Debate heats up Sanitation meeting

Gavel comes down over campaign resolution

“You’re hijacking democracy!” a woman yelled.

“You all should be fired,” moaned another woman.

“Is this legal?” another woman questioned.

These were a few of the remarks belted out by concerned residents immediately after a special Cortez Sanitation District meeting Wednesday afternoon. Nearly 20 civic and business leaders and all three candidates challenging for a seat on the board were in attendance at the meeting, which included a half-hour session behind closed doors with board attorney Jeff Robbins.

During a 15-minute discussion in open forum, Robbins advised CSD officials that the resolution they adopted this month that bars members from holding or even seeking public office with an outside governmental agency remains in effect. The board maintains the resolution was adopted to prevent conflicts of interest.

“Unless the board acts to overturn the resolution, then it remains in play,” Robbins said.

A motion by CSD board member and candidate for Montezuma County commissioner Jim Candelaria to repeal the resolution died without a second. Robbins told Candelaria he had until the close of business Wednesday to decide if he would keep his seat on the CSD board or continue his campaign for commissioner.

Candelaria told The Cortez Journal Thursday that he attempted to contact Robbins Wednesday just minutes before 5 p.m., but his call went unanswered.

“In my opinion, I’m still on the CSD board, and I have no plans to resign,” Candelaria said. “The board can’t overturn an election.”

Candelaria said Thursday he would continue his campaign for county commissioner.

“How is seeking public office a conflict?” Candelaria posed at the meeting on Wednesday. “If there ever was a conflict, I would simply recuse myself from the vote. There’s no proof to support the claim that there is a conflict.”

Candelaria also implied Wednesday that a true conflict might be a board member who sold real estate, such as board member John Stramel, or perhaps a board member contracted to tap into a district sewer line, like board president Dave Waters.

Waters said Wednesday the resolution was passed in the best interest of the district, adding that the fact that nearly 20 residents were in attendance at the special called meeting demonstrated an obvious conflict. Several members of the audience laughed aloud.

“I’m going to ask you to quiet down, please,” said Waters, smacking his gavel.

Candelaria said the only conflict was the board’s effort to overrule an election process by adopting the special campaign condition, which is not included under state laws that govern special districts.

Under state statutes, elected officials to special districts must relinquish their post if they refuse to subscribe to an oath of office, are convicted of a felony, submit a written resignation, cease to be qualified, fail to attend three consecutive meetings without board approval, or dies. Seeking or holding public office is not included under state statutes.

The CSD resolution passed April 14 and took effect April 15, 84 days after Candelaria filed as a commissioner candidate.

In March, Candelaria received the Republican nod from county delegates as the GOP’s top candidate.

James Lambert, who petitioned onto the GOP primary ballot, and William Utrup, an unaffiliated candidate, are also vying to fill Montezuma County Commissioner Steve Chappell’s post, which expires this year.

CSD board members have 60 days to select Candelaria’s substitute. If the board fails to name a replacement, county commissioners would have the authority to name a successor.

CSD board members receive $100 for every meeting they attend. Wednesday’s meeting was the third this month.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com