Election 2017

Petitioners, circulators, notaries questioned in hearing

Second day of administrative hearing on Lakewood ballot initiative lasts six hours


In a six hour administrative hearing on Sept. 7, lawyers both for and against the validity of an initiative to place a 1 percent annual limit on residential growth and return decisions on large multifamily projects to city council took testimony from petitioners, circulators and notaries, about the process leading to getting enough signatures to put the initiative before city council or on the ballot in November.

Lakewood's City Clerk, Margy Greer, will take written final statements by 5 p.m. on Sept. 11 from Dennis Polk, counselor for Steve Dorman, who filed a challenge against the initiative, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, counselor for Cathy Ketner, board member of Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships, a nonprofit that created the ordinance, and Anita Springsteen, a co-petitioner with Kentner and Heather Wenger, all of whom are board members on the Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships group.

Greer will issue a written verdict to all three parties within five days of receiving the final statements.

About 44 people gave testimony during the hearing.

The Lakewood Neighborhood Partnerships submitted 6,192 signatures of registered Lakewood voters, which was found to be enough to move it forward, either to approval by city council or to the ballot in November.

Polk attempted to establish that those who collected the signatures incorrectly attested to following the city's election rules.
He asked questions about how circulators and petitioners got involved in gathering the signatures, where they submitted their signatures to notaries, and how they answered questions from signees.

His point was that the bulk of the circulators' affidavits were not signed and submitted under oath. Since the affidavits did not include language stating the circulators took an oath when they turned in the signatures, those petitions and signatures are not valid.

"An affidavit is a statement made under oath, and none of this was under oath," Polk said. "Show me on that affidavit anywhere where the word sworn is used."
Countering that argument, Gessler argued that the act of signing was an affirmation of the validity of signatures, and that not making customers swear an official oath is common practice for notaries.

"Notaries went over everything to make sure you agree with what signed," Gessler said during one cross-examination. "The process is to make sure the signee know what singing, and that's the same process you would expect from going to a notary."
Dorman, vice chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, filed the challenge because he said people who signed the petition weren't made fully aware of the contents of the measure.

In his questioning, Polk contrasted the full 14 page initiative with the two sentence summary that was on most petitions, and said most signees weren't aware of what they were signing, since they didn't read the full 14 pages.

"I didn't get adequate training, so I answered questions people had to the best of my knowledge," said Randal McFarland, one paid circulator.
Through his questioning, Gessler found that most signees were already aware of the initiative before being asked to sign a petition, and people were eager to sign on.

"Every time I said I have the petition, everyone knew what I meant," said circulator Edie Bryant. "I've never seen a petition like this one, where people came and asked me, and wanted to sign."

In her questioning, Springsteen voiced concern about the effect this challenge would have on future citizen-driven initiatives, the burden placed on residents simply trying to help the city, and amounted to an attack on free speech.

"The process of issuing all these petitions has a chilling effect on democratic process," she said. "This proceeding is a fishing expedition, when the real issue is the city made a mistake in issuing this type of affidavit form to be signed."

It was unclear at press time whether the court challenge would create a timing problem for the city to place the ordinance on the November ballot, but Gessler and his clients said they were very cognizant of the time crunch, and eager to get the issue resolved as soon as possible.

Either side will be able to appeal the city clerk's decision to district court once it is made.

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