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Big Money and Powerful Groups Influence a Small Town Mayoral Election

Big Money and Powerful Groups Influence a Small Town Mayoral Election


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The local governments in small towns reflect the most pure forms of representation offered by the US society. Our state and federal leaders represent large blocks of constituents and are rarely seen in our neighborhoods. In contrast, officials in small towns live amongst their constituents and are often seen in the aisles of grocery stores, at the tables of restaurants, and on the sidelines of little league games.

The election processes in small towns are also more pure than higher levels of government. We often lament that the need for state and federal officials to raise funds and run advertisements can cause them to focus more on their wealthy donors than their own constituents. But local officials do not need to raise any funds or broadcast any commercials.  They simply campaign by knocking on doors, talking to residents, and attending town events.  This simple and inexpensive style of small town campaigning also frees council members and mayors from the hazards of financial burdens. Rather than obsessing over donors, local officials can exclusively focus on solving the problems of their neighbors, improving the lives of their residents, and maximizing the quality of their communities.

However, the ideal local government and election process that should permeate through every small town is now being corrupted in the town of Dacono and in the race for mayor. As the seat for mayor is becoming open, two current council members, Adam Morehead and Kathy Wittman are vying for the available Mayor’s Office. But many residents are concerned that some of the tactics being used by the Wittman campaign have facilitated a disturbing development that can bring the problems of money in politics right into their own town. Wittman has magnified the size and scope of her campaign by receiving large contributions from various donors, by inviting outside political groups and professional lobbying firms to run a massive field operation, and by capitalizing on the aggressive tactics and questionable conduct of her neighborhood church. As these strategies threaten to corrupt the purity of the election process and jeopardize the integrity of the Mayor’s Office, it can help to understand the types of groups that are assisting the Wittman campaign and the types of favors they may want if she wins the race.

Part 1: Innocence Lost in the Dacono Mayor’s Race

Photo: PrideOfTheGlens.com

Dacono is a small town in Weld County that resides along the I-25 corridor and that has a population of about 5,000 residents. The seat for the Dacono Mayor’s Office became available during this election cycle when current Mayor Joe Baker voluntarily chose to vacate his position. Baker served on the city council starting in 2008, won the mayor’s race in 2015, and then won a second term in 2018. Though Mayor Baker is not term-limited, he chose to step aside from the office to avoid the hazards of perpetual incumbency and to open the seat for new successors.

“I just don’t believe in incumbency,” said current Mayor Joe Baker. “I could’ve run one more time, but I think the longer you stay in there the more comfortable and more complacent you become. That can cause you to look at it as a point of power, and so two terms is definitely enough.”

With the seat becoming available, Kathy Wittman immediately threw her hat into the ring. Wittman is currently a city council member for Dacono, a member of the New Horizons Christian Church, and a leader for the local Habitat for Humanity organization. Though she also ran for the mayor position back in 2018, after Baker won that race she immediately announced her intentions to run during this 2021 cycle and to once again compete for the open mayor’s seat.

This time she is going against Adam Morehead. Morehead fulfilled a 30-year career in the law enforcement industry, he has also been serving on the city council since 2020, and now he is running to become the mayor of Dacono and to serve the residents of the community.

“I just want to work for the people of Dacono,” said city council member and mayoral candidate Adam Morehead. “I appreciate the concept of local government, I’ve been honored to serve on the council, and now my only intentions as mayor would be to serve the community I love and to represent the great people of Dacono.”

Yellow Scene Magazine also reached out to Kathy Wittman to hear her perspectives, but Wittman did not respond to our requests for an interview before press time.

 

 

The campaign between Wittman and Morehead began like most nonpartisan small town mayoral races. The candidates didn’t start campaigning with full fervor until early fall, at which point Morehead began using the simple tactics and inexpensive strategies that are common for these types of nonpartisan local races.

“In mid-September I ordered some signs for the campaign, pens with my name on them, and hangers to place on doors,” explained Morehead. “I also began putting posts on Next Door to say I’m running for mayor and to express my positive messages regarding helping the town grow, helping our neighborhoods thrive, and helping the police department protect our community.”

Knocking on doors is one of the most effective strategies that candidates in small towns perform to converse with neighbors and appeal to voters. “Every weekend we were hitting 200 to 300 houses. We hit every house we could and now we’re all out of hangers, but I enjoyed engaging in conversations with residents and hearing their thoughts about the issues.”

