Recalling a town councilmember comes at a price, some say.
That's why the Castle Rock Town Council could soon approve an ordinance allowing councilmembers who prevail in a recall attempt to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred while defending their seat.
The policy was drafted following the recall petitions involving Mayor Paul Donahue and District 5 representative Renee Valentine.
Donahue won his recall election in July, and will retain his seat until the end of his term-limited tenure in November. A recall petition against Valentine, which had been placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, was dropped Sept. 9 when petition representatives provided the Castle Rock town clerk with written requests to withdraw their petition.
Town council on Sept. 6 approved a first reading of the policy with a 5-0 vote. Donahue and Valentine excused themselves from the discussion. A second reading will take place at the Sept. 20 council meeting.
Town Attorney Bob Slentz stressed the ordinance is not about any one particular councilmember. It is written to provide each councilmember, current or future, the opportunity to seek reimbursement if they win a recall election or if a protest overturns the petition.
The ordinance's language was also kept broad, he said, to provide council flexibility in deciding whether to award reimbursements.
For example, a cap on reimbursements is not explicitly written into the ordinance. Rather, it says the council may approve all, or a portion, of the requested sum.
The amount of reimbursements Donahue could request, should the ordinance be approved, is not yet available. That only becomes public record once a councilmember has filed for reimbursement, Slentz said.
"Haven't decided," Donahue said, when asked if he would seek reimbursements under the new ordinance.
He also said he didn't know what amount he'd request if he did pursue them.
Donahue made the point that he needn't wait for a town ordinance to be passed. A state statute already allows councilmembers to seek reimbursements, but the town charter is mum on the issue.
The idea for reimbursements was brought up to him a couple months ago, he said. He then took the idea to Slentz, who advised making a town ordinance to guide councils, rather than solely relying on the state statute, Donahue said.
Councilmembers and those who gave public comment debated the broadness in the proposed town policy's language.
Langford Jordan of Castle Rock said he supported allowing reimbursements, and didn't think people had considered how expensive recall petitions can become.
"I think that passing this ordinance sends a very strong message," he said. "There is a cost for doing this."
John Buckley, opponent to the reimbursements and petitioner in Donahue's recall, said he'd feel better about the policy if language were less open to interpretation.
"It's very muddy," he said.
District 6 Councilmember George Teal and District 4 Councilmember Chip Wilson supported adopting the policy.
"I actually really like this ordinance," Teal said. "This clarifies the ambiguity that made the question a problem."
Teal did ask if the ordinance should explicitly address reimbursing personal expenditures versus reimbursing expenses covered by fundraising. A councilmember could pay for expenses out-of-pocket, he said, or treat the issue as a campaign and gather donations.
"If you already covered those expenses through fundraising - is that appropriate, yes or no?" he asked.
Wilson said he preferred the broad language. It allows councils to assess reimbursement requests on a case-by-case basis, including addressing questions like Teal's, but also whether a councilmember spent frivolously, such as hiring expensive attorneys during the recall.
"I have no problem whatsoever with adopting a generic ordinance," he said.
Budget receives initial approval
In other action, the council approved a first reading of the proposed 2017 $188.4 million budget. A second reading of the budget will be held at the Sept. 20 council meeting. It does not include any tax increases. Property tax revenue is expected to grow by 5.5 percent. The tax rate is expected to be equal or less than the 2016 rate of 1.473 mills. Under that rate, the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 is paying $35.18 a year.