race and town election, including speculation about Woog’s candidacy.
- Carroll wanted to be friends with Parker and that made Parker uncomfortable. As evidence Krieger said Parker referenced text messages and emails that she described as “awkward,” and made her “uncomfortable.”
“These comments in particular just struck me as unfair,” Krieger said in the email. “I honestly felt a little bad for Jennifer to hear the former Clerk’s comments.”
The Weld County District Attorney’s Office was asked to investigate, but did not find anything criminal, but did say the board may want to look at ethical implications. Krieger agreed.
“It’s the arbitrary nature of the date change, the fact that (not quite) 24 hours’ notice was given, and the inability and/or unwillingness of the former Town Clerk to answer questions about it that has me concerned. Perhaps there is (and always was) a simple explanation. If so, why not provide it?” Krieger said in the email. “Add to that the former Town Clerk’s comments about her interactions with Jennifer (Carroll) and Mark Gruber and it just seems bad. Then factor in the former Town clerk’s sudden resignation – effective immediately – and it seems there may be legitimate cause for concern. If what the former Town Clerk said is true then we potentially have a situation that involves sitting trustees/future candidates discussing both the 2018 election and other candidates with the town’s chief election official. Someone whose name is on the ballot. Someone who, when asked about aspects of the process got mad, emotional, and resigned less than 24 hours later with no notice.”
MAYOR DEFENDS PROCESS
Harris, who did not respond to requests for interview, disagreed, saying on her Facebook page that the idea there was collusion between Carroll and Parker was “asinine.”
“What I do know is there was no collusion by a candidate to influence the name draw,” said Harris, who has publicly endorsed that candidate — Carroll — for Mayor. “Were there some anomalies with the name draw, like changing the date and paper sizes? Yes. However, as previously stated Weld County found no reason to file charges when they investigated the anomalies. I find it absurd to think that given we have TWO Mayoral Candidates the order they are placed on the ballot would make a difference. The electors in Erie are not children randomly filling in boxes. They know who they are voting for and can find their chosen one out of a choice of two. Or even three out of a choice of nine. Enough outside interference. Enough of the nastiness. Enough making Erie look asinine.”
CONCERNS ABOUT ELECTION
Parker’s resignation leaves residents concerned about the integrity of the election. However, both Weld and Boulder county clerk and recorder offices are helping the town make sure the election — that features more than a dozen candidates — takes place without issue.
Boulder County Communication Specialist Mircalla Wozniak said its election’s department will remain open on election night to answer any questions Erie officials may have or give support where it is needed.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes said her office has always provided Weld municipalities support when needed, and simply stepped that up a bit this year for Erie. Weld is sending several of its most senior election judges, including a supervisor, to Erie to help train and oversee the process of signature verification because there are new rules this year, Koppes said, and everyone wants to make sure Erie has what it needs. Koppes said her office also reached out to other municipalities she knows have top-level clerks and election staffs to help Erie.
“We wanted to help in any way we could,” Koppes said. “Especially since the town clerk did resign on very short notice before the election. They have done a really good job reaching out to get the support that they need. I feel very confident that they will be able to run a very good election.”
The problems don’t stop with the election and Parker, however.
On Feb. 12, the Erie Board of Trustees held an executive session: “specifically, to perform an exit interview with Nancy Parker.”
Colorado’s open meeting laws allow for executive sessions for “personnel matters.”
Although Colorado Freedom of Information Director Jeff Roberts said he can’t say for sure because it’s not something that has been challenged in court, yet, it’s unlikely the personnel exemption would extend to anyone no longer on the payroll, and because the clerk is not an elected position, she is not a direct employee of the board, therefore, they should not be handling her exit interview.
Roberts said there may be cases when the board would need an executive session to discuss legal matters relevant to a former employee. If that were the case, he said, the board should have listed it as such.
Complete Colorado has requested the audio tapes from that meeting under open meeting laws, challenging the board’s authority to conduct the meeting. Complete Colorado has also requested a series of text messages between trustee members that appear to also violate open meeting laws by having a “non-noticed” meeting via text messaging that were a continuation of the executive session, according to Woot in a Feb. 26th regular meeting of the board.
Colorado courts have held that hitting “reply all” on an email or conducting government business via other electronic means with more than two members of the board participating constitutes a meeting and it needs to be publicly noticed following state laws.
Trustee members discussed the hiring of a private investigator by text message, according to comments from Harris during that Feb. 26 meeting. Although residents have questioned Harris about what or who is being investigated and when it was voted on in public to hire the investigator, Harris has refused to comment.
With the election scheduled for April 3, Harris’ decision to ignore a possible collusion and lack of transparency leaves Erie residents concerned.
“I’m concerned at the lack of transparency regarding this investigation,” one resident who asked to not be identified said. “The mayor and her endorsed candidate need to be forthcoming about the details leading up to the clerk’s sudden resignation and the subsequent investigation. The voters of Erie deserve to know the truth.”
Continue to follow Complete Colorado for updates on this story.