To: Alan Kosloff, Board of Directors, Membership,
and Interested Parties
From: Jim Lamont
Town of Vail Election - Lapse of Fair Campaign Practices.
Town of Vail officials may have acted in ways that potentially biased the
outcome of the municipal election. First, they delayed the publication of
notice for submission of pro and con statements regarding the proposed
conference center until just two days before the submission deadline. A pro
and con statement for each election issue is included in the official
information handbook (bluebook) given to all voters. Secondly, they may
have unnecessarily applied their emergency legislative powers to amend the
Town’s Home Rule (governing) Charter, again giving voters just two days to
submit their pro and con statements.
It has been the customary practice in past Town
of Vail elections, even though it is not legally required, to aggressively
encourage people to submit pro/con statements and participate in the
election process. They have done the same for charter amendments, even
though oddly enough, there is no requirement to publish pro/con statements
about proposed amendments. The Town has always held the position that the
encouragement of as much participation as possible is a laudable community
and consensus building effort. Why has this effort been curtailed?
In the run up to the election Town officials are also
responsible for the oversight and enforcement of fair campaign practices.
Once more, they may well have fallen short of fulfilling the intent of their
responsibilities. Certain political action committees embarked upon
telephone polling campaigns, which some consider highly biased and
misleading. These committees undertook their polling without first
identifying themselves to those who were being polled. Importantly, some of
the polling was conducted without first establishing themselves as a legally
recognized campaign committee.
The Association holds to the principle that voters should be
given adequate and sufficient time to consider all aspects of the election
so that the process is rigorously transparent. Two days prior notice and
the use of emergency legislative acts do not attain the spirit of statutory
regulations. The Town of Vail should be more attentive to conducting
its election responsibilities in a more timely and transparent manner. The
voter could now be left with an impression that government officials are
manipulating the publication, notification, and emergency legislative
processes for their own political purposes. Those who conduct such
practices count on the short memories of the voter, thus avoiding
accountability, and often continuing their dubious legacy from election to
indicate a need for greater oversight of fair campaign practices in local
elections. There may well be a need for reform of the Town’s Home Rule
Charter to improve the ethical standards of election practices in the Vail
community. An amendment, requiring
a mandatory two-week submission deadline for pro and con statements, as well
as notification by pollsters at the onset of a political poll stating the
names of its sponsors and a disclaimer that they represent a legally
sanctioned campaign committee, are perhaps appropriate solutions to
eliminate any appearance of the abuse of the election process.
Statements: the Town Council discussed the issue of publishing the
notice for the solicitation of the Conference Center pro/con statements
several weeks before the mandatory publication date. It was the desire of
the Council to have at least two weeks notice before the submission
deadline. Some Council members voiced concern about the need to have an
open and transparent election process, particularly because of the
controversy surrounding the proposal. Consequently, the Council set their
legislative calendar to adopt the language for the Conference Center ballot
question so that two weeks prior notice could be given. The Council adopted
the ballot question on schedule, but election officials did not publish the
notice as per the Council’s intent. The notice of publication was delayed
by two weeks, allowing only two days for the public to meet the submission
Charter Amendment: The Council approved by emergency resolution a
proposed amendment to the Town’s Home Rule Charter. The Charter
Amendment relieves the Vail municipal court from hearing zoning cases,
deferring the matter instead to the Eagle County District Court. The need
for the amendment was in response to a Colorado higher court ruling that
stipulated that if a municipality had not designated a higher court to hear
zoning disputes, then the municipal court is to hear zoning cases. Zoning
disputes in Vail have always been heard by the Eagle County District Court,
the Vail Municipal Court is not adequately staffed to handle zoning
disputes. The passage of ballot resolution as an emergency measure was
neither necessary nor appropriate, as the need for the Charter Amendment was
known well in advance of the filing deadline. There is the appearance that
the emergency method was used to avoid the possibilities of having others in
the community propose additional charter amendments to be considered on the
Notice Publication Meets the Letter of the Law: The two-day prior notice
for the submission of pro/con statements, meets the letter of the law, as
there is a caveat in the state statute intended for unusual or emergency
circumstances. It is arguable whether delaying the publication to the last
minute, in either circumstance, rises to the level of being unusual or an
emergency. The action can be portrayed as having the appearance of motives
that are less than well intentioned.
Polling and Campaign Committee Practices: Unsolicited telephone polls
and other sophisticated campaign techniques have become part of a trend to
“buy” local Vail elections. It is reported that proponents for the
conference center, many whom are down valley or non-resident business
interests, have amassed a large campaign chest to fund these efforts.
It is an open
question whether Vail voters will be impressed with the intrusion of these
outside interests in their election. Particularly, if the Vail electorate
and property owners will be held accountable to underwrite unforeseen
financial risk, while outside interests, who will directly benefit from
Vail’s gamble, will not.
efforts concern the viability of Council incumbents. A coalition of
disgruntled developers sponsored one poll, if not others. Some of the
developers are ones whose developments have been rejected or put on hold by
the Council within the past year.
Most polls do not
identify the campaign committees and the individuals that sponsor them. In
several instances, they are thinly disguised campaign gimmicks with highly
biased and misleading questions.
campaign committees and individuals, in some instances, were not in legal
compliance with statutory election requirements. Local elections often
ignore the higher ethical standards of “fair campaign practices” because
sources of contributions and expenditures are often reported well after the
election is over, if at all.
Employer Influence over Employee Voting: Certain
businesses, it is reported, are putting pressure on their employees to vote
for the Conference Center or particular Council candidates. While the
privacy of the voting booth protects employees from retribution from their
employer, the openness of debate in the workplace is intimidated by their
employer’s dictates. Election activists are similarly targeting
employee-housing facilities. Employees who are new to the community are
often unduly swayed by the bias of their employer, landlord, or election
Conclusion: There is a need to
reform the Vail election procedures into a more transparent process, one
that ensures the voter is aware, well in advance, of the intents and
purposes of those soliciting their vote. In an effort to rectify these
lapses by the Town, the Association is calling attention to these issues.
There needs to be an accounting by the Town of Vail why this happened.
Please forward onto appropriate
parties. Additional information regarding the Town of Vail election can be
found on the Association’s web site.