A petition started last February to schedule a recall vote for Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon failed this week due to the lack of signatures necessary to schedule a special election.
Petitioners had 60 days from Feb. 16 to gather 99 signatures, or 25 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election, from voters registered within the town. Tuesday was the last day that petitioners could submit signatures to the town clerk for certification.
“We definitely didn’t get the numbers we needed to get a recall election,” said Kyle Frye, one of the petitioners seeking the recall.
Frye would not release how many signatures had been collected, stating that he did not want the number of signatures to influence another possible petition for recall.
Citing a severe illness that kept him from fully pursuing signatures for the petition, Frye added that his overall experience was positive when talking to voters.
“I approached it (the petition) by first asking people what they thought about the mayor,” Frye said regarding his experience in collecting signatures. “There were a lot of people that said he had served too long and needed to go, that it was time for somebody fresh to take over.”
Frye added that he experienced widespread support for recalling the mayor, but many of those people were county residents and unable to vote in the town.
However, among town residents solicited for signatures, Frye claimed a substantial number of potential signatories expressed fears that their name on the petition might result in some reprisal.
“I’d ask them if they’d sign the petition, but most people were afraid of retribution. They wouldn’t sign, basically out of fear. A lot of them were either business owners or people with family friends who could be affected by the mayor.”
“A lot of people were concerned about confidentiality,” said Dave Richter, another circulator for the petition.
In fact, petitions are public record and signatures are not confidential.
Aragon responded, saying, “I think that’s an embellishment by the group that was trying to recall me, and they’ll say anything to compensate for their shortcomings.
“I don’t have that kind of power or a history of where I go after people. All you have to do is look at the record. I wouldn’t have been elected as many times as I have been, going all the way back to 1976, if I had been that kind of person.” The petitioners added that some residents had qualms about scheduling a special election, especially during an election year.
“Also, people were concerned about setting up a special election,” Richter added. “I guess they didn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars when the recall could take place in November.”
An election costs the town around $1,500.
Had the petition succeeded in providing the necessary number of verified signatures within the allotted time frame, the Pagosa Springs Town Council would have been asked to schedule a special election for recall at the next council meeting following the certification of the petition. State statute and the town’s Home Rule Charter specifies that a special election would occur no more than 30 days but no less than 90 days following that meeting.
However, if a petition is certified within 90 days of a scheduled election, the recall measure is automatically placed on the ballot.
“We didn’t want the mayor to think we were attacking him personally,” Richter said. “A lot of people who signed or wanted to sign but didn’t said that he (Aragon) has served for 34 years and some of things that worked 10 or 20 years ago aren’t working today.”
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.
Both Richter and Frye said that, while they failed to gather sufficient signatures to push a recall, the petition itself was sufficient in carrying a message.
“We wanted the mayor to know there’s some concern with what he’s doing or not doing,” Richter said.
Neither Frye not Richter could say if another petition would be circulated, either in the near future or closer to November’s general election.
On Tuesday, Aragon said, “I’m profoundly grateful that I received support from the voters in Pagosa Springs. I firmly believe that the silent majority issued a mandate.
“I will continue to work hard in representing this community,” Aragon added.