SUGAR CITY – Petitions to recall Mayor David Ogden and appointed Councilman Brent Barrus to Sugar City officials are being circulated in the city.
Catherine H. Nielson presented the petition to Sugar City Clerk Wendy McLaughlin last week. In turn, the city filed the petition with the Madison County Courthouse.
According to Madison County Election Clerk Brenda Stoor, the state requires that 20 people sign the initial petition to get it recorded with the county. Nielson gathered that amount of signatures for both recalls against Ogden and Barrus.
While Nielson got 20 residents to sign the petition, state law requires she still get 20 percent or 167 signatures of eligible Sugar City voters to allow for what will be a special election. The Standard Journal twice attempted to contact Nielson, but messages were not immediately returned.
The group has just over two months to get the additional signatures it needs for the special election, Stoor said.
“The whole process has to be gathered within the next 75 days,” Stoor said.
In addition, it’s too late to add the recall vote to the upcoming November election.
“The first we could hold a special election would be in March,” she said.
In the meantime, Stoor is researching laws on recall elections, as there hasn’t been one held in Madison County in at least 13 years. Stoor wasn’t sure what the cost would be or who would pay for it.
“It will be the first recall election in quite a while. I don’t know what all the rules are right now. I’m looking into things,” she said.
The petition against Ogden states that he’s liked as a neighbor but not as a mayor. They claim that Ogden “responded contemptuously” whenever residents approached him with their concerns. They also accuse him of sponsoring government growth without “commensurate increase in effectiveness.”
Part of the petition also accuses Ogden of prolonging legal action in an effort to get a Petition for Review dismissed involving the Old Farm Estate.
Among other grievances, the petition suggests that Ogden increased legal expenses for the city and supported the “disenfranchisement of citizens by having their elected representatives silenced.”
Earlier this year, Seventh District Judge Greg Moeller banned two of the city’s Councilmen, Bruce King and Vaun Waddell, from voting on anything regarding Old Farm Estates. Waddell is a member of the Citizens for the Rule of Law that sued the city over allowing Division Three of the estates being rezoned to Multi-Use. Such means that more apartment complexes would be allowed. Shortly after, fears arose that the change to Multi-Use would mean turning that section of Sugar City into one huge apartment complex.
King’s wife, Elaine, also serves with the citizens group. Moeller recently awarded $25,000 to the group to cover various attorneys’ fees. In his decision, Moeller noted that Bruce King and Waddell had the potential to receive economic benefits from the Citizens for the Rule of law thus making for a conflict of interest in voting with the city council.
Ogden said he was disappointed about the petition but declined to go into specifics on what the petition claimed.
“I’m saddened that we have to resort to this. I’m just saddened they feel that we haven’t done a good enough job for the city, and that they would have to resort to this,” he said.
Ogden has repeatedly said that city officials have tried and failed to come up with a compromise between the city the Citizens for the Rule of Law.
“Like I told you, the city, myself and the attorneys have tried to get both sides of this issue together to resolve it, and it has not worked. It’s in the courts. It’s just a sad thing that we have to resort to these kinds of things to get anything done,” he said.
The petition also complains that Barrus was the only deciding vote on the recent decision to hold the now cancelled public hearing regarding Old Farms Estate scheduled for Thursday. Moeller recently ordered that that meeting be postponed until after September 19 when he makes a decision on whether Bruce King can vote on any more Old Farm Estate decisions.
During that recent city council meeting, Councilwoman Joy Ball declined to vote after reporting she had received a subpoena from the Lerwill brothers’ attorney. She recently went to court over the matter where attorneys questioned Ball about Old Farm Estates. Ball declined to say what she was asked while in court. It wasn’t known if she is now allowed to vote on any future such decisions, and Ball declined to speak with the Standard Journal about the case.
Petition organizers claim that Ogden meant to make Barrus the only councilmember to vote on the decision.
“Mr. Barrus has shown that he is willing to act as the city’s sole legislator. Mayor Ogden devised situations in which Mr. Barrus was the only member of city council to vote on a measure,” states the petition. “In these situations, Mayor Ogden called a motion to vote without a second, knowing that Mr. Barrus would be the only councilman voting. Mr. Barrus presented the motions and cast the only vote on them.”
During Sugar City’s recent council meeting, Ball voluntarily declined to vote leaving Barrus, by default, the only council member eligible to cast the one and only deciding vote on holding the now cancelled meeting. Barrus voted in favor of doing so. Should the courts deny Ball the right to vote and continue to ban Bruce King from voting on Old Farm Estate decisions, Barrus would again be the only councilperson allowed to decide on future Old Farm Estate decisions.
A second public hearing will be held to decide whether Old Farm Estate Division Three zone be changed to Multi-use. Moeller ordered the city to hold a second public hearing after it failed to audibly record the meeting on May 25, 2017. The state requires that city meeting where a decision like a zoning change has been made be recorded. Written notes are not acceptable. Moeller ordered the second meeting held but ordered the city to postpone the meeting until he makes his decision regarding Bruce King.
The petition notes that Barrus was appointed to serve on the city council, and that at one point he was a member of the city’s Design Review Board. Such boards, as the name implies, approves designs on buildings later sending their recommendations to the city’s Planning and Zoning Board. Barrus says he is no longer a member of the Design Review Board and hasn’t been for some time. The petition also accuses Barrus of attending mayor’s weekly staff meetings where he receives information “ex parte which he does not report to the council.” Barrus denied the accusations.
While Barrus is disappointed with the petition, he says that he’s not angry. Barrus says he realizes that both sides are trying to help the city, not hurt it.
“I’m not down in the dumps. I’m an optimistic individual trying to do my best — what happens, happens. Whatever happens, we’ll work with it,” he said.
The controversy over Old Farm Estates started about two years ago when the Lerwill brothers asked that Section Three be changed to Multi-use.It all began with the Lerwill brothers purchasing the Old Farm Estates. Shortly after, they started developing the property into various divisions. Numerous single-family homes have been built on the property.
Plot point one starts with the Lerwills asking the city to change Division Three into a Multi-use zone after which residents began complaining about excess growth and apartments. Plot point two started with the Citizens for the Rule of Law suing the city over the Division Three zone change. Shortly after, the Lerwill brothers also filed suit against the city asking that Bruce King and Waddell not be allowed to vote. In the meantime, and as mentioned, the Lerwill attorneys subpoenaed Ball, and King returned to court asking he be allowed to vote on Old Farm Estates’ decisions. Plot point three begins with the petition to recall Ogden and Barrus from office.
How the controversy resolves is anybody’s guess. For now, the city plans to hold its bi-monthly council meeting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, at city hall. The Old Farm Estate situation will not be on the agenda unless residents opt to talk about it during the short public comment period held prior to each meeting.
City officials encouraged residents to attend the meeting. For more information, call Sugar City Hall at 208-356-7561.
Editor’s Note: Additional photos of the recall petition of Sugar City Mayor David Ogden and Councilman Brent Barrus can be found in the photos above.