The issue of whether the open carry of firearms should be allowed in Town of Castle Rock-owned buildings and parks will go to a public vote.
A special public meeting was held April 14 as a necessary follow-up to a successful referendum petition a group of residents initiated after council voted in late January to repeal an 11-year-old ordinance banning open carry on town property.
In accordance with state statute, at the meeting, council was faced with the decision to either rescind their January decision or put the issue to a vote. After listening to public testimony, council voted unanimously to let residents make the decision.
"One thing that came through pretty loud and clear in the several hearings we had was the lack of certainty in what the people of Castle Rock think about this," said outgoing Councilmember Clark Hammelman. "If we choose (to rescind the January decision) we would never find out what they think. I think we need to find out."
Hammelman had been one of three councilmembers, along with Mark Heath and Chip Wilson, to vote against the repeal. Mayor Paul Donahue and councilmembers Joe Procopio, Jennifer Green and Renee Valentine had all voted in January to repeal the 2003 ordinance, which Donahue pointed out was also made in a 4-3 council vote.
"Back in 2003, when the ban was put into place, it was a different time," Donahue said. "It was shortly after 9-11. People were scared, nervous and I think we now live in a time where federal government and state government are restricting our rights.
"I find it odd that we need to go to a special election to vote on a constitutional right. Spending $50,000 to restore a constitutional right seems like a cheap cost to me."
Siegfried Guentensberger, who organized the referendum with fellow resident Jacob Vargish, suggested to council that they consider rescinding their January decision and then make a motion to place the issue on the November ballot so that the town wouldn't incur the $50,000 price tag for a special election - which according to a timeline determined by state statute, needs to take place by mid-September.
"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "I would've hoped they would've looked at saving the town additional resources. But, ultimately, I'm pleased this is going to the voters.
"In a perfect world the council would have decided on the second reading (in January) to put this to a vote and let us vote on it in April."
A second special meeting is scheduled for April 22 to determine the wording of the ballot initiative and to set a date for the election. At that meeting, council will also discuss the possibility of adding other non-TABOR ballot questions to the ballot. According to Town Manager Mark Stevens, because of the state statute timelines, the election is likely to be slated for one of the first three Tuesdays in August.
Challenging the petition
A protest challenging the validity of the petition organized by residents Jacob Vargish and Siegfried Guentensberger was filed with the town April 7.
After reviewing the protest, Castle Rock Town Clerk Sally Misare deemed it invalid, stating that it did not comply with statutory requirements. As there were no valid petitions filed within the allotted protest period, council was required by state statute to either rescind its January decision or set the issue to a public vote.
Part of the reason the protest was not accepted was because it was not signed by any electors of the Town of Castle Rock, but was anonymous. Attorney Shawn Mitchell, of Broomfield, spoke at the April 14 meeting on behalf of those who protested and expressed disdain that they were not given the opportunity to fix their error.
He said the reason no one signed the protest, was because those involved with the protest had been threatened and intimidated by the petitioners. Whether an appeal will be filed in regard to the protest being deemed invalid, Mitchell said after the meeting, will be decided within a couple weeks.
"If this is going to the vote of the citizens, that might be a more definitive resolution than lengthy litigation action," he said, stating that the cost of an appeal would also be weighed and that it could cost his clients more than the $50,000 it would cost the town to go through the process of an appeal.
According to Misare, any appeal must be filed with the courts not the town.