Prior to Thornton’s Jan. 25 city council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren sent council members and city staff an email detailing the controversy of city councilor Jacque Phillips’ secondary home in Alamosa, Colorado.
“The items in the deed of trust indicate that the property was purchased as the principal residence,” Sandgren said. “I’m looking for the direction from the city attorney’s office for what we are supposed to do with this information moving forward.”
Sandgren, who represents ward two, claimed that residents asked her whether Phillips — who represents ward one — could and should continue to serve the city of Thornton in her councilor capacity. She said she brought this forward for the residents.
“This is all politics. It is no secret that Sandgren and I have different political views and visions for the city of Thornton. By removing me from my council seat and appointing someone else it provides the opportunity to further entrench Council with members that will share Sandgren’s view and vision for the city,” she said.
Sandgren also claimed that “the items in the deed of trust indicate that the property was purchased as the principal residence.”
“I maintain a residence in Alamosa but that does not mean I have moved from my condo in Thornton which is the relevant legal standard under our charter. As evidence that I have not moved, I still own my residence in Thornton, my law office, my vehicle registration and my voter registration,” said Phillips.
Thornton’s City Attorney Tami Yellico suggested council have an executive session regarding the matter for council to receive legal advice and provide an opportunity for Phillips to provide any information she thinks is relevant.
Council and city staff would discuss the matter in private — which is normal for executive session — and vote on the item in public. Yellico said that if the majority of city council wants to consider the evidence brought during executive session, then it would go on the agenda for a future date.
The planning session came soon after Sandgren sent her email. On Feb. 1, the city attorney plans on giving city council advice on “specific legal questions regarding Charter provisions, process, and law for addressing potential City Council vacancies.”
Phillips feels like the process has been rushed.
“This is all political,” she said. “That’s how they planned it. The Sandgren email was sent right before our meeting,” she said.
City councilor Julia Marvin agrees.
“I do feel like it’s rushed,” she said.
Marvin thinks that if residents have an issue with Phillips’ residency, then it should go to a recall vote. She does not think it is fair to have a simple majority on council to determine the outcome of this issue.
“I don’t think this needs to go to executive session, I think it needs to be public,” said city councilor Karen Bigelow.
“I did think this was a settled matter so I’m not exactly sure why we’re visiting it,” said city councilor Kathy Henson. “This whole process doesn’t feel proper and it doesn’t look reasonable to residents and taxpayers who are paying us to work on their behalf.”
Henson suggested outside counsel to provide legal opinions and Yellico agreed that should happen.
“It didn’t work back in September, I don’t know what has changed,” said city councilor Julia Marvin. “This whole thing is gross.”
Sandgren said that the issue was not resolved because council did not have the deed of trust.
Marvin voiced concerns most of the discussions on the issue would take place in executive session — where the public does not have access to — and none would carry over to the public meeting where council votes on the matter.
Yellico responded and said that the executive session is to give councilors legal advice and for them to ask questions. Then, the council would vote on it in public.
The Vacancy Clause
Marvin said that those opposed to Phillips’ residence will attempt to use the 4.5.C Vacancy Clause in Thornton’s Municipal Code, which states “A vacancy shall exist when an elective officer fails to qualify, dies, resigns, is removed from office, moves from the City, moves from the ward from which elected, is incapacitated or is absent continuously therefrom for more than three (3) months, is convicted of a felony, or is judicially declared mentally incompetent.”
In Sec. 2-243 of the municpal code, it states the rules for determing residence. It says that before a candidate is eligible for office, the city clerk must verify that each candidate meets the requirement of residing in the city.
Examples of documents candidates can provide are property records from the county assessor’s office indicating that the candidate was the property owner of the primary residence for 12 consecutive months by the date the appointment will be effective; a lease for the primary residence which is in the name of the candidate and includes the date of commencement; a utility bill for the residence, and other documentation not included on the list.
According to Phillips, she “still own my residence in Thornton, my law office, my vehicle registration and my voter registration.”
“The optics don’t look good if we’re allowed to vote each other off of Council,” said Bigelow.