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Payback time 

In El Paso County, if you're a Republican office-holder, you usually can relax until term limits push you out the door.

But not this time. While three Republican El Paso County commissioners up for re-election next year are quick to note their service and accomplishments when asked, three Republican hopefuls want them gone.

Why the rare primary challenges? Mainly because it's payback time for the term-limits issue.

Karen Magistrelli wants to unseat Sallie Clark in the western district. Auddie Cox is trying to oust Dennis Hisey from the southeastern district, and Phil McDonald wants to replace Amy Lathen out east.

Call it revenge aimed at the three commissioners for supporting tricky ballot language when they asked voters last year if commissioners should be limited to three, four-year terms instead of asking to extend the limit to three terms. A third term, by the way, equates to $350,000 in salary, plus extra retirement benefits.

Voters approved the extension by a 60-40 margin, but many later said they were confused and asked to revisit the measure. Commissioners obliged, but postponed it until 2012 — the same election at which the three commission seats will be on the ballot.

So as the next election cycle approaches, all three candidates who should be coasting to another term face opposition. It will be a first for Lathen, 43, appointed in January 2008 and elected without a primary opponent later that year. She's seeking a second term.

Both Clark, 51, and Hisey, 58, are seeking third terms authorized by the controversial ballot measure. (If they're re-elected, they'll be able to serve that third term, even if voters simultaneously roll back the limit to two terms.) Neither faced primary opposition in 2008, although both did when they first ran for open seats in 2004.

Still, whether the three challengers' message will land them on the June primary ballot (and, likely, into office) remains to be seen. The Feb. 7 caucuses, neighborhood meetings where elections often are won or lost based on which delegates to the county assembly are chosen that night, are less than three months away. Delegates at the March 17 assembly will decide who's on the June 26 primary ballot.

'A Taj Mahal'

The challengers are political novices who have little name recognition and, to date, no money.

Magistrelli, of Green Mountain Falls, runs a nonprofit that helps ex-prisoners reintegrate into society. Cox, an Air Force and Army veteran who worked 10 years for Lockheed Martin, now is retired. He ran against Hisey in 2004. McDonald, who briefly joined the Springs mayoral race earlier this year, runs a small business.

Magistrelli, 65, says Clark is too immersed in government to understand how citizens struggle. She says Clark recently prolonged her effort to get approval for her nonprofit's subdivision in Ute Pass. Clark says she opposes the project because it has one access point instead of two, which is bad for firefighting.

Magistrelli also criticizes commissioners for acquiring the nearly 300,000-square-foot Citizens Service Center, the former Intel building on Garden of the Gods Road, for $50 million. Magistrelli says too much money is being spent on "expensive furnishings" and remodeling contracts at the new center.

"We need to be careful we're not living in a Taj Mahal," she says.

Cox, 54, who lives near Widefield, alleges commissioners show favoritism when hiring contractors for county work. "I don't know if it's true or not, but there is a sense of cronyism," Cox says. He also questions whether specifications for contract work are written clearly enough.

"I have experience as a contracting officer with the Army," he says. "If you don't lock in requirements up front, it's a guarantee for overruns. From what I can tell, yes, there have been cost overruns."

McDonald, 41, who worked as a Springs police marshal for nine years and now runs a uniform shop, calls the Citizens Service Center "the big monstrosity."

"We've got five supposed Republicans in office, and that's not small government. That's large government when they voted to move up there," he says. "I would have looked at some of those offices being located in the southeast quadrant, where most constituents that use those facilities live. I think they created a monster up there. It's going to take a lot more money to make it workable."

But what really unites the challengers are three words: honesty, integrity and transparency. All of it is lacking, they say, as shown by the deceptive ballot wording, and more recently by new questions surrounding the county's lease-purchase of a building on Arrowswest Drive. (See story here.)

Asked what this election is really about, Magistrelli says, "There's one thing I know: I've lived with honesty and integrity all my life. I couldn't name all the bridges in the county, but I know integrity. I know honesty. I know transparency."

Cox on the same topic: "Integrity, honesty, respecting the will of the people and what they believe in. [Term limits] is the one [issue] that most people I talk to, say jumps right out at them."

And McDonald: "A lot of this goes back to the term-limit question. They've given the voters the runaround not getting it back on the ballot. No matter their political affiliation, [voters] can see this isn't right. That's enough in itself to unseat an incumbent."

Timing is everything

Clark, Hisey and Lathen say they responded when asked and placed the measure back on the ballot — but in 2012. An even-year election, their argument goes, is more comparable in voter turnout than an off-year election. Originally, they also reasoned that sitting out the 2011 election season would save the county $300,000, which ended up being an overstatement of about 100 percent.

"There was nothing that was not transparent," says Lathen. "And when people came forward and said they were confused, I was the one who voted to put it right back on the [2012] ballot."

Of course, people were already saying as much immediately after the November 2010 election — and at that point, Lathen told the Indy that she'd be willing to give them a second shot in 2011.

Regardless, commissioners agreed to a 2012 ballot measure on July 7, a few months after Lathen had filed her re-election paperwork. Less than a month later, Clark filed, and a week after that, Hisey filed.

They all say they work hard, listen to constituents and stand on their records.

Clark lists dozens of accomplishments, including snagging millions of dollars more for human services and helping create an agency to oversee the Fountain Creek watershed. Hisey says the county's reserve fund increased from 19 percent of budget in 2006 to 43 percent today. And Lathen says she's a good listener, having hosted eight town hall meetings this year alone.

While the challengers' campaigns are barely off the ground, Hisey has collected $1,400 so far, according to reports due Nov. 1, including donations from Broadmoor president Steve Bartolin and petroleum dealer Harlan Ochs.

Lathen's account contains $2,275, nearly half coming from tax service owner Tom Cline of Falcon.

Clark has $6,230, with $2,000 coming in September from Jim Johnson, owner of GE Johnson Construction Co., which got the $500,000-plus remodeling contract at the Citizens Service Center.

zubeck@csindy.com

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