Commissioners Gary Ellis, Steve White and Ron Henderson were all named on the petition, according to the Clerk and Recorders office, but the office did not allow the press to see a copy.
Instead, the office released the names of those filing the petition, and gave details of steps that must be taken in order for it to be filed once signatures are obtained.
The Clerk’s Office issued the following statement giving the reasons for the recall on the petition: “General statement of grounds for recall: 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.”
The clerk’s office said that those who signed the petition are Tim Salazar, Dr. Michael Jay, Michael Krull and Duke Richardson. All except for Jay work at Montrose Memorial Hospital.
Richardson, a respiratory therapist, said those who filed the petition did so as private citizens, not as hospital employees. The hospital and county have recently been embroiled in a lawsuit about whether the county commissioners or a nonprofit board should run the hospital, which the county lost and is now appealing.
The petition was filed “For a variety of reasons, and not just because of the hospital litigation,” Richardson said. “A great example is the increase of mill levies towards our property taxes.”
Montrose’s property taxes are higher than any adjoining counties, he said, and even though property values have decreased, taxes have increased. He says the county was not aboveboard in all its dealings in raising the taxes, and 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 challenging it anyway and running up legal fees.
He also complained about legal fees the county has incurred in its five-year legal battle with JetAway Aviation, and the use of high-priced Denver lawyers. For example, he said at the recent ruling on the hospital, attorneys were only allowed to listen in, but not comment or enter motions, even though 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.” The petitioners are still collecting information on “excessive spending” by the commissioners, Richardson said, as well as failure of transparency. He said it is difficult to get requests heard at the county, and that different commissioners often give different answers to the same question.
“We have other information I can’t share at this point, but it will come out within the next two weeks,” he said.
Bill Mast, assistant chief deputy to the county clerk, said the number of signatures required for a recall election to be held vary with each candidate, based on the number of votes in the last election. At least 4,493 signatures must be collected for Henderson, 3,012 for Ellis, and 4,385 for White.
The next step is for the signatures to be confirmed by the clerk’s office; if all are validated, a recall election will be held at a later date. If an election is held, Mast said, another election at the same time will be held for those seeking the commissioners’ seats.
The commissioners must set the date for the election, he said, following a “period of protest” in case the signatures or the work of the clerk’s office is challenged.
Once a date is set for the recall election, assuming enough signatures are validated, potential candidates for the commissioners’ seats will have 15 days to collect enough signatures to be on the ballot. The number of signatures required for candidates depends on the last election and their political affiliation, Mast said, but is about 20 percent of the number of primary election votes for Republicans and Democrats and about two percent, or 750 votes, for unaffiliated candidates, whichever number is lower.
Henderson and White did not return calls for comment. Ellis said he is “disappointed,” and believes the recall attempt could be payback for tension between the county and the hospital.
“I think it’s really focused on the hospital,” he said. “I was pretty clear that I did not support the appeal, and was confident (about) what the judge ruled. “I don’t think these allegations have any merit, and I am really disappointed with some of these people,” he added. “I thought I made the right decision in not supporting an appeal to save taxpayer dollars. They didn’t rule in our favor, but I accepted it, and feel we should move on with other issues.”
Hospital administrator Dave Hample said he is not part of the lawsuit, but is aware that most of those circulating it are hospital employees; he said the employees are not doing any of this on work time. Hample added that he is totally in favor of the hospital being run by a nonprofit board instead of the county commissioners: “I’ve been at this for 45 years, and that is definitely the best way.”