Man, town clash over candidacy

  • David Gottorff was arrested in November for alleged harassment by the Ridgway Marshal's Office.
    David Gottorff was arrested in November for alleged harassment by the Ridgway Marshal's Office.
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A Ridgway man who wants to run for mayor has been blocked by the town clerk on the grounds that he hasn’t met the residency requirements to run for office.

David Gottorff is protesting the decision made by Ridgway Town Clerk Pam Kraft and says he has been living in Ridgway for more than a year, which is required for candidates to run for office. He also accused the town clerk of rejecting his petition to prevent an opponent from challenging Mayor John Clark.

Correspondence from Kraft indicates Gottorff turned in his petition on Feb. 6 and Kraft checked his voter registration records with the county. Those records indicate Gottorff is indeed registered to vote here in Ouray County, but voted in Gunnison County in November 2019, and signed a document stating he lived there at the time.

“At that time I further affirm that the residence address I provided is my sole legal place of residence,” the document said. Gottorff agreed he lived at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte less than three months ago, according to the statement he signed to vote in Gunnison County.

“Based on your voting history it is my opinion that you do not meet the provisions of the charter,” Kraft wrote.

According to property tax records, Gottorff purchased a home at 756 Charles St. in Ridgway in November 2017 for $409,000.

But Kraft’s letter indicates just owning the property isn’t enough evidence for Gottorff to run for office. She said her records indicate he hasn’t been a resident for the minimum one year required by the town’s charter.

But Gottorff said his ballot to vote in Gunnison County was forwarded to him at his Ridgway address, where he was living at the time. He said the law has been misinterpreted and points to the fact that the ballot was delivered to his post office box in Ridgway as proof of residency.

“It’s only affirming that I resided here,” he said. He also said it’s a “blatant effort” to prevent him from running against Clark and that many people own second homes and vote at one of the locations, but live at another.

Gottorff said he has been in contact with an attorney and intends to challenge the decision in court, and hopes to continue with his campaign for office.

 

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This isn’t the first time Gottorff has filed a complaint with the town. Last year, he filed complaints against Marshal Shane Schmalz and Deputy Ryan Hanson after an incident involving his former employer which ended in his arrest for alleged harassment. Gottorff was unsatisfied with the town’s response to his complaints filed against the marshal and deputy, and said that was one of the reasons he decided to run for mayor.

The situation began last July after Gottorff said he was told he couldn’t drive certain routes for Western Slope Rides any longer because the owner, Andy Michelich, had received a complaint from a parent whose children were transported by the service. The parent had a conflict with Gottorff in a separate, ongoing incident. Gottorff was later fired from his job.

The dispute came to a head at Colorado Boy Brewery in Ridgway on Oct. 16, which resulted in Gottorff’s arrest. According to an arrest affidavit, Gottorff was involved in an altercation with Michelich.

Michelich called 911 at Colorado Boy and “told dispatch that while inside the business David Gottorff had stood by him and shoved him while he was holding his phone recording David,” the affidavit said.

Gottorff disputes this allegation. The court granted a restraining order to Michelich against Gottorff in October, according to court records.

In the arrest affidavit, the marshal’s office noted the ongoing issue with Gottorff’s dismissal from his job driving for Michelich because of his involvement in a dispute with Keeton and Nate Disser, owners of San Juan Mountain Guides, who have children who were receiving rides from Michelich’s business.

Keeton Disser reportedly called Michelich in June 2019 and said “she did not feel comfortable with David driving their children.” She said she was considering filing for a protection order from the court, according to the affidavit. She never filed for such an order, according to court records.

Gottorff filed a defamation suit against Disser and tried to convince Michelich to sign a document regarding her statements for his case, as a result of this phone call. Michelich refused to sign the document, and eventually Deputy Hanson intervened at Michelich’s request.

Michelich also gave the marshal’s office 10 pages of messages between himself and Gottorff, after which he asked Hanson to contact Gottorff and warn him to stop contacting his former employer.

“Deputy Hanson further warned David that any further contact with (Michelich) could be considered harassment,” the affidavit said.

In October, Michelich ran into Gottorff at Colorado Boy and called 911 after the two got into a fight in the bar. Michelich told law enforcement he tried to avoid Gottorff but was followed into the restaurant after Gottorff allegedly called him a “Hispanic Nazi.”

