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Four fire board members retained in contentious recall election

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Officials were targeted for recall over decision to construct training building

By Sandy Barnes

Evergreen residents overwhelmingly voted to retain four fire district board members in a contentious recall election spurred by the board’s decision to erect a fire-training building in Bergen Park.

Approximately 6,500 voters responded “no” to the question on mail-in ballots asking if board members George Kling, Charles Simons, Jeff DeDisse and David Christensen should be recalled, according to results posted April 23.

Challengers Dan Koller, Paul Peil, Barry Pier and Jodi Kesten received more than 1,300 votes each in the special election, in which nearly 8,000 residents participated.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” Pier said of the election outcome. “I think we did very well, in spite of the things we had against us. I still think we had a strong showing.”

Both Pier and Koller said the number of votes that they and the other challengers received is significant, and indicative of many residents’ concerns with management of the Evergreen Fire Protection District.

“We felt that there is a mandate for us to continue our efforts,” Pier said.

“I’m glad it’s over,” DeDisse said about the election. “I think the citizens have spoken.”

Kling and Simons expressed similar sentiments about the outcome of the campaign waged by the no-recall committee supporting the fire board members.

“Maybe some good will come out of it,” Simons remarked. “We picked up some good ideas.”

The April 23 election climaxed a contentious campaign in which the challengers railed against the decision to build the training facility with live burn capability near homes and next to a school. Opponents also criticized the incumbent board for a variety of other issues, including the department’s response times.

“It would be good for the board to look at these concerns and take them seriously,” Koller said.

Koller congratulated the fire board members on their victory in a contest he characterized as a “David-and-Goliath” scenario.

Both he and Pier said that the fire board members had strong support from volunteer firefighters who campaigned in their behalf.

“They certainly had strength in numbers,” said Pier.

“I think the turnout was super,” said Simons. “We had a lot of people working.”

Simons’ daughter Michelle Parker led the no-recall campaign with its “Save Evergreen Fire/Rescue” slogan.

“She put a ton of effort into it,” said Simons.

“This has been a giant team effort,” Parker said while discussing her role in the campaign. “The support has been humbling and overwhelming.”

Parker said that more than 20 people worked with her on the no-recall committee, which received approximately $10,000 in donations and another $8,000 in in-kind contributions.

“This is a great town,” she said.

More than 100 Evergreen businesses also supported the no-recall effort “in some sort of monetary fashion,” Parker said.

Firefighters went to businesses asking for support, she said. The volunteers also spent time holding signs at intersections and other strategic places during the campaign.

Zuni Sign Company donated graphic design for the signs and banners that were placed throughout the community, Parker said.

“It was so important to have visibility with the signage,” she said.

Parker also said that the number of residents who participated in the election was “spectacular.”

“Almost 8,000 people: That’s a lot of passion,” she said.

To get their message to voters and encourage participation, Parker said her committee campaigned through e-mails and on Facebook.

The no-recall committee also placed advertisements in local publications, including the Canyon Courier and Mountain Connection, she said.

“There were so many issues,” Parker said of the campaign.

Firefighters need adequate training, as well as community support, she said. If the fire district were to convert to paid firefighters, there is the potential for a tax increase that would be three times greater than the current levy, she said.

Another major issue was the recall election itself, Parker remarked.

“We just had an election, and we have another next year,” she said.

In 2013, the terms of board members Simons, DeDisse and Christensen expire, she noted.

“We’re going to see if we can change the burden and threshold of (only) 300 signatures required for a recall,” said Parker.

When asked about the cost of the recall election, which was estimated at $170,000, Koller and other challengers said they thought it was necessary because of the issues.

According to current rules, the fire district is responsible for paying for the election, which a designated election official manages.

Micki Wadhams, a paralegal with the Denver firm of Collins, Cockrel and Cole, was appointed to handle this recall election. She said the exact cost will not be tallied for a least another month.

The Colorado secretary of state’s office oversees financial expenditures for special elections. Information about expenditures for the recall and no-recall committees will not be available until the final filing later this month.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.