WESTMINSTER — A group of residents frustrated over rapidly climbing water rates have filed a suit in Adams County District Court claiming the Westminster city clerk has acted irresponsibly in her rejection of petitions to recall several members of the city council over the issue.
They are being represented by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Complete Colorado previously reported on the recall effort in October.
City council members Anita Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz, along with Mayor Herb Atchison were the subject of the recall after voting in favor of a water-rate hike, that residents and property owners say are out of control.
“Westminster is stealing from citizens through its water rates,” property owner Susan Kochevar previously told Complete Colorado. Until recently, Kochevar lived in Westminster, but still owns her home there and uses it as rental property. “When I lived there, we would get a really big water bill in July, our tenant has the same problem. It’s wrong. It would take a tankerful of water to amount to what they say we wasted.”
After increased anger from residents climaxed to demonstrations against the city council, three residents — Gary Shea, Jessica True, and Deb Teter — filed the recall petitions.
“It’s a pity as the recall perhaps could have been avoided,” True previously told Complete Colorado. “It’s a pity that the mayor and three council members failed to see the light on joining (Rich) Seymour, (David) DeMott and (Lindsey) Smith on rolling back the 2020 water rate increase as summer hit. Just think, it very well could have prevented this recall effort.”
The group turned in 453 petition sections amounting to more than enough signatures to force a special election, said Bruce Baker, a former Westminster City Council member who helped the group understand the inner workings of the city and has acted as a resource from the beginning. Baker plans to run for election again in November.
The group needed 5,009 valid signatures to recall the mayor and 6,098 to recall the three council members. The numbers were based on 25 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last election. For the mayor, the 2017 election was used, and for the three council members, the 2019 election was used.
However, when the petitions were turned in, Westminster City Clerk Michelle Parker rejected 80 of the sections for reasons the group says are unlawful.
At issue is the first page of the petition, which was not an official part of the petition approved by Parker. It was an information page put together for volunteers gathering signatures. It was handled differently in many of the sections turned in.
Baker said all those sections were treated differently by Parker. Some sections thrown out were because the packet was missing that informational page. Some were thrown out because the information page was placed behind page one of the official petitions. Others were thrown out because the information page was removed from the packet after it was stapled, and Parker allowed the group to correct other issues, such as missing notary stamps — which Baker says is what shows Parker is acting in bad faith.
“Colorado law allows you to fix human mistakes,” Baker said. Including or not including the information page, “had nothing to do with fraudulent signatures. It did not disassemble a package which would have the effect of separating the affidavit from the signature. These are just bogus, flimsy excuses that the clerk has made up to obstruct a recall election.”
Using sections that he collected himself as an example, Baker added that the sections that were thrown out coincide with the council members who needed less or more signatures.
“Because Herb needed 1,000 less signatures, they had to throw out more of Herb’s sections, so that’s what they did,” Baker told Complete Colorado. “There was no uniform standard they used to judge the sections. I had one for each of the four of them. They threw out Herb’s; they threw out Seitz; they threw out Voelz, and they accepted Skulley. I did them all exactly the same way.”
Westminster has done everything to obstruct and exhaust the recall drive, Baker said in a news release.
“The City is using our tax money to fight against us,” the release reads. “Instead of serving all the voters of Westminster and honestly checking the signatures to see if the petitions met the city charter requirements for recall, the city has decided to support the status quo with flimsy reasons for rejecting signatures in bulk. The city’s resources are being used to protect the current majority of city council.”
The suit — filed by Westminster Citizens for Responsible Government, Teter and Shea — was filed on Jan. 4. Baker said it will likely take a few weeks because the city has turned the matter over to their insurance company, who wants to pick its own attorney. Three of the four are up for re-election in November, and Atchison is term limited. Seitz was re-elected in November 2019.
“The Westminster City Clerk unconstitutionally rejected of hundreds of recall petition signatures, thereby stifling the fundamental rights of thousands of voters, scores of volunteers, and the plaintiffs to seek a recall of four Westminster City Council members. Plaintiffs ask this Court to reject the Clerk’s hyper-technical standards and allow Westminster citizens the right to seek a recall of four city council members,” the suit reads, adding there are no claims by the clerk of deceit, fraud, false signatures, etc.
More information on the recall can be found on the groups Facebook page, Westminster Water Warriors.