Gottorff vows to fight town over council candidacy
Three candidates for Ridgway Town Council seats have had their petitions verified by the town clerk and are officially running for office.
Mayor John Clark will run again for his position, and two newcomers have also decided to join the race – Kevin Grambley and Terence Schuyler.
More candidates could join the race, as petitions are due Friday. Petitions can be circulated by the potential candidates themselves or by third parties, provided the candidate accepts the nomination.
The municipal election will be held April 7 if more candidates are certified for the election than the number of seats that are open. Councilor Ninah Hunter has announced she will not be seeking re-election and Councilor Robb Austin announced at the last town council meeting that it would be his last.
One petition for the mayoral race was rejected by Town Clerk Pam Kraft, and the town is standing by its decision despite protests from David Gottorff, who maintains he’s qualified to run in the race. The town’s position is that Gottorff claimed his legal place of residence is at another home he owns at Lake Irwin in Gunnison County, though Gottorff purchased his home in Ridgway in 2017. The town requires candidates to reside within the town limits for at least 12 months prior to the election.
Kraft cited evidence that Gottorff last voted in Gunnison County in November, and signed a self-affirmation at the time stating, “I further affirm that the residence address I provided is my sole legal place of residence.”
“Many people own more than one property, or residence, yet for voting registration purposes, each voter must decide which location they choose as their sole place of residency,” Kraft wrote Gottorff.
The Gunnison County Clerk’s Office sent the ballot for Gottorff to his post office box in Ridgway, which he said is evidence of his residency here. He said he visits his other place at Lake Irwin near Crested Butte but has a caretaker living there at this time. He said he uses the address for official business and has done so over the years when he lived in places including Rangely, Leadville and Durango, using the off-grid cabin as a constant address as he moved to other places.
Gottorff argues case law supports his position – particularly a case finding that no single circumstance can be used to determine residency – and said the town cannot legally bar him from running.
In this case, Zivian v. Brooke-Hitching, the court said a single voting record cannot be conclusive in determining residency, and the court ruled a wide variety of factors should be used instead.
Grand Junction attorney Joe Coleman handled that case and has a prior history of representing Gottorff in another unrelated matter. He confirmed Gottorff contacted him about the situation but said he has not yet been officially retained in the matter.
“Candidates for local office can ill afford attorney fees so I am hopeful that the Ridgway Town Clerk and Town attorney will review a copy of the attached decision, follow the law stated in that decisions and realize that not allowing Mr. Gottorff to be on the ballot is a potential waste of time and money,” Coleman wrote in an email. “The law is clear and all are expected to live by the ‘rule of law’ not extraneous factors.”
In Zivian v. Brooke-Hitching, Harley Brooke-Hitching was elected to the Telluride Town Council in 1999, the same year the case was filed. The plaintiff, Michael Zivian, was a Telluride attorney, real estate investor and developer at the time.
According to court documents, Zivian’s complaint claimed Brooke-Hitching wasn’t legally a resident eligible to run for council because, prior to her election, she returned to New York in June 1998 at the request of a previous employer and abandoned her residency in Telluride.
She returned to New York for that temporary job opportunity, which lasted a year. During that time, she voted twice in New York and had not changed her voter registration to her Colorado address. She also had a New York driver’s license and registered her car in New York. However, she did obtain a Colorado real estate license, had resigned from her previous job and purchased a house in Telluride the year before she ran for the council.
At the time, District Court Judge Steven Patrick ruled Brooke-Hitching had met the residency requirements, and the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the decision. Patrick is currently the chief judge of the 7th Judicial District, which includes Ouray County courts.
Gottorff said if the town doesn’t reverse its decision and let him run, he plans on fighting the town’s decision.
He’s already involved in a few other court matters in Ouray County – namely an alleged harassment case involving a former employer who claims Gottorff accosted him at Colorado Boy in Ridgway. Gottorff was arrested and booked into the Montrose County Jail after refusing to accept a summons in that case, according to the affidavit for his arrest.
That former employer – Andy Michelich of Western Slope Rides – currently has a protection order against Gottorff.
Gottorff filed his own requests for three other protection orders in court, including one against Michelich, and two others against Colorado Boy in Ridgway and the company's registered agent, Tom Hennessy, according to court records.
Ridgway Colorado Boy owner Daniel Richards has also filed for a protection order against Gottorff.
In these protection order cases, Gottorff is being represented by Jacqueline Distefano, a Telluride attorney. In the misdemeanor harassment case, Gottorff is being represented by a public defender.