The Recall Petition
After several years of growing discontent, citizens of La Plata County concluded the inevitable and appropriate action necessary to protect the rights of property owners, defend those who wish to prosper, and renew the public trust; an effort to recall County Comissioner Gwen Lachelt can and should be pursued. On January 25, 2018, a formal recall petition was filed by Michael Cugnini, Ty Hawkins, and David Peters. The exact complaint is as follows:
We need commissioners who represent our interests above their own, and who govern with accountability and transparency. Commissioner Lachelt has not done that. She has repeatedly leveraged our public office for her private gain by appearing before the U.S. Congress and other federal government entities to advocate and advance her and her employer’s political and policy agendas under the guise of her role as our commissioner. Her county commissioner meeting attendance record further demonstrates where her allegiance lies. Her 2017 attendance record was much lower than any other commissioner. We can and should expect our commissioners to act ethically and not to take actions that undermine the public’s trust in our local government. As a result of Commissioner Lachelt’s actions, the county has been required to investigate ethics complaints filed against her and to seek out ethics advice from at least one other county. For all of these reasons, and more, we believe Commissioner Lachelt has acted in ways that have undermined the public’s trust and is therefore deserving of answering to us-her constituents-through the question of a recall so that we can restore trust, accountability and transparency to that elected office.
Commissioner Lachelt has for a multitude of years been involved with, founded, financially supported, and served several non-profits, including but not limited to: BearSmart, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, and most recently-Western Leaders Network On their website: Western Leaders Network consists of local officials from tribes, counties, cities and towns, water districts, rural electric cooperatives, and other entities who support policies that advance conservation in the realm of water, energy, public lands, climate change and community resilience.
In 2017, WLN paid for Commissioner Lachelt to travel to Washington D.C. three times, to lobby for oil and gas regulations. However, Lachelt did not disclose that she was there in her role as executive director of WLN, but instead portrayed herself solely as a La Plata County Commissioner. She did not disclose the travel, nor did she seek permission to represent the county.
Many believe her role as a paid employee of WLN hinders her duties and responsibilities as a public servant. Colorado’s “Code of Ethics” for public officers and employees states: A local government official or employee shall not: “Perform an official act directly and substantially affecting to its economic benefit a business or other undertaking in which he either has a substantial financial interest or is engaged as counsel, consultant, representative or agent.”
When asked directly about potential conflicts of interest concerning whether the Board of County Commissioners should take a position on an anti-oil and gas lawsuit, Commissioner Lachelt failed to disclose that she had worked directly with a board member of WLN to prepare and file documents supporting the lawsuit. In fact, she stated she did not have any conflicts of interest. Lachelt voted to back the lawsuit, but the other two commissioners voted against it.
At a recent BOCC meeting, Commissioner Lachelt proposed spending public funds to join a progressive lobbying group called Counties and Commissioners Acting Together. She failed to disclose that one of the organization’s founders sits on the board of WLN, to which Lachelt reports in her role as WLN’s executive director.
Further, her WLN claims to advocate for and on behalf of eight different states. Many of Lachelt’s “conservation” policies kill industry here in La Plata County. This therefore raises the question as to where Commissioner Lachelt’s allegiances lie.
In 2017, Commissioner Lachelt’s attendance at Board of County Commissioner business meetings was only 83%. This record is by far the lowest of any acting commisioner. Several of her missed meetings coincided with her Washington D.C. lobbying trips.
Although Commissioner Lachelt claims to have never voted against oil and gas permits, she proposed a moratorium on oil and gas drilling shortly after being elected. When running for office, Lachelt claimed she did not support a ban on hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells. However, media reports indicate she did say she supported a ban on said drilling technique.
Oil and gas revenues for the county have sharply declined since Commissioner Lachelt has taken office, but rather than pursue a fiscally responsible set of actions in order to combat the shortfall, she has instead pushed for higher taxation, (and recently) increased fines and permits.
The State of Colorado levies a severance tax on oil and gas production and distributes that money back to the counties where the minerals originate. Since La Plata County is longer a viable producer, our severance tax distribution has fallen drastically. This major decline in oil and gas revenues has resulted in a sharp reduction of capital available for county services such as: road and bridge maintenance, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Department of Human Services.
In 2012, public schools in Colorado received 25% of their funding from oil and gas revenues. Commissioner Lachelt has supported policies that would end all drilling in the state. This disregard for a substantial portion of educational funding is unacceptable.
Lachelt claims to be a proponent of economic diversification, yet the only industry her policies will benefit from is tourism. Tourism is not sustainable.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Lachelt, the revised Land Use Code was presented. Her advocacy for this LUC dates back to when she first took office, listing it as one of her top priorities.
The citizens most likely to be most affected by this new LUC considered it to be egregious and a violation of their rights. The actions and tactics of Lachelt and other County Officials before and surrounding the hopeful adoption of this LUC are believed to be dishonest, negligent, coercive, wasteful, and self-serving.
Since the filing of the petition, Commissioner Lachelt has made several misleading, ludicrous, and slanderous accusations. She has claimed that instead of concerned citizens, the efforts being made by her constituents are the results of lobbyists, special interests, and even the Koch Brothers. This course of action is not representative of an elected leader deserving of the public trust.
Lachelt has also promised to use legal action in order to challenge the validity of signatures collected in the petition process, rather than adhere to the will of the people. The recall process is a just and legal avenue for citizens to pursue, outlined in the Colorado Constitution, not a subversion of democracy as she contends.
The good people of La Plata County deserve leaders who are mindful of their constituents’ needs and desires. They should be honest and transparent stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. Self-interest and ideology should never come before the people…