Council candidate: Chamber forum date harms voters
Citizen Telegram Editor
There may be at least one empty chair for the Rifle City Council candidates at an upcoming forum.
Dirk Myers, one of seven candidates seeking four council seats in the Sept. 10 municipal election, recently sent an email to the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce staff and board members, objecting to the date of the forum, one day after the city is scheduled to mail ballots to voters.
The city clerk’s office must mail out ballots between Aug. 19-23, so Myers said it was possible voters will start receiving them on the day of the forum, Tuesday, Aug. 20.
In his email, Myers wrote “If ONE ballot is marked and sent back before the forum, that voter is deprived of the opportunity to hear the candidates voice their opinions.”
In an interview, Myers said the date goes against tradition.
“It’s always been held in the second week of August, before the ballots go out,” he explained. “They started to plan this months ago, and I find it hard to believe they didn’t know what the election calendar said or they could have found out.”
Chamber President and CEO Frank Ladd said the date for the forum is reserved at Rifle City Hall early in the year, as soon as they know when the election will be held.
“We thought we had a good date,” he said. “There’s the [Garfield County Fair] next week and a lot of stuff happening. We think it makes sense to hold it three weeks prior to the election.”
In his email, Myers called the “excuses” from Ladd “mind numbing.”
“None of their excuses hold any water with me,” Myers said.
Ladd said this is the third election forum he has helped organize, and no one had brought up any issues with previous dates.
Myers also noted voters will not only decide the council winners, but “critical” ballot selections that affect the future of Rifle for many years to come.
“I hold the chamber staff and chamber board accountable for this egregious act of silencing the candidate’s views,” Myers wrote. “Your conduct in allowing this is nothing less than bypassing the principles of good citizenship and fair play.”
Myers said he had “very serious doubts” he would participate in the forum, and planned to look into working with other organizations and media outlets to hold other forums “before the mail ballots go out.”
Other council candidates contacted by The Citizen Telegram for reaction did not agree with Myers’ concerns.
Barbara Clifton said she did not agree that the date “is an injustice to the candidates and the voters in this election.”
“As I understand it, mail ballots will be sent out from Aug. 19-23,” she wrote in an email. “These ballots are not due until election day, Sept. 10. The chamber forum is held … more than 20 days before the ballots are due. Rifle voters who receive their ballots on Aug. 20 and who are interested in hearing from the candidates at the forum are certainly wise enough to wait one day before turning in their ballots.”
Wilma Paddock said she did not share Myers’ concern about the timing of the event.
“I just don’t think it will be an issue for any voter that votes the minute they receive their ballot,” she wrote in her email.
Steven Fuller wrote that while he was pleased to have a conversation about voting, “I would prefer to focus on the low number of residents who turn out for municipal elections. That said, I will be participating in the debate.”
Sara Brainard replied only that she planned to attend the forum. Clifton and Paddock also said they would participate in the forum.
The remaining candidates — Hans Parkinson and Randy Winkler — did not respond to the Telegram’s emailed questions.
City Clerk Lisa Cain said she planned to start sending out approximately 4,000 ballots to active and inactive registered voters so they should arrive after Aug. 20. The total number of ballots is higher than 2011’s total of around 2,600 ballots, she added, because the state Legislature passed a bill requiring ballots also be sent to inactive voters — those registered but who have not voted in the last general election.
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