Clarification: Those with absentee ballots for Tuesday's recall election may leave their ballots at the Madison County Administration Building between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday. All absentee ballots must be returned to the administration office by 8 p.m., Tuesday. The absentee ballots cannot be left at the fire station.
SUGAR CITY – Mayor David Ogden and Councilman Brent Barrus will learn if they’ll keep their jobs with the city council following a recall vote that’s scheduled for Tuesday, March 12.
The recall resulted from concerns over development in Division Three of Old Farm Estates. Some residents have been worried that developers Ryan and Jeff Lerwill plan to add apartments, and that doing so would violate the city’s comprehensive plan.
The local controversy has caused a great division among the community with debates in city council meetings and on social media. Many remark that there are no winners and instead, various levels of losing.
Ogden says he recognizes the reasons behind the upcoming recall election.
“I understand why they want to do the recall, but I’m also hoping that the citizens will give me the chance to finish of the year of 2019,” he said.
Barrus urged residents to vote against the recall.
“(We) work well with people. Our town needs healing and forgiving, instead of more division and contention. They seek to silence many of you by removing Mayor Ogden and me from office,” he said.
Last fall, Sugar City resident Catherine Nielsen created a petition for the recall. In the petition, she said that the city failed to follow its comprehensive plan calling for a focus on single-family homes rather than apartments. The petition states that Ogden “sponsored government growth without commensurate increase in effectiveness.” It also claims that Barrus “supports the excessive high density development promoted by Mayor Ogden.”
Nielsen said that Ogden and Barrus have been unsympathetic to residents’ feelings and concerns.
“I resent the Mayor and Barrus treating us like little children who need to be reprimanded by parents. The Mayor and Barrus violated the comprehensive plan and pushed through their own agenda at the expense of residents of Sugar City. Whether or not we go by what the Lerwills do, the Mayor and Barrus need to be recalled for not following the comprehensive plan,” she said.
Laws were created to help cities do the right thing, Nielsen said.
“I’ve gotten to be kind of stickler about the public open meeting laws. We wouldn’t have to live with this, if the rules had been followed in the first place. It all goes back to that one thing: you start ignoring little points of the law and it just grows,” she said.
The Mayor said he knows residents worry about growth in Sugar City.
“I believe in what we’re doing, and I know there are some concerns from people who want Sugar City to remain a bedroom community,” he said. “I believe growth is inevitable, and we need to be smart in handling that growth. It would better to acknowledge it’s going to happen and do something about it rather than ignore the situation and say we don’t want to grow because you might not get the growth you want.”
Ogden says he trusts the city has the resources available to deal with growth.
“I believe that the city currently has the code sufficient to handle what’s going to eventually happen in Sugar City. I think we’re ready for it. We just have to enforce the code,” he said.
Ogden sent out a letter to residents last week, at his own cost, where he noted he had been described as uncaring about the opinions of others.
“They claim that I have manipulated the situation with Old Farm Estates, so that I could get my way. This could not be farther from the truth,” he wrote. “Not only have I never voted on the issue, I could not possibly manipulate the prior council who voted to assign those zones.”
Ogden said he cares deeply about Sugar City, and that the ongoing controversy over OFE has been constantly on his mind. He reminded residents of a previous letter he sent out detailing the history behind the OFS controversy.
“I would indicate an attempt to be transparent, and let you know what was happening,” he wrote.
Ogden noted that the ongoing lawsuits between the city, the Lerwills and the Citizens for the Rule of Law, have prevented the city from growing.
“What has happened is directly related to the rights of property owners, and what they want to do with their own properties. It is also about the right of government to control those uses,” he said. “The latest decision of District Judge Moeller would indicated that those in power, who make those decisions, must not be biased and have an obligation to consider all applications on their own merits, without prejudice.”
Ogden also wrote that Judge Jon Shinderling, who is temporarily replacing Moeller, ruled in favor of the Lerwills recently.
“(Shinderling made) the recusal permanent on Vaun Waddell. However, the temporary recusal on the part of Bruce King remains in effect, meaning possible further litigation and legal costs,” the Mayor wrote.
Ogden also reported that the city had agreed to a settlement with the Lerwills and King.
“This means that, if the city and the other parties fulfill their agreements, all of the litigation will stop, including the $9 million-dollar tort claim against the city. One of the agreements is that there will not be more than 540 multi-family units in Division Three. This is a significant concession, and would indicate that we are listening and trying to mitigate the impact of the subdivision,” the mayor wrote.
The settlement calls for amended zoning inside Davison Three. It also calls for the city to pay King’s attorney fees of $35,000. If Waddell signs off on the agreement, then King will receive an additional $5,000. Waddell has repeatedly said he won’t sign the agreement.
“In my personal opinion that looks like bribery – maybe it’s called something else. For Vaun Waddell to have to take the entire brunt of the legal expense is so reprehensible to me. He is the fall guy. If he does not sign it, they (Lerwills) will sue him for all legal expenses,” Nielsen said.
In a previous interview with The Standard Journal, Waddell said he declined to sign for various reasons.
“I refused to sign because I felt the settlement was unfair and because of my belief that exclusion from reimbursement was in retaliation for my opposition to the Mayor’s position in the lawsuit. I also believe the exclusion violates my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and rights to participate in public discourse on matters of public interest,” he said.
