This was supposed to be a sleepy off-year election cycle in the mountain city of Woodland Park, with mail ballots tucked away until next April's City Council election.
Then Wal-Mart came to town.
Last week, city manager Mark Fitzgerald decided to freeze $170,000 in planned spending from the city budget, citing a rash of possible special elections that could cost the city serious money, money that otherwise could be used to pay for professional memberships, city staff travel and a street sweeper.
Holding special elections costs money, and largely due to the recent decision allowing Wal-Mart to open a superstore in the city, Woodland Park is bracing for the possibility of three more special elections this year.
The Wal-Mart approval has deeply divided the city west of Colorado Springs, population 7,300, turning ordinary city politics into trench warfare.
In the first special election, held on May 3, voters resoundingly defeated a six-month moratorium on big-box stores. The moratorium idea lost momentum after the Woodland Park City Council approved Wal-Mart, said Dave Paraday of Citizens for Responsible Growth, the group that filed petitions for both the moratorium and the overturning of Council's Wal-Mart decision.
Paraday called the spending freeze a "scare tactic," designed to make citizens groups look bad so voters won't sign his and other groups' petitions.
"Mark Fitzgerald is trying to hold a gun to their head," he said.
Fitzgerald denied he was doing any such thing.
"I will do what I think is necessary," he said, referring to the need to keep reins over the budget. Each election costs $14,000, he said, but costs quickly escalate due to legal wrangling. He said the city has already spent more than $50,000 on the first ballot showdown.
Paraday is confident his group collected enough signatures on its second petition, which likely will force another special ballot, Wal-Mart showdown in September or November.
The city has already received a third petition to repeal the city's grocery tax, a move Fitzgerald said would cripple the city's finances.
Other potential special elections could involve recalling the city's elected officials and allowing the city to charge a fee for special elections if the ballot item fails.
With all the sound and fury over Wal-Mart still going strong, Woodland Park may need to look to an election year for peace and quiet.
-- Dan Wilcock
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