Our view: Free Francisco
There’s a lot of potential trouble, controversy and headaches brewing for the city of Craig’s government about one council candidate who earned a paltry 105 votes in a recent election.
The story is fairly well known around town, but here’s a short recap, or a recap as short as possible, for those who haven’t heard.
Craig resident Francisco Reina ran for a council seat in the April election.
He finished in last place, with a tiny fraction of votes (4.4 percent), in an election that resulted in the turnout of only a tiny fraction of registered voters (11.3 percent).
Reina spent $1,512 of his own money on his campaign. That, according to the Craig City Charter, is illegal, and more than three times the charter’s $500 limit.
The city attorney, who, like other legal minds, questions whether the city’s spending limit is constitutional, recommended Reina not be prosecuted. The Craig City Council, however, believed otherwise.
They unanimously voted to recommend the city attorney prosecute Reina, who is later cited with a Class A municipal violation. The possible penalties are a fine between $75 and $1,000 and as much as 180 days in jail.
If this odyssey sounds strange, you’re only part of the way through it.
One of those voting council members, Terry Carwile, may have, within the letter of the law, violated the charter as well, when it comes to campaign finance.
Carwile, it appears, didn’t follow the city’s procedure and failed to turn in spending receipts. His possible violation is limited to not turning in the receipts.
The city, to this point, has chosen not to prosecute Carwile.
Back to Reina.
His case has gained attention.
So much that it has shown up on the radar of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which has stated that it would represent Reina for free, if he chooses to fight the city violation in court.
The ACLU believes Reina’s right to free speech has been violated.
Reina has said he wants to pay a fine and move on. He said he wants the case to be done with.
Which brings us to now.
Which brings us to the utter mess this archaic, pointless, possibly unconstitutional, city provision has created, the Editorial Board contends.
Which brings us to what appears to be, on the surface at least, selective prosecution on the city’s part, with its choosing to prosecute Reina and not Carwile.
Which brings us to the unethical action by the City Council to recommend its attorney on a prosecution, rather than let him decide the merits of the case and make a legal decision on his own, without the council’s input.
Which brings us to the awful position the City Council has puts its municipal court judge in. The judge now must figure out whether the case against Reina is, as some attorneys have said, a violation of his constitutional rights, that the spending limit is unconstitutional and the violation against Reina be dismissed.
But there are important distinctions that must be made in this wild series of blunders.
First of all, please do not mistake Reina for a martyr. He isn’t. He knew the spending limit and went over it anyway. He isn’t Norma Rae in this case, but rather a guy who ran for office, broke an existing rule (legal or not) and got clubbed in the election.
Second, the Editorial Board isn’t recommending Carwile be prosecuted, just that Reina isn’t.
Carwile is a valued elected official and has served this community admirably in a number of ways for a number of years. He made a mistake on his campaign filing, but there was nothing malicious to it.
Third, appreciate that Reina doesn’t want to muddy the waters further and make an even bigger mess for the city. He could if he wanted to. He doesn’t.
What if, however, he changes his mind? What if he gets the ACLU involved?
Does the city think it has the legal horses for that? Maybe, but the Editorial Board isn’t so sure.
What this adds up to is this, at least for the City Council.
Do the simple, smart and right thing. Begin taking steps to get rid of that ridiculous spending provision.
If there’s even a question of whether it violates someone’s rights, or if its enforceable, then error on the side of caution and save yourself a heap of trouble so you can move onto something that matters, like continuing to improve the city.
The city can choose to continue acting as it has, hope that luck stays on its side and Reina and the ACLU stays mum and the stars continue to align and the heavens stay open and this plays out in its favor.
Or, it can do an about face, admit there was a mistake, let the case against Reina go, keep the ACLU out of Moffat County, save the city attorney and municipal court judge and a fellow council member some difficulties and take steps to toss the ordinance out.
Of course, the steps in the paragraph above would require being reasonable. And, as of now, that’s the one thing all parties involved in this tangled mess have shown a tendency to avoid.
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