During the city’s recent council meeting, the city council met for an executive session specifically to learn about Waddell’s request to have the city pay his attorney fees. He has cited a state code requiring Idaho city governments to cover court costs for employees – such as city council members — who are sued while on the job. They made no decision upon returning to city chambers and instead tabled the discussion for later discussion.
Nielsen also complained that Barrus has often been the deciding vote on recent matters concerning OFE.
“Mr. Barrus has shown the he is willing to act as the city’s sole legislator,” she said. “Mayor Ogden devised a situation in which Barrus was the only member of the city council to vote on a measure,” she said.
With the recusal of King and Waddell, that left Barrus and Ball as the remaining council members to vote on OFE. Ball recused herself once and voted against it in a recent council meeting. This left Ogden to vote and also made him the decision maker on any OFS issues.
Barrus sent out his own press release urging residents to vote against the recall initiative.
“In our town that needs healing and forgiving, instead of more division and contention, a remnant from the Citizens for the Rule of Law are seeking to recall me because they do not want me to vote to represent citizens who disagree with them,” he wrote.
Barrus said that both he and Ogden had many years of experience that they can share while serving.
“(We) work well with people. We always seek (to follow) the U.S. and Idaho laws and our Sugar City Code. We desire to continue to serve and (to) protect our community,” he said. “With the recent settlement agreement signed by Mayor Ogden (representing the city) and Councilman Bruce King and the developers of Old Farm Estates, I am excited for the contention to end, and for Sugar City to move forward with prosperous years ahead. Even though the compromise isn’t exactly what I want, it is a wise choice, so I support it.”
In a separate interview with The Standard Journal, Barrus said that Nielsen’s petition was filled with bogus claims.
“I look at the reasons they had on the petition. They’re just so frivolous. There are no facts behind what they’re doing. If the people accept that and do recall me, I feel sorry for the people. They didn’t really investigate and come to city council and get informed on the issue. A lot don’t want to, and I understand that,” he said.
Barrus stated that pride pushed the creation of the petition.
“My hope is we can get this put behind a certain extent and go forward. Whether I’m in the city council — whatever happens – that we can go forward, put this behind us and continue to have a city that will work together be united. We can disagree, but we don’t have to be confrontational about it,” he said.
Nielsen said that she realizes that residents think she’s nitpicking at the council.
“People think I am some crazy woman sitting here spazzing over every little thing. The more I read, the more I look at the city council minutes and Planning and Zoning minutes, this should have not happened. We should have never been in this position,” she said.
Nielsen says that Ogden, Barrus and the Lerwills created the problem by not following the comprehensive plan.
“They should have made the appropriate chances to the comprehensive plan and put it out there for a public hearing for the people. Instead, the public hearing was a mute point. I don’t think they cared about this,” she said.
Nielsen says that she doesn’t have anything personal against Ogden and Barrus.
“Sometimes people think I’m an old lady with grudges. I don’t have any grudges against any of these people. They have a right to express their opinion. I have not called any names,” she said.
Nielsen said she feels for the Ogden and Barrus’ families and what they’ve gone through because of the ongoing OFE controversy.
“Am I guilty because I’ve stood up and said what I said? I feel bad for them. I know it’s been hard on their families, and it’s been hard on them. They made their own path in this. I think they need to be held accountable,” she said.
Nielsen said that the controversy has been tiring.
“It’s been hard on all of us. People have become a little bit of complacent. They’re tired of hearing about it. I get tired about it too, but there’s something within me to see this to the end. Whether we get the Mayor and Mr. Barrus recalled, I did what I needed to do in my position in the community,” she said.
Should Ogden and Barrus be recalled, it would be up to Waddell, the council’s president, to select a new mayor and councilperson. During previous meetings, Waddell has been adamant that he has no plans to run for mayor or to serve as mayor. Nielsen says she won’t consider running for mayor either as she feels she can do more good on her own in helping the city.
Barrus says that he’s enjoyed serving on the city council and that everyone should have that opportunity.
“I wish that everybody could serve in public service. I think everybody needs to — school board, city council, the PTA. I think it opens your eyes and gives you a great understanding about what’s happening in a city or school or any public service,” he said. “I really have appreciated the opportunity to serve. I enjoy it. You have to thick skin and have to be able to take the fire if it comes.”
Barrus said that he’ll accept whatever voters decide on Tuesday.
“You know, I keep telling my wife, ‘This is not about me. It’s not about my person or who I am. It’s about issues in the city,’” he said. “If I get to stay in, I’ll be really happy. If I get recalled, I’ll still be fine. I’ve tried to stand up for those issues. We’re in a tough situation, and we need to stand up for the issues.”
Just like Barrus, Ogden said he would be okay with however the recall election comes out.
“I think I’m resigned to whatever happens. If they want me to continue and finish the job, then that’s what I’ll do. If they don’t, I’ll accept whatever happens,” he said.
In Ogden’s letter, he asked residents to vote on Tuesday.
“This election might very well determine the path that Sugar City takes in the foreseeable future,” he said.
Voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 12, at the Sugar City Fire Station or voters can cast their vote via an absentee ballot at the Madison County Administration Building between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. All absentee ballots must be returned to the administration office. They cannot be left at the fire station. For more information, call the county clerk’s office at 208-359-6244.