An investigation into whether signatures were forged on the petition to recall Castle Rock Town Councilmember Renee Valentine has found no fraud was committed.
"Because election law strikes at the core of our democratic process, I am always gratified when my team finds that nobody broke the law, which is the case here," said District Attorney George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District, which conducted the 10-day investigation.
Valentine, whose recall election has been set for the Nov. 8 general election ballot, had alleged that some signatures could have been forged. She withdrew a protest against the petition June 2 and instead asked the district attorney's office to review the matter.
District Attorney investigator Bart Dorscheid contacted the people whose signatures seemed questionable.
"Each of them identified their signature on the petition and told Investigator Dorscheid they remembered signing it," Brauchler said in a June 16 news release.
The petitioners seeking Valentine's recall are Castle Rock residents Sid Brooks, Amy Fienen and Jeff Linn.
"The way that Renee Valentine publicly sullied the reputations and questioned the integrity of myself and my fellow petitioners is unconscionable," Fienen said. "While we knew her allegations that we committed fraud were baseless, we feel vindicated that the district attorney's office found her accusations to be wholly and completely untrue."
"What Valentine and Gessler did was a political stunt - a political dirty trick that didn't work," said Brooks, referring to Scott Gessler, Valentine's attorney.
Valentine said requesting the district attorney's review of the signatures was not about attacking the petitioners, but about preserving the integrity of the process.
"I'm glad the DA looked into it," she said. "Quite frankly, even though they said there weren't any criminal violations, the petition was sloppy and misleading.
"I've never met (the petitioners). To me, this is about election integrity."
Valentine represents District 5, which includes the Castle Oaks, Cobblestone Ranch, Escavera and Founders Village developments. All voters in Castle Rock can expect to receive ballots in the mail in October, but District 5 voters will be the only ones asked about whether to remove Valentine from council.
Valentine, who will continue to serve while the recall process takes place, was first elected in 2011. Her second term expires in 2018.
Linn, Fienen and Brooks initiated the recall petition in March.
The petition alleges Valentine has approved budgets where expenditures exceeded revenues by more than $90 million, does not support a petition asking for citizens' approval on annexations of five or more acres, and has voted to limit public input at town council meetings.
In May, Castle Rock Town Clerk Sally Misare validated the petition's 273 signatures - five more than the 268 needed.
Validating signatures means matching the name on the petition to a registered voter; matching the address provided to that voter registration; and in the case of the recall petitions, verifying the registered voter lives in the district of the councilmember in question. If the information is correct, the signature is validated.
But signatures are not compared for verification. Castle Rock does not have a process to do that, and state statute does not allow or have a process for signature verification on petitions.
Valentine, suspecting irregularities, referred about six signatures to the Douglas County Clerk and Recorder's Office. Merlin Klotz, Douglas County clerk and recorder, forwarded the signatures to the 18th Judicial District after his office reviewed them.
Klotz believes investigating the matter further was the right thing to do, regardless of the probe's outcome.
"In this case, the system worked," Klotz said June 16 after learning no fraud was found by the district attorney's office.
But, he added, "I think signature verification is the direction things have to go in."
Valentine said she and other members of council support that direction. Klotz said it will take legislative action to allow for counties to coordinate with cities and towns on signature verification of petitions.
The Nov. 8 ballot question on Valentine's removal will include a 200-word statement of reasons for the recall written by petitioners, the same statement on the certified petition. It also will include a 300-word justification for her course in office written by Valentine.
This will be followed by a "yes" or "no" question asking if Valentine should be recalled. If she is recalled, council would appoint a replacement who would serve the remainder of her term.
Citizens in District 1 also are being asked whether to recall Mayor Paul Donahue, who represents that district, which includes the western portion of The Meadows neighborhood. A mail-in ballot election has been set for July 26. Voters in that district can expect to receive a ballot in the mail in July.
Donahue, who is term-limited, was first elected in 2008. His term will expire in November. He was appointed as mayor by other members of council in 2012 and again in 2014.
The petition to recall Castle Rock District 2 Councilmember Mark Heath was dropped by petitioners, who said Heath showed a willingness to work with his constituents.