Editor's note: This version of the story correctly lists the number of council seats up for election on the 2021 ballot. The print version of this story was in error.
This story also includes a clarifying quote from Cathy Kentner. The print version of this story incorrectly attributed a claim to Kentner. That claim has been removed and a verbatim quote from Kentner on the subject has been added in its stead.
Hopes that the current election to pick six seats on the Lakewood City Council might perhaps improve the cordiality of its members are dim, at best.
With the Nov. 2 deadline to turn in an election ballot quickly approaching, there have been a laundry list of accusations this campaign cycle. Two candidates were almost pulled off the ballot for missing registration deadlines (resolved); an endorsement snub led to a nasty-gram; there was an incident of vegetative vigilantism; and a (maybe) mystery letter writer spread disinformation about two candidates, just to name a few.
Ward 5 candidates, Tom Keefe and Wendi Strom, were recently accused on the Denver Post’s Your Hub website on Oct. 14, of violating campaign finance regulations. The person pointing the finger at them is a Your Hub user who posted under the user name “emdmgx” and signed the posting with the name Ann Davis.
According to emdmgx, Keefe and Strom violated the rules by accepting contributions of $500 from the Pipefitters Union. Emdmgx (Ann Davis) then goes on to say that people should cast their vote instead, for Michael Gunstanson and Mary Janssen.
“Real change comes with candidates who are willing to stand up to the establishment. Those who say, enough is enough and rules are rules that need to be followed. We need candidates like Gunstanson and Janssen. Now, more than ever,” emdmgx said.
But emdmgx was wrong. The contributions in question came from Pipefitters Local 208 Political Education Committee — which is registered as a Small Donor Committee. And Small Donor Committees are allowed by law, to contribute up to $800 to city council candidates. So, the accusations don’t hold water. Bruce Roome, Lakewood City Clerk, confirmed through the City’s Spokesperson, Staci Oulton, that neither Keefe or Strom had done anything inappropriate.
“As a professor of political science, this is exactly the problem with the ease of disseminating information nowadays,” Keefe said, adding that the Denver Post has failed to respond to him or take the letter offline, even after shown evidence that it is false.
End of story? Not exactly.
Remember the person with user name “emdmgx,” who accused Keefe and Strom of wrongdoing? Well, that person’s moniker is identical to an email, firstname.lastname@example.org used by Gunstanson in at least one other social media forum. Ironically, the only other Your Hub post made by emdgmx is an announcement touting Gunstanson’s entry into the council race, complete with a picture of him and his wife at a sporting event.
“It certainly wasn’t me,” Gunstanson said regarding letter by emdmgx. “I’ve tried to run an above-board campaign. I don’t know who wrote that article.”
The website justverified.com reports “with high confidence” that the email email@example.com belongs to Gunstanson.
Asked if she knew anything about Ann Davis, emdmgx or the Your Hub post, Janssen said she did not.
In Ward 1, Cathy Kentner is running against Jeslin Shahrezaei for the seat soon to be vacated by term-limited Ramey Johnson.
Kentner made a run at a council seat in 2011 but didn’t prevail. She was also a driving force behind Lakewood’s Slow Growth Initiative, which became law in 2019. Asked in a recent interview if voters could expect an avowed conservative like Johnson, or a more progressive voice if they elect her, she declined to say, saying her prior civic actions speak for themselves.
Recently Kentner has faced criticisms about her judgement and personal relationships.
Kentner is the subject of an accusation of impropriety by Stephanie Schooley, who sits on Jeffco’s Board of Education. Schooley has been quite vocal about inappropriate behavior and threats directed at her and other board members over their handling of COVID precautions that have rubbed some people the wrong way. Schooley acknowledges that as an elected official, she’s expected to listen to her constituents, but she thinks people coming to her home uninvited, is going too far.
In a recent blog post, Schooley took Kentner to task (without naming her directly) for violating a boundary of personal space.
“A candidate for the November city council race came to my home and left a handwritten note for me with my family. My parents and my children read the following note before I was able to see it,” Schooley wrote. “(it said) So disappointed to see that you have endorsed my opponent. If you are ignoring me, that makes you a bully. If you are endorsing without talking to both candidates, then you are not setting a good example for our children.”
Kentner confirmed in an interview with the newspaper to leaving the note, but said the bits Schooley published on her blog lacked context. She said she had been canvassing in Schooley’s neighborhood when she left the message.
Meanwhile, political opponents have raised conflict of interest accusations around Kentner and Ward 1 council member, Charlie Able. Rumors of a romantic relationship between the two persist and are a frequent topic of public comment during council meetings. Detractors point to Able’s role in Kentner being appointed to a seat on Lakewood’s Planning Commission as just one example of the conflict of interest they feel the relationship has created.
There are no rules against councilmembers or city commission members being in a relationship, though a couple would likely be expected to recuse themselves from voting on one-another.
Able has publicly declined to comment on the rumor.
Asked for comment, Kentner said she had no relationships that created a conflict of interest, but declined to say if she was in a romantic relationship with Able.
She elaborated: “Residents in the ward should know that I have the utmost honesty and integrity and I have no conflict of interest and I will continue to maintain the high road when my opponent and her supporters continually go low and make unfounded and misleading personal attacks.”
In response, Shahrezaei said neither her, nor anyone from her campaign had any part in starting or spreading the rumor.
During a recent forum at Westwoods Community Church, Ward 5 candidate Janssen claimed to have taken pruning shears and cut back tree limbs she said were blocking the view at a Lakewood intersection. The trees in question were not on her property. They were on a city-owned median.
Janssen said she’d heard that the overgrown trees had been a persistent problem the city had neglected, so she decided (the evening before the forum) to take matters into her own hands instead of waiting for the city to act.
“I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt at that intersection,” Janssen said.
Lakewood Spokesperson Oulton said the legal process for residents or members of the public to report viability issues caused by trees is through its customer service hub, Lakewood.org/RequestLakewood, or through the Request Lakewood mobile app.
“We receive these kinds of concerns regularly, and when it’s on city property, our forestry crew will address it. If it’s on private property, code enforcement officers will contact the property owner to have the issue addressed,” Oulton said.
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