Voelz survives Westminster recall election

Ten-month long battle over water rates comes to an end

A pro-recall sign in front of Westminster City Hall on election day
A pro-recall sign in front of Westminster City Hall on election day
Liam Adams
Posted

Jon Voelz will keep his seat on Westminster City Council after unofficial results in Tuesday’s contentious, expensive election showed him with 62% of total votes.

“I’m glad the common sense of our residents prevailed,” Voelz said in a phone call Tuesday night. “This misleading, and wasteful and shameful recall is coming to an end. I look forward to continuing my work on city council.”

Voelz’s seat is only safe until November when he must run for reelection. The recall election cost the city up to $250,000 to run because it was not part of a coordinated county election.

Voelz’s victory also marks the end of a 10-month-long battle fought between community members over water rates, housing and commercial growth, and the injection of partisanship in local politics.

Kathleen Dodaro, the candidate running against Voelz if he were recalled, declined to comment in a phone call Tuesday night.  A representative of the pro-recall  group, the Westminster Water Warriors, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The Water Warriors  posted on its Facebook page Wednesday morning,  "Thank you all for your support. I don't look at this a lost effort, because we won in many points." 

The recall campaign officially began last September when the Water Warriors began circulating recall petitions for four members of the city council, Voelz, Councilwoman Kathryn Skulley, Mayor Anita Seitz and former Mayor Herb Atchison, over claims that the four supported raising water rates or did not support lowering rates.

Westminster City Clerk Michelle Parker deemed the petitions insufficient to trigger recall elections a couple of times. The Water Warriors hired Scott Gessler, an attorney and former Colorado Secretary of State, to sue the city to overturn Parker’s decision to disqualify certain recall petitions.

Adams County District Court Judge Kyle Seedorf sided with the Water Warriors in April and ordered Parker to recount some petitions. The city clerk found enough valid signatures to trigger elections for Atchison and Voelz. Soon after, Atchison resigned, though he said the decision was based on his physician’s recommendation.

In May, supporters filed a protest on Voelz’s behalf contesting signatures on his recall petitions. An administrative hearing officer determined the recall election could still proceed because Voelz’s petition contained three signatures above the minimum threshold required to trigger a recall election.

As of July 16, the Water Warriors fundraised a total of $19,606 and spent $21,383, most of which went to Gessler in attorneys fees. As of July 7, the group still owed Gessler about $20,000.  Meanwhile, a group that formed in support of Voelz, Defend Westminster, raised $17,340 and spent $378. The Colorado Democratic Party was Defend Westminster’s biggest donor, making up a third of the group’s total contributions. 

The recall has been a source of polarization in the community for the days and weeks leading up to election day. “I voted NO on the recall. I don’t feel like the claim of “failure to support lower water rates” was ever supported with any real substantive evidence. In fact, all the claims against him seemed to fall apart on closer inspection,” said resident Jonathan Christensen in an email on election day.

The Water Warriors’ stated reason for kicking Voelz out of office was his stance on water rates, but the recall campaign was also an opportunity for residents to air other grievances. “Having been involved and listening to what was going on in the city and the direction the city was going, it wasn’t something I wanted to see,” said resident John Palmer, who was at Westminster City Hall on election day to interact with voters as they dropped off their ballots or went to vote in-person.

Recall proponents have also expressed frustration about housing development, government transparency, and Voelz’s appointment by the council when former City Councilor Emma Pinter vacated her seat in 2019 when she became an Adams County commissioner.

April Glandt, a voter who was at City Hall on election day, said she started supporting the recall because she was upset about water rates. But she also said that the recall movement came to represent something larger.   

“I see it as a message for Westminster residents not putting up with no transparency in the process,” Glandt said. “I think it has just shown them that the people are watching more than they think we are.”

Though the recall is over, the Water Warriors have solidified a political coalition that will last beyond July 20. The group has voiced support on its Facebook page for candidates running for election or reelection in November. A week before the recall election, in a promotional email to encourage supporters to vote, the Water Warriors wrote, “For the others – Remember November!”  

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