Petition protest 

Complaints allege that D-11 recall signers were 'misled'

click to enlarge Board member Eric Christen - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Board member Eric Christen

As Monday evening closed a 15-day protest period, eight complaints had been filed against the District 11 recall effort with the longest coming from school board member Eric Christen himself.

Christen, who turned in his protest just 13 minutes before deadline, is targeted for a December recall with fellow D-11 board member Sandy Shakes. His protest touches on a theme that runs through several other complaints: that the "End the D-11 Chaos" group must have lied to petition signers.

Along with photocopied campaign materials, a recent Gazette profile and a complimentary letter to the editor published in the same newspaper, Christen's protest includes a two-page essay, in which he claims "the signatures gathered to date are based on fraud and lies."

At a personal press conference held Tuesday afternoon, Christen said he would not step down, as recall organizers have asked him to on numerous occasions.

"They have declared warfare on the best interests of our students," he said.

Toby Norton, who has filed four protests against the recall, alleged in one complaint that 22 petition circulators had "misled people into signing." Norton, who campaigned for board members Christen, Shakes, Willie Breazell and Craig Cox in 2003, is a "parent advocate" in Steve Schuck's Parents Challenge group, a Colorado Springs-based organization that provides private school dollars to struggling families. Schuck largely funded the campaigns of the four board members.

"I do what I can to keep my champions in office," says Norton, who adds that she might run to replace Christen or Shakes should the recall prevail. "I know that [my protests] are an exercise in futility. It's all I can do."

Two of her protests, along with another complaint filed by Dave Cavanagh, received a hearing on Wednesday; a decision had not been reached by the Independent's deadline. Cavanagh is a board member of Citizens Education Network, an organization that hosts local education debates. He claims that a petition circulator at a supermarket was spreading falsehoods about Christen and Shakes.

"He started telling me this weird stuff, like lobbyists in D.C. brought them in to destroy public education," he says.

One protest, filed by petition circulator Herbert Eugene Ruth, already has been thrown out; at last Friday's hearing, he could not substantiate several similar claims.

County elections manager Liz Olson says these individuals should bring the blameworthy circulators into their protest hearings. But, she adds, "no matter what [the petition circulators] tell someone, it is up to that person to understand what they are signing."

Recall organizer Ann Oatman-Gardner agrees.

"People are supposed to actually read the petition before they sign," she says. "It is difficult for me to see why someone would say that someone else was misled."

County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, who presides over the hearings, says that in order for a petition to be thrown out, it has to be deemed "improper."

A protester would have to prove invalid more than 1,400 of the signatures gathered against Christen and more than 1,000 of the signatures against Shakes in order to stop the recall effort.

"That is a lot of signatures that would have to be invalidated," says Balink. "It is hard to think that there are that many out there, but we don't know."

One other individual, Herb Weinberg, filed a protest, saying that a recall would "nullify" the election that brought Christen and Shakes to power. His protest is scheduled to go through a hearing with Norton's second two protests and Christen's complaint next Wednesday morning, Sept. 20.



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