MONTROSE – Efforts this month to recall all three Montrose county commissioners fell short, with only enough signatures to recall Commissioner Gary Ellis, which required the least number of signatures.
All signatures must be confirmed as valid, said Montrose County Elections Supervisor Debbie Rudy, and the county should have confirmation by Oct. 19. If enough are validated, a recall election will be set.
In order to get the recall on the ballot, the petitioners, most of whom are employees of Montrose Memorial Hsospital, had to gather at least 4,493 signatures for Commissioner Ron Henderson, 3,012 for Ellis, and 4,385 for Commissioner David White.
The petition drive, which started in August, gathered more than 4,000 on the White and Henderson petitions, falling only slightly short, according to Mike Krull, one of the petition initiators, but more than enough to recall Ellis.
“The response from the citizenry, however, overwhelmingly exceeded Ellis’s signature count,” he wrote in a press release. “Ellis’s petition was filed because the committee felt it was important to represent the citizens who signed it.”
Krull later said the committee behind the petition decided to continue the attempt recall Ellis because he felt the people had spoken.
“What right do we have to override the opinion of these people?” he said. “We are just a medium to allow the people to speak.”
Ellis said he was “saddened” by the recall effort.
“I feel it was a really bad decision on their part,” he said. “What a great opportunity to say we tried and didn’t succeed, so now we could move forward. It would have ended with the best solution for everyone in the community and the hospital. They could have chosen another route, but did not make a sound decision.”
The future of the hospital was one of the issues behind the recall, and began earlier this year, but not the only one, Krull said. The hospital and county have recently been embroiled in a lawsuit about who should run the hospital, the county commissioners or a nonprofit board, which the county lost and is now appealing. Ellis said he is hurt by the recall effort against him, since he tried to negotiate with the hospital in good faith, and was the only commissioner to vote against appealing the local court ruling.
But the hospital issue is a moot point, Krull said, and the other issues are just as important. Each petition to recall contained the following statement: “This officeholder is a moral hazard as shown by the absence of responsibility for his risky and incompetent behavior at the expense of the citizens of Montrose County. Examples include but are not limited to, property taxes, actions against [Montrose] Memorial Hospital, legal fees, excessive spending and failure of transparency.”
Ellis said he particularly objects to being called a “moral hazard.”
“That is so contrary to who I am as a person,” he said. “I have absolutely been faithful to my moral principles and know I have accountability to the god I serve. That is so untrue, and has absolutely no merit.”
Ellis won re-election last year “pretty handily,” he said, because people had confidence in him.
“I have done nothing to betray that confidence in me and they (petitioners) are missing a great opportunity.”
But Krull disagreed.
“Moral hazard by definition means being risky with other people’s money at no risk to oneself,” he said, referring to the allegations in the petition.
While the petition was being circulated, Duke Richardson, another hospital employee involved in the recall drive, complained that Montrose County’s property taxes are higher than any adjoining counties, and that even though property values have decreased, taxes have increased. He says the county was not aboveboard in all its dealings in raising the taxes.
Richardson also complained that even though the county brought the lawsuit challenging the legality of changing the hospital from county to nonprofit oversight, and then lost, the county is mounting its challenge, and running up legal fees.
He also complained about legal fees the county has incurred in its five-year- old legal battle with JetAway Aviation, over JetAway’s campaign to become Fixed Base Operator at Montrose Airport, and its hiring of high-priced Denver lawyers.
He cited, as an example of legal overspending, the fact that although, at the recent ruling on the hospital, attorneys could only listen, and could not comment or enter motions, the county still paid for an attorney to come to Montrose from Denver to hear the ruling in person.
“They could have called,” he said. “Why would taxpayers fund something like this? It’s irresponsible.”
But not all commissioners’ decisions are popular, Ellis said, emphasizing that he cast his vote in good faith and that he has a high moral character. He said it’s not too late for people who signed the petition for his recall to go to the Montrose County Elections Office and ask to have their names removed from it.
“Nothing I have done has risen even close to the level of recall,” he said a recall “which I think would be very disruptive and divisive to our county.
“I encourage people to come down and take their names off the petition, because it’s not going to be in the best interest of the county to continue this.”
Once a date is set for the recall election, assuming enough signatures are validated, then potential candidates for Ellis’s seat will have 15 days to collect enough signatures to be on the ballot. The number of signatures required for candidates depends on results of the last election, and their political affiliation, and comes to about 20 percent of the primary election for Republicans and Democrats and about 2 percent, or 750, for unaffiliated, which ever is lower.