Thornton’s city council voted 5-4 declaring a vacancy on the dais due to former City Councilor Jacque Phillips’ purchase of a home in Alamosa and starting a second job there.
According to Todd Barnes, spokesperson for the City of Thornton, the largely split council will vote to appoint a new member after taking applications and conducting interviews, with a deadline of 30 days.
Prior to the vote, public comment for the meeting lasted over two hours with the majority of residents from all wards voicing their support for Phillips.
City Councilor Kathy Henson made a motion to delay the vote due to the late hour and new evidence brought forth during the meeting, but it failed 5-4
“Given the late hour and having evidence just presented tonight, that we take no action on this evening and postpone the vote until we’ve had a chance to look at everything that has been submitted on the record that was just added this evening,” she said. “This process has been hasty and ill-defined.”
Marvin said that those voting to declare a vacancy are taking representation away from Ward 1 and that the decision should go back to voters by a recall if they have an issue.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” she said.
“I’m very sad for Ward 1. This is wrong, it was a political move with the only goal being to further entrench the majority on council,” said Phillips.
Phillips was under fire from some councilors for purchasing a house in Alamosa, where she works as executive director for the San Luis Vally’s Board of Cooperative Education Services, an Alamosa-based group of 14 southern Colorado school districts.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren said that she believes the charter outlines what the council is to do when there is a vacancy. Though, during the Feb. 1 planning session meeting, Geoff Wilson special counsel on the issue, said that isn’t true.
“(The charter) doesn’t mandate that (council receives competent evidence)” he said. “It doesn’t say council shall hold a hearing but it says that the fact of a vacancy if you’re going to pursue that, shall be established competent evidence.”
Mayor Jan Kulmann thinks considering the intent of local representation is important.
“Home is the question,” she said.
The evidence that Kulmann said pushed her to vote for the vacancy was the notice of a full-time job for Phillips in Alamosa.
She pointed to examples in Aurora and Parker, where she said that council members took jobs in different cities, bought homes in those cities and then resigned. She thinks it was unethical for Phillips to not resign.
“I believe the combination of a full-time position more than four hours away as well as a document signed by an attorney to purchase a home as a primary residence has created a vacancy in Ward 1,” she said.
Michael Kuhn, Phillips’ attorney and spokesperson during the meeting, said that the question of vacancy is based on the question of whether Phllips moved away from Thornton.
“There’s no basis to suggest that she has moved from the locality,” he said.
City Councilor Adam Matkowsky said that he would not be doing his job if he did not vote to declare a vacancy.
“Tonight I found the evidence presented tonight for a vacancy to be competent, and I would be derelict in my duties if I did not vote in favor of this motion,” he said.
Sandgren agreed that the evidence is competent.
“When you look at it, there’s a lot more evidence (Phillips) is still living in Thornton and that she has not moved,” City Councilor Julia Marvin said. “I think that is the most important thing to remember, she has not moved regardless if she is spending time somewhere else.”
Marvin pointed to Phillips’ business, her residence, her vehicle registration and voter registration that are all in Thornton. She also said Phillips’ intent is that Thornton is her home.
City Councilor Karen Bigelow said that the council has met on Zoom for the past two years, and prior to them, Phillips attended the in-person meetings and she would attend them in the future once, the council is back.
“I believe the evidence has shown what it needed to show,” she said.
As well, Bigelow sees the charter section Sandgren based the motion on actually proves residency for Phillips in Thornton because “She has not moved.”
Phillips said that she has been having conversations with her legal team about filing a lawsuit against the move.