Group sues Parachute over pot decision | PostIndependent.com

Group sues Parachute over pot decision

PARACHUTE — Town officials, business owners and residents vocally fired back Thursday night against the opposition movement that filed a lawsuit and paperwork to recall four trustees over an earlier decision to repeal the town's ban on marijuana establishments.

Since that decision in June, opponents and supporters have flooded the historically sparsely attended trustee meetings. In sharp contrast to those recent meetings, though, the majority of public comment came from people either supporting the decision directly or the trustees for their service on the board.

"If this continues several businesses will have to make drastic job cuts or close altogether," said Diana Lawrence, owner of Mama's Restaurant in Parachute.

Lawrence was one of several business owners who commented on the ongoing struggles local businesses are facing as the energy sector continues to slow operations. Personally, Lawrence has seen a 26 percent drop in her business, she said prior to thanking the trustees for their decision. "I support this because of what it means for the town's businesses."

Lawrence was not alone in her support for the board.

"I am very concerned that you would come in and want to curse this council because you don't agree with their decision," said Judy Beasley, former Parachute mayor.

The support expressed Thursday came after the citizen-initiated group Let the People Vote, which successfully petitioned to put the marijuana issue on the 2016 general election ballot, filed a lawsuit earlier this week, as well as signatures to recall four board members who voted to repeal the previous ban.

The group filed the signatures with the town Wednesday to recall Mayor Roy McClung, along with trustees Tim Olk, Tom Rugaard and John Loschke. It did not file to recall Mayor Pro-Tem Juanita Williams, who also voted to repeal the ban, because she is up for election in April, said Pam Jarrett, a Parachute resident who has led much of the opposition. The group plans on fielding a candidate to challenge Williams in April.

Town Manager Stuart McArthur confirmed Thursday that a lawsuit pertaining to the marijuana issue had been filed against the town, town board and the two marijuana businesses the board approved in September.

Jarrett, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the lawsuit was not personal, but focused on procedural issues. She would not go into detail about the lawsuit, but she referred to a previous letter to the editor published in The Citizen Telegram as much of the basis for the lawsuit.

"Our citizen group had hard evidence with four noncompliances with Ordinance 683 for each applicant," Jarrett wrote. The letter did not specifically detail the noncompliances; instead it referenced two marijuana application hearings in September, when the board approved the town's first two applications.

Among the compliance issues raised at the hearings, Jarrett argued the town did not comply with its own laws for zoning marijuana businesses. The marijuana ordinance passed by the town does specify zones where retail stores and cultivation facilities can operate.

Jeffrey Conklin, town attorney, said the lawsuit is currently being reviewed.

As for the recall efforts, the town has 15 days from Wednesday to verify the signatures, according to McArthur. If enough signatures are determined to be valid, the trustees will then have to set a date for an election. Per the town's charter, the election cannot be sooner than 60 days from the time a date is set.

McArthur said he was unaware of anything that would prohibit the board from setting the election in April, when a regular election is already planned. It would be more cost effective, he said, adding that the decision would ultimately be with the board of trustees. Jarrett said her understanding was the recall could happen during the regular April election and that she was not opposed to that.

The recall was on the minds of board members, who, in an unusual turn, addressed the crowd at the start at the meeting.

"For people to say that I don't care about the town is not only false, it's hurtful," McClung said while characterizing the lawsuit and recall effort as a threat.

"To me that is nothing but extortion at its finest," he said.

Echoing earlier statements, McClung and fellow board members pointed to the dismal fiscal situation facing the town, which continues to suffer slumping revenues from sales tax due to the slowdown in the energy sector.

Revenues from sales tax so far in 2015 are $162,297 less than the same time period in 2014 — a significant amount of money in a town that generated $1.053 million for all of 2014, according to town documents.

The board's responsibility is to keep the town solvent, not make moral decisions for its residents, Williams told the crowd. Affirming her love and dedication to the town, Williams said she intends on running for re-election in April, and challenged anyone who wants her position to "come get it."

Following repeal of the ban, McArthur reported a slightly sunnier economic outlook. Along with the roughly $37,500 for marijuana application fees, interest from other nonmarijuana businesses started trickling in.

Now, facing a lawsuit, potential recall of more than half the board, and a vote on the issue in 2016, all those calls from other businesses have stopped, McArthur said in an earlier interview.

"Would you be interested?" McArthur responded when asked to elaborate.

However, there is still interest from marijuana businesses. The board heard from two more applicants Thursday evening.

After public hearings, the board approved a retail license and manufacturing license for The Tumbleweed Dispensary, located at 150 S. Columbine Court. Both licenses were approved on a 3-2 vote. Trustees also approved a retail license for Buds LTD at 104 Cardinal Way.