VAIL VILLAGE HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC.

President - Alan Kosloff     Secretary - Ellie Caulkins    Treasurer - Patrick Gramm    Executive Director  -  Jim Lamont

Directors:  Judith Berkowitz  -  Dolph Bridgewater  -  Richard Conn  -  Bob Galvin  -  Ron Langley

Gene Mercy  -  Bill Morton  -  Trygve Myhren  -  Gretta Parks

 

To:        Alan Kosloff, Board of Directors, Membership, and Interested Parties

From:    Jim Lamont

Date:     October 20, 2005

RE:        Town of Vail Election - Lapse of Fair Campaign Practices. 

 

Introduction: 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 election.

 

These lapses 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.

 

Pro/Con 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 deadline. 

 

Home Rule 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 ballot.

 

Last Minute 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. 

 

Telephone 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.

 

Other polling 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. 

The sponsoring 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 activist. 

 

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.