Recall petition filed

Raftopoulos, Hampton targeted for financial mismanagement

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Three Craig residents officially filed petitions to recall two Moffat County commissioners early Wed-nesday morning.

George Lewis, Wanda Blake and Jim Hixson want to remove Les Hampton and Marianna Raftopoulos from office. Petition language alleges the commissioners misappropriated funds designated for the Public Safety Center, which caused an increase in debt on the facility.

The petition also alleges that Raftopoulos and Hampton seem, "oblivious to complicity in the creation of the present financial crisis and have not demonstrated an ability to relieve this grave situation."

Lewis said he backed the recall effort because the county's taxpayers "can't afford the commissioners."

"This county is broke," he said. "I think with what's happening, the light has been seen."

Lewis declined to give specific examples to support his claim of the commissioners' financial irresponsibility.

County commissioners cut more than $1.6 million from the county's general fund in the last eight months to balance budgets for this year and last year.

Raftopoulos said every penny of county funds has been well spent on public programs.

"There is no bankruptcy in the county, all those are false statements," she said. "I would do nothing in this world to harm Moffat County. Every item can be accounted for, which we did in public process."

The county's general fund balance is currently at $5.1 million, at its historically lowest time of the year before taxes are collected. That number reflects a half-million dollar increase over the fund balance last February, Raftopoulos said.

Hampton declined to comment on the recall petition, but said he asked County Attorney Kathleen Taylor to look into its legality. If necessary, Hampton said he would solicit personal legal advice.

Raftopoulos said the recall effort is a personal attack from a core group of citizens who seek her political demise.

Jim Hixson lost in the county's 2000 primary election to Raftopoulos, who ran as an incumbent. Hixson received 816 votes and Raftopoulos 987.

But Hixson said the recall campaign isn't a personal vendetta over losing the 2000 race.

"That's what everybody can say but it's not true," Hixson said. "I want to see the county save money. Their next step is raising taxes. Every day they're spending more money."

Hixson also said he hoped the recall effort would limit Hampton's chances of getting re-elected.

Hampton, who is finishing out his first term started in 2000, announced his bid recently to run for reelection.

Raftopoulos, who has served as a commissioner since 1996, cannot run again because of term limits.

Recall campaigners have up to 60 days to gather signatures, upon approval of the petition by County Clerk Elaine Sullivan.

Petitioners will have to gather 972 signatures from registered Moffat County voters to force a new vote for Raftopoulos' seat. They need 1,306 signatures from the county's registered voters to begin the process to challenge Hampton.

County election officials have to call an election within about three months of receiving the petitions and verifying the names, said Deputy Clerk Lila Herod.

That may place the recall election sometime in late July or within days of the August 10 primary election. A special election may cost the county up to $20,000, funds which haven't been budgeted through the Clerk and Recorder's Office, she said.

"This is very unusual," Herod said of running a recall election so near the primary election.

Recall campaigners have to present their choice of candidates for the commissioner seats, but Lewis said the committee isn't ready to announce those names yet.

If elected, a recall candidate would only serve until the November election unless the candidate also ran and won the commissioner seat in the primary election.

Recall campaigners aren't required to pay fees for the effort.

Lewis understood that a recall election may cost the county $10,000, but considered the cost a "drop in the bucket" compared to what he sees as out-of-control spending.

Blake said she is tired of the commissioners "overspending money" but refused to comment on the $10,000 price tag for a recall election.

Rumors surfaced about a group of residents launching a similar recall campaign in January, but no petitions were filed. Another recall attempt started last February by a group called Concerned Citizens for Moffat County, founded by Stan Hathhorn and his wife Lolly. That group never filed a petition.

Hatthorn couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday for questions about his involvement in the current recall campaign.

The only other recall campaign on county records involved county commissioners Ora Harris and Don Beckett in 1978. The two were successfully recalled but both had two or three years left in their terms.

Harris and Beckett were replaced by commissioners Thomas LeFevre and Albert Camilletti.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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