A hearing was held Thursday to protest the petition to recall Montezuma-Cortez school board member Lance McDaniel.
The validity of the recall petition has been formally challenged, forcing a protest hearing, said Mike Green, a local attorney serving as the hearing officer. He heard arguments for and against the petition’s validity, and will rule Monday whether it can move forward.
The recall petition obtained the 1,126 valid signatures required, according to Montezuma County Clerk and Recorder Kim Percell, and is in the protest stage.
About 50 people attended the proceeding at the Montezuma County commissioners room – half appearing on a Zoom meeting link, half in person. Capacity was limited to 25% per state pandemic orders.
The recall petition’s statement of grounds, circulated by Malynda Nelsen and Deborah McHenry, allege McDaniel “has shown a lack of leadership” and that his opinions posted on Facebook are inappropriate for the “many children” who petitioners claim follow the page. They cite as inappropriate his Facebook post, “Damn Veterans won again,” in reference to the naming of a local park, and his comment that “I’m antifa” (or “anti-fascist”), an umbrella description for far-left-leaning groups and people who have condoned aggressive and violent opposition to far-right-wing movements.
Petition challengers Dana Jensen, Cayce Hamerschlag, Mary Dodd and Janet Hough filed letters of protests and argued the recall petition should be dismissed.
Among their claims are that the recall petition is “baseless, frivolous and infringes on Mr. McDaniel’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech.” They argue the petition’s claim that many schoolchildren follow his Facebook page is a falsehood, which makes the recall petition invalid.
According to state statute, a recall petition language “may not include any profane or false statements.”
During the hearing, many people testified under oath about McDaniel, some supporting him, and some criticizing him.
“Mr. McDaniel always acted in his role as School Board member with the best interest of youth, he is entitled as a citizen to voice his personal opinion on social media. The petition is no more than an attempt by a local right-wing political faction to silence, harass and bully Mr. McDaniel for his stand on social issues,” Jensen said.
She noted that during the Oct. 20 Re-1 Board of Education meeting an unidentified online participant threatened to rape Lance’s daughters. The threat is under investigation by the Cortez Police Department.
Dodd said she has attended many school board meetings and McDaniel has been an effective, civil and prepared board member.
“He has supported the mission and vision of the school, worked as a good team member and promoted school board initiatives,” she said. “I consider him to be a very good leader.”
Hamerschlag said the grounds for recall are misconstrued.
“For example, to say I am antifa, is to say I am anti-fascist, which seems to be a statement most Americans would agree with, but it was made to sound like he was saying something else,” Hamerschlag said. “He carries himself professionally and asks thoughtful informed questions. When he disagrees, he does so with integrity and respect with those he disagrees with.”
Recall organizers and supporters presented their case that the petition is valid.
The petition was vetted and approved by the Montezuma County Clerk and should be allowed to go forward, Nelson said.
She claimed McDaniel’s supporters who want to stop the recall attempt “have a vested interest in the school district, either by employment or relatives employed by district, and Mr. McDaniel closely works with these people to advance their personal political interests.”
In a rebuttal, Hamerschlag refuted the claim she or her relatives work for the school district, and said she is protesting the recall solely as an elector in the Re-1 District.
Sherrie Simmons and Arlene Odell felt that community leaders, such as school board members, are role models and should maintain a professional presence on social media that may be followed by youths.
McHenry said there was community support for signing the recall petition and no one was coerced to sign it. She said McDaniel’s Facebook comment about the veterans park name triggered an investigation into him and “his influence in the community.”
Meeting attendees were given the chance to speak on the recall issue.
Curtis Nelson said he signed the petition because he believes antifa is a violent organization, and thinks “Lance has showed poor judgment and should step down” to save the cost of a recall election.
Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey said “he can attest to McDaniel’s good character.
“I observed him in school board and planning meetings and he has exemplary character. Social media comments that he made were read out of context and were not in a malicious manner. I support Lance in his role as a school board member.”
Lana Waters said the recall petition protest letters should be dismissed because “they are only opinions” and do not offer proof the petitions signatures are invalid.
Jim Price said he was the person with whom McDaniel was discussing the name of the new south side park on Facebook. They hoped it would be named South Park, and his comment “did not bother me. I served nine years in the Marines.”
McDaniel said he mistakenly thought Veterans Park was the new name of the south side park site. It actually is the recent new name given to former City Park.
McDaniel also spoke at the hearing.
He thanked the effort by supporters to dismiss the recall election. McDaniel stated “the recall petition is not correct, I am not a member of antifa, and antifa is not a terrorist organization. I have no control of who follows me on Facebook. The statement that I am followed by many students on Facebook is incorrect,” he said. He said children of friends follow him, as well as two other youth. McDaniel added that if the recall election went forward, recall organizers would bring an extra election expense to the school district.
Green said he would review the evidence of the petition for recall, protest letters and testimony, and make a decision Monday.
The decision can be appealed in District Court.
If the petition moved forward, a special or general election would be held. Candidates to replace McDaniel must petition onto to the ballot. If it is held, the ballot question would first ask whether McDaniel should be recalled, and replacement candidates can be chosen.
This article was republished Nov. 20 to correctly spell the name Dana Jensen.