Debt-limit measure survives challenge
Last Updated: 15:47 August 19, 2013
The group Voter Approval of Debt Limits filed the petition with Lewis in June. But New Era Colorado, a municipalization supporter, filed a complaint in July, alleging that certain petition circulators had lied to potential signers about what the ballot measure was about and had even possibly forged signatures.
A week after a hearing on the matter, Lewis threw out all 545 of the signatures submitted by circulator Mae Cornish that previously had been validated in addition to nine other signatures that New Era Colorado had challenged for various reasons. However, she also ruled that the petition still contained 5,609 valid signatures, well more than the 4,549 - or 5 percent of all registered voters in the city - required for the measure to reach the ballot.
Voter Approval of Debt Limits turned in 8,190 signatures in June. Out of 6,955 initially reviewed, Lewis originally validated 5,102. But after last week's hearing, her office examined the remaining signatures and found another 1,061 to be valid.
The ruling came four days before the Boulder City Council is slated to vote on final approval of an ordinance that would allow city staff to move forward with acquiring Xcel Energy Inc's distribution assets needed to form a municipal utility, even if it means taking those assets in court through the power of eminent domain.
The Voter Approval of Debt Limits measure would require voter approval of any debt issued by the city-run utility and limit the total cost of repaying that debt. The measure would also prohibit city service outside the city limits unless nonresidents were allowed to vote in the debt elections. Municipalization proponents have argued that the measure kills the feasibility of a city-run utility, and city staff has proposed a competing ballot measure that limits only the cost of acquisition of Xcel's assets.
"I'm glad we're still on the ballot," Voter Approval of Debt Limits spokeswoman Katy Atkinson said Monday. "It's just kind of sad that the city is trying as hard as they arte to torpedo this measure.
"They disqualified enough signatures to put kind of a black mark on the effort but not enough to keep us off the ballot."
New Era Colorado attorneys presented video and audio recordings at last week's hearing that showed Cornish making false statements to potential signers, including that the 2011 vote on municipalization did not "go through" and that it was too close for comfort.
Lewis, in her decision, stated that Cornish's tampering with signature lines, misrepresentation of facts related to the petition and inability to provide signers with the language of the petition constituted "fraud and an abuse of the process."
The ruling added that, "The videos show a person who is tired by the process and wants to get her (50 cents) for a signature and move on to the next signer without exercising any care to protect the process. ... It is more likely than not that Ms. Cornish behaved substantially similarly with the evidence when obtaining the signatures on the petitions submitted, even if none of the petitions shown on the videos or testified about were submitted to the clerk."
New Era Colorado's efforts took a blow, however, when Lewis ruled that the signatures obtained by circulator William Sperry would not be thrown out because of a lack of evidence proving wrongdoing on his part. Throwing out Sperry's signatures would have been significant, since he'd gathered nearly 1,900.
"We think it was a positive ruling," New Era Colorado executive director Steve Fenberg said. "I think it really to us validates that a lot of the methods used to get this on the ballot were unethical and even illegal at times. I think one of the goals was to make sure the community understands and knows about unsavory tactics that are being used to get this on the ballot."
New Era was one of three pro-municipalization organizations to recently receive a total of $60,000 from the Sierra Club to fight the Voter Approval of Debt Limits measure during campaign season. New Era and Empower Our Future each received $25,000, while the local Sierra Club chapter received $10,000.
In addition to the vote on the acquisition ordinance at Tuesday's city council meeting and another to accept the findings of a third-party evaluator with regard to the feasibility of a municipal utility, the council also will vote on final approval on whether to place the Voter Approval of Debt Limits ballot measure and competing city measure on the ballot. The vote on the citizen-initiated measure is a formality since state law requires that it go on the ballot if enough valid signatures are gathered.
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