Town of Elizabeth Trustee Angela Ternus was recalled Sept. 5 in a special election. The official vote was 176 to recall and 132 to retain Ternus. The total turnout is about 18% of the 1,721 voters registered in the Town of Elizabeth. Only 55 signatures, 25% of the vote Ternus received in 2020, were required to trigger the recall election.
According to Elizabeth Town Clerk Michelle Oeser, the recall petition was filed by David Conley, Peter Scott and Jesse Kelley. The petition reads in part, “Trustee Ternus doesn’t seem to understand the concept of servant leadership, and because of that she has even been demoted from her previous leadership position by fellow members of the Elizabeth Board of Trustees.”
The tension within the town concerning development and the role of the town trustees has been fomenting ever since the town presented its Comprehensive Plan in 2019. More than 700 Elbert County residents attended the Aug. 21, 2019 meeting, which was the third community meeting to gather feedback.
The Comprehensive Plan worked off an estimate, based on projections from the state demographer, that the population of Elbert County would increase by nearly 30,000 by the year 2040. Elizabeth is required by Colorado law to create a comprehensive plan every 10 years, including a 20-year projection for growth and plans for up to a three-mile radius outside the city.
Elbert County News previously reported that citizens were “concerned about uncontrolled growth, unauthorized annexations, inadequate water for future developments and the loss of their rural lifestyles.” The backlash was surprising to the board since they sought input from community members before that meeting.
“Before the Aug. 21 meeting, we had interactions with more than 500 people in Elizabeth, who gave us feedback on a comprehensive plan,” said previous Town Administrator Matt Cohrs.
The day after that meeting, a group called the “We Are Not Parker Committee” filed a recall petition for then-Mayor Megan Vasquez and the six members of the board of trustees.
The recall text read, “We have a rubber stamp Mayor and Board of Trustees (BOT) when it comes to pleasing developers with reckless annexations and approvals for anything that big money wants. Meanwhile, the townspeople of Elizabeth either suffer or give up and move.” In the end, two trustees, Rachel White and June Jurczewsky, were successfully recalled.
Angela Ternus was on the board at that time but survived the recall because her term was up for reelection in 2020 anyway. Her recall is rooted in the belief that she consistently voted to benefit developers rather than in the best interest of the town.
Ternus supported the development of controversial Elizabeth West, which was voted down by Elizabeth residents this May. Elizabeth West refers to 425 acres off of Highway 86 slated for residential and retail expansion. At the Nov. 15, 2022 town board meeting, Ternus pointed out that there’s a need for more housing in Elbert County, estimated at 3,050 units over the next 10 years. The maximum dwelling units in the Elizabeth West proposal are 623 over the next 10 years.
Dave Ternus expressed strong words in defense of his wife during the Town of Elizabeth Board Meeting on Sept. 12. “You just voted out the most thorough, inquisitive, and experienced person on your board. She’s the only board member with an understanding of finance and governmental accounting, and I wonder now who is going to fill that gap.”
He went on to address concerns about corruption. “You accused her of being in corrupt relationship with developers. Fine. Call the District Attorney’s Office … request an investigation. Make specific allegations, subpoena witnesses and bank records. Do you know why your fearless leader in Douglas County hasn’t done that? Because there’s nothing to find.”
Ternus ended his public comment with a plea for townspeople to “stop listening to those outside of town, do your research, and think for yourself.”
Ternus was referring to Brad Hamill, a Douglas County resident, who has been instrumental in organizing Elizabeth citizens. On social media, Hamill voiced fears shared by many that growth in Elizabeth would be allowed unchecked. Community members are also worried that the town will annex their land against their will and restrict what private property owners can do with their land.
The 2019 Comprehensive Plan does reference the annexation of the area referred to as Elizabeth West. The plan also includes an illustration where the three-mile boundary planning line falls. This is a requirement from the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs, not an illustration of the total area to be annexed. According to the DLA, “prior to the final adoption of an annexation ordinance within the three-mile area, the municipality must have in place a three-mile plan.”
Cohrs, the previous town administrator, addressed this fear as well: “We are not going to annex anyone’s home or property. That’s one of the pieces of misinformation floating around out there that just isn’t true. Landowners can ask to be annexed into the town, but we are absolutely not looking to take people’s land.”
Hamill also spoke at the Sept. 12 board meeting.
“I’m the author, as you probably are all aware, of all of the petitions that have gone on for the recalls and for the overturning ordinances, and so forth. I’ve authored all of those,” he said.
Hamill maintained that town residents have done the hard work. “I’m very proud of them. And I’ve trained them, I’ve trained them how to use Colorado Revised Statutes to stand up for what they felt was rights that were being trampled upon so I have no shame in that.”
Hamill went on to say that the two most recent special elections showed what Elizabeth citizens want for their community. “Their voices were heard. Hopefully their voices will continue to be heard as Elizabeth moves forward in its governance. I stand ready. I stand willing. And I stand able to continue helping the Elizabeth community to achieve their goals.”
Now that Ternus has been recalled, with no one running against her in the recall election, the Board of Trustees will appoint a new trustee.
Town Mayor Nick Snively said the timeline for appointing a new trustee to finish out Ternus’ term was to be set at the Sept. 26 board meeting. Though the board themselves will decide on an appointee, they will likely allow for public involvement by holding public interviews and maybe a meet-and-greet to ensure the process is open and transparent. The plan is to fill the position within the next 60 days and the new trustee will serve through next November’s election.
Ternus speaks out
Angela Ternus read a statement about her tenure on the board at the end of the Sept. 12 meeting. She emphasized her dedication to the town.
She gave a warning for Elizabeth going forward. “I’ve worked with some truly dedicated board members and some who have gotten on the board for only one reason, two of which are sitting here today. They aren’t servant leaders, as the man behind the curtain keeps calling them, but instead are puppets doing the will of a master manipulator.”
Ternus also stated that rejecting the Elizabeth West subdivision would have long-term ramifications. “Overturning the zoning on Elizabeth West will cripple this town financially for years to come. Nice job. You didn’t take back control of the destiny of your town but instead gave that power to the Wizard of Oz in Douglas County.”
Town Board meetings are the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 151 S Banner St. in Elizabeth. Minutes and audio are available here: https://www.townofelizabeth.org/meetings.
The Elbert County News reached out to community members in support of the recall petition but did not receive a response before press time of this article.