Ouray clerk receives sheriff recall petitions

Ouray County Sheriff Lance FitzGerald

Efforts to recall Ouray County Sheriff Lance FitzGerald are proceeding, with those seeking his ouster turning in more than 1,000 signatures for verification.

The bipartisan committee to recall FitzGerald recently submitted 1,082 signatures. If the Ouray County Clerk and Recorder verifies and deems sufficient at least 768 of them, a recall question can be presented to Ouray County voters.

The cushion of more than 300 signatures could help cover any signatures deemed invalid.

“I have no hesitation whatsoever,” recall committee Bob Larson said Tuesday. “We did our job as a community to say things need to be done differently in that (sheriff) position. He needs to make some decisions on how he’s going to proceed. We’ll follow along and do whatever we need to do.”

A message left at FitzGerald’s office Tuesday was not returned before deadline.

FitzGerald, who was elected in November 2018 by 11 votes, came under fire after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

According to court documents, FitzGerald had in November 2019 been drinking with his girlfriend, Jamie Johnson, and the pair began arguing on the way home. FitzGerald, who according to an affidavit, was behind the wheel, alleged Johnson had struck him. She was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence after FitzGerald called the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office to his home.

A deputy, following the advice of FitzGerald’s undersheriff, later returned to the residence to conduct sobriety testing. FitzGerald reportedly said he had been drinking in the interim. By the time a breath test was conducted, his breath-alcohol content was allegedly well above the legal limit for driving, although the degree to which he might have been intoxicated at the time he was driving is not established.

FitzGerald is due in court April 9. Johnson’s court date is April 1.

In January, while FitzGerald was attending a state sheriffs’ conference, Loveland police were summoned to his hotel room a reported disturbance between him and Johnson. No further police action was taken.

Members of the Ouray County Republican and Democratic parties subsequently formed a recall committee, saying they lacked confidence in FitzGerald.

Following submission of signed recall petitions, the clerk and recorder is to notify FitzGerald and provide him with a copy of the petition. Within 15 days, she is to notify him and the recall committee of the number of valid signatures and of whether the petition is sufficient.

FitzGerald would have the option of filing a protest within 15 days of notification, if the petition is declared sufficient. A hearing would then be conducted.

If the petition is declared sufficient and the time for protest passes, FitzGerald would have five days to decide to step down, or a recall election would be set.

Generally, the date for holding the election is between 30 and 60 days after declaration of sufficiency and resolution of a timely filed protest.

If a general election is already scheduled to be held within 90 days after the recall petition clears all its hurdles, the recall election has to be held as part of the general election — however, the date for holding the recall election would be the first day on which recall ballots are made available at voter service and polling centers, not Election Day itself.

The recall committee must submit for the ballot a statement of the grounds on which it seeks the sheriff’s removal and FitzGerald can also submit a statement on his behalf.

In the event of a recall election, the election of a new sheriff would also be held at the same time and the ballot would contain the names of nominated candidates, as well as a space for any write-in candidates whose affidavits of candidacy are received in time.

So far, the possibility of a recall and replace election has garnered the interest of a few potential candidates, including Justin Perry, a former Montrose police officer and former chief of police in Ouray, who has resigned as Ouray Town Administrator, effective this week.

“We’ve done our job as a community to express our feelings and concerns,” said Larson. “It (recall effort) is in proper hands now, moving forward.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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