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Petition out for mayor recall

If a group in Pagosa Springs has its way, one of the country’s longest-serving mayors could lose that distinction if a recall petition succeeds in going to town voters and a majority supports ousting Mayor Ross Aragon.

The petition, being circulated by a group led by town residents Kyle Frye, Dan Witting and Dave Richter, seeks to push a recall election of the town’s current mayor. Petitioners have 60 days from Thursday to gather 99 signatures (25 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election) from voters registered within the town.

Last Thursday afternoon, Pagosa Springs Town Clerk April Hessman told SUN staff that she had received and approved a petition to press for a recall referendum. That report was confirmed by Frye following last Thursday’s community forum on Wal-Mart (see related story) at the Ross Aragon Community Center.

Should the petition succeed in providing the necessary number of verified signatures within the allotted time frame, the Pagosa Springs Town Council would be asked to schedule a special election for recall at the next council meeting following the certification of the petition. However, if recall supporters can provide a successful petition prior to March 2 (the deadline for candidate petitions for three open at-large council seats), the measure would most likely end up on the April 3 ballot for town elections.

“There needs to be a political change from a leadership standpoint,” Frye said.

Richter added, “It’s not against Ross Aragon, but against his methods of conduct and how things are playing out with his approach.”

In April 2010, Aragon won a race that seated him as mayor for an unprecedented ninth term. In that election, Aragon had 274 votes, while his opponent, local resident Bill Hudson, had 121 votes.

That election also featured a referendum that sought to overturn a decision in 2009 by the Pagosa Springs Town Council to scrap a portion of the town’s Land Use and Development Code (LUDC) that strictly regulated the potential development of big box retailers. Town voters voted 251-135 to support council’s decision.

In August 2009, council passed Ordinance 743, which repealed section 2.4.5 of the LUDC, a section dealing specifically with big box development. At that time, Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem reported that he had been approached by developers interested in putting a big box store in Pagosa Springs, but the developer had been reluctant to develop locally due to those (and other) restrictions in the LUDC.

Later that year, several area residents circulated a petition to bring the matter of Ordinance 743 to the voters — Referendum A. With the petition certified late that year, council approved the addition of the referendum to the ballot following a ruling by the town to nullify the petition for procedural irregularities and then a subsequent lawsuit by the petitioners disputing the town’s findings.

The town eventually settled the suit and allowed the referendum to proceed.

Three district council seats were up for grabs during the April 2010 town elections, but those seats were unopposed. Referendum A and the mayoral election were the issues that drove voters to the polls.

Similar issues — a big box in Pagosa Springs and a mayor that supports that — appear to be the force behind a recall petition.

“There’s no transparency in anything he (Aragon) does,” Richter said. “Nobody knows what is really going on with him. This whole Wal-Mart thing and how it wasn’t up for discussion. That raised a lot of eyebrows with a lot of people.”

Speaking to the issue of transparency, Aragon said, “They didn’t ask me if it’s true I met with these people (Wal-Mart representatives) ... it’s just not right. I’ve cleared my name, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know what else they want.”

Speaking to the success of a petition and recall vote, Frye said, “We might not get the change we need, but at least a recall will make people aware of the issues, make them more active and aware in the next election.”

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