Michelich began recording the incident after going into the restaurant, the affidavit said. According to Marshal Schmalz, the video showed Gottorff shoving Michelich and telling him to stop recording. Gottorff says that’s not what the video shows.

Colorado Boy staff told law enforcement of the confrontation and said they tried to get between the men as they argued. They also said Gottorff left without paying his tab, according to the affidavit.

Schmalz wrote in the affidavit that he attempted to interview Gottorff at his house after the incident.

“He did not open the door and asked if I had a warrant,” Schmalz wrote in the arrest affidavit. “I said no I just needed to talk to him. He stated no warrant not talking to you, turned off (the) light and walked out of sight.”

Michelich decided to press charges and the marshal’s office said it attempted to deliver a summons to Gottorff 12 times over the course of two weeks without success. Eventually a warrant was issued by the court for his arrest for alleged harassment, a misdemeanor.

Gottorff admits he would not accept the summons and called the marshal’s attempts to serve him “a charade.”

“You have no probable cause, I’m not going to accept service of a summons,” Gottorff recalled telling Schmalz.

Gottorff has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the case. He is being represented by a public defender and is scheduled for a jury trial in May, according to court records.

This is the only criminal case in which Gottorff has been involved in Colorado, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records.

Regarding the dispute with the Dissers, Keeton Disser said Gottorff began harassing her after he applied for a job with San Juan Mountain Guides and didn’t get hired, according to her counterclaim filed in September.

“He began a series of unwarranted harassing and defamatory attacks made against SJMG and Nate and Keeton Disser, through various websites and emails,” according to court records. They also said Gottorff started acting in a threatening way.

The Dissers claimed Gottorff stood in front of their business, staring into the window and glaring at them for an uncomfortable period of time. Keeton Disser also said Gottorff intercepted her on local trails a few times and confronted her. Gottorff maintained he was not in the area at the time.

Disser’s counterclaim also said Gottorff is “litigious and has brought similar types of baseless and frivolous claims in the past,” and noted previous cases in La Plata and Gunnison counties. Gottorff filed suit against Disser in July 2019 and initially asked for $7,500 in damages. He later amended his complaint and asked for $150,000 in damages. The case was closed in November after an undisclosed settlement was reached.

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Gottorff said he wanted to run for office partially after being inspired by a personal mentor of his from Lake Irwin, John Biro, who was nicknamed “the mayor” and died in December at age 67, according to the Crested Butte News. Biro is famous for his lawsuits concerning public access at Lake Irwin against private landowner J.W. Smith.

He also said “life events,” including the incidents involving Michelich and the marshal’s office, spurred him to run. He said his first order of business will be to terminate Marshal Schmalz and Deputy Hanson if he’s elected mayor.

“Both of those will be terminated for cause my first day in office,” he said.

Gottorff, who has set up a social media page to campaign for office, has touted experience as a college professor and working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He said he is retired at age 44 and spends most of his time in Ridgway but occasionally visits his Lake Irwin home in Gunnison County.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Gottorff worked as a seasonal ranger for less than four months in 2017 at Ridgway State Park and left the position before the summer ended.

“It was a mutually agreed decision,” said Joe Lewandowski, CPW spokesman.

Gottorff also previously worked for RIGS Fly Shop and Guide Service, against whom he also filed a small claims court case for $7,000. He claimed the company wrongfully terminated him in 2018, according to court records.

RIGS agreed to pay Gottorff for his work but argued the company didn’t owe him more than $1,000 and that it had reasons for firing Gottorff after he worked there for about two months.

“After his hiring it soon became clear to RIGS that Mr. Gottorff was both unable and unwilling to perform the tasks he was employed to perform,” RIGS’ answer to the lawsuit said. “He immediately created conflicts with his coworkers. He made inappropriate comments to clients. He refused to follow directions. He failed to maintain basic personal hygiene to the extent that both coworkers and clients remarked that they could not be in his presence due to his offensive body odor,” the court documents said.

The case ended with a $530 judgment against Gottorff, who represented himself in the case. He appealed the decision to district court, where it was upheld.

Editor's note: The story has been updated to reflect Gottorff has a temporary restraining order against him in the case involving Michelich, not a permanent restraining order. The story has also been updated to reflect Gottorff's case against Disser was closed after an undisclosed settlement was reached.