FREMONT COUNTY – Voters in the small town of Williamsburg will decide this November whether to recall two of their Town Trustees. A fellow board member and a former board member are accusing them of embezzlement, among other misdeeds.
The embezzlement accusation centers around a public vote by the board to vacate an alley owned by the town in which the public land was then given to the neighboring property owners.
Trustee Forrest Borre, who is targeted in the recall, explained that the alley exited primarily on a 100-year-old parcel map.
“It was a dead-end alley, we hardly knew it existed,” he said.
There has been a modest housing boom in this historic mining town located a 5-minute drive south of Florence. Thus far in 2018, nine building permits for new houses have been requested, triple the number from the year before.
Borre explained that a property owner who built a new home last year on lots that border the vacated alley would have been unable to do without action by the Trustees because their land lacked the space for mandatory setbacks to install a septic system. There is no wastewater utility in Williamsburg. All of the homes here have septic systems.
Trustee Eva Mares is one of the members of the recall campaign. She said a glaring problem with the vacated land decision is that Mayor Jerry Farringer signed the document, even though he was still mayor-elect at the time and hadn’t officially been sworn into office.
“I asked what is this for, and Jerry said, I don’t know,” Mares recalled. “Lucinda said, I just hurried up with it so I could get it done after this meeting.”
Lucinda Ricotta is the Town Clerk and is married to Trustee Steve Ricotta. They were the subject of a complaint filed with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission over the vacated alley decision. Steve is a member of the Brotherhood of the 74 motorcycle club which owns lots that also received land when the alley was vacated.
The Commissioners determined that the complaint against the Ricotta’s was not frivolous. However, they have not yet issued an opinion on the matter. That complaint was filed by Mares and fellow recall campaign member Stephen Harrison, a former Town Trustee.
Mares said the motorcycle club built their clubhouse in the public right of way prior to the town vacating the land. Steve Ricotta disputes that the clubhouse was built anywhere near the right of way.
Even though Ricotta is the seeming beneficiary of Mares embezzlement allegation, he is not targeted in her recall. Instead, she only circulated petitions against Mayor Farringer, Trustee Borre and Trustee Robert Busetti.
Mrs. Ricotta deemed the petition against Farringer to be insufficient because it failed to reach the requisite 90 signatures. Mares is challenging Ricotta’s sufficiency decision in district court.
Busetti said the various lawsuits and complaints lodged by Harrison and Mares have cost the town thousands of dollars in recent years.
“They’ve probably spent somewhere between $,7,000 to $8,000 of the town’s money on these lawsuits that the town had to pay for and they walk away with a smile on their face,” he said.
Trustee Borre said the accusations in the recall petition are flat-out falsehoods. eH thinks he’s being targeted over jealousy.
In December 2015, the board adopted new term limits which staggered election cycles so that only three of the six trustees would be elected in a given cycle. Since all six seats were up for re-election in 2016, the board decided to award 4-year terms to the highest vote winners and 2-year terms to the lowest.
Borre and Busetti won 4 -year terms. Mares and Ricotta won 2 -year terms.
“I keep thinking, how would it be to have a recall and say, ‘they have 4-year terms and we think they don’t,'” he said. “If that were the only argument, why bother.”
The recall question was not ready in time for the Fremont County Clerk and Recorder to include it in the 2018 coordinated election. Instead, the Town Clerk Ricotta will print and mail the recall ballots to voters to be counted on Election Day November 6.
NOTE: An earlier broadcast of this story inaccurately stated that the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission had admonished Town Clerk Lucinda Ricotta. The Commission has not yet issued an opinion on the complaint.