Though the campaign season for the mayor’s office started out with its usual innocent tactics and calm atmosphere, one day in early October Morehead woke up and was shocked to see a dramatic development in the town and a substantial escalation of the race. Despite not having campaigned throughout the summer, suddenly the Kathy Wittman campaign had implemented an enormous field operation. An abundance of signs were widely scattered and densely strewn throughout every area of Dacono. Professional political activists with clipboards were walking around every neighborhood to promote the Wittman campaign and solicit the Dacono residents. Phones throughout the town became bombarded with text messages from out-of-state numbers to advertise for Wittman and perpetuate her slogans. And with Wittman also forming an official LLC called Dacono United, it became apparent that overnight her campaign had exploded into an advanced operation that was funded by numerous donors and managed by outside groups. 

“Usually there is not much campaigning that happens here because it’s a volunteer job and we’re a small town,” said Morehead. “This is entirely unprecedented. It’s the first time anyone’s ever taken money from outside groups, formed a committee, or enabled anybody to do the campaign for them.”

Outside Groups move into the Town of Dacono 

Raising relatively large donations from outside groups did help Wittman fund these aggressive strategies. Wittman has only filed one expenditure report at the time of publication. The report was for the period between September 28th through October 7th, and it shows that Wittman raised $1,700 in just two days with donations that derived from 16 separate individuals and organizations. Some contributions derived from friends of Wittman and members of her church. But many other contributions were paid by political groups outside of Dacono and wealthy donors from around the state.

The very concept of taking contributions from various donors and receiving assistance from outside groups is unusual for a nonpartisan small town mayor’s race. Most candidates in local city council or mayor races fund their own campaigns, operate their own strategies, and reject any help from outside groups or wealthy donors.

“I funded my own campaigns for both mayoral races, and I definitely didn’t take any donations or feel any need to fundraise,” said Mayor Baker. “In my first race, I just used my own money to buy some t-shirts and signs. Then for the second race I also bought mailers to promote my accomplishments as mayor, so that cost a little extra, but again I just used my own money for that second race as well.” 

Adam Morehead is also funding his campaign with his own money in his current bid for the open mayor’s seat.

“I’m just using my own money,” confirmed Morehead. “I spent under $900 of my own money for the city council race during the last cycle, and I’m on pace to spend a similar amount for this mayor’s race. It’s a very grassrootsy process so I haven’t raised any money, I haven’t formed a committee, and instead I’m spending my own money to purchase the signs, pens, and hangers.”

There’s a substantial benefit to the common trend of candidates in small town races funding their own campaigns. Whereas state and federal government officials must focus time on receiving contributions for their campaigns and are then financially beholden to the desires of their donors, local mayors in small towns are entirely free from this corruptive burden and are only beholden to the needs of their neighbors and the interests of their towns.

“In Dacono or any small town, the mayors and council members reflect what is truly the purest form of politics,” mused Mayor Baker. “You’re not running or serving for the fame and fortune. You’re doing it just to serve your own community, to handle the budget, to get a police car bought, to put a police officer on the street, to buy a firetruck, or to have public works manage the streets or plow the roads.”  

But receiving exorbitant donations from outside groups contaminates the purity of the local elections and compromises the integrity of the local government. Distorting the priorities of the mayor is the biggest hazard of local candidates receiving hefty donations, as the outside influence can pressure the mayors to prioritize maximizing the profits of their wealthy donors over addressing the needs of their own residents.

“Having outside influences provide money that’s dedicated to one particular candidate comes with a price,” reflected Mayor Baker. “Sometimes it’s unclear what the price is, but there’s always something that has to be done, a favor that has to eventually be repaid, and a mark that at some point will be called in.”

The Oil and Gas Industry Drills into the Mayoral Election 

Anadarko Drilling in Dacono. Photo: Denver Post

A careful analysis of the expenditure report submitted by Wittman can help illuminate the nature of the outside group that is providing the most support for her campaign. Some donations from individuals and groups range between $50 to $400 per contribution, which is substantial for small town races that typically don’t entail any funding from outside donors and that are usually entirely funded by the candidates themselves.  

However, Wittman apparently used that money to pay a political consulting firm called Saratoga Strategies $1,299 with an expenditure that was paid on September 29th. The transaction was also described as “yard signs,” which indicates that Wittman has hired this firm to provide her campaign resources and manage her field operations.

Saratoga Strategies operates out of Denver, and its website promotes the company as a political consulting firm that helps develop strategies, provide activists, and run campaigns for prospective candidates. But the owner of Saratoga Strategies is a professional lobbyist named Andrew Struttmann who has spent his career lobbying for the oil and gas industry.  

Before founding Saratoga Strategies in 2015, Struttmann worked for the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API is a lobbying group that encourages politicians to pass policies that would benefit the oil and gas industry, such as increased drilling activities, reduced setback limits, or improved fracking contracts. According to his Facebook page, Struttman now works as a Community Manager for Energy Citizens Colorado, which is yet another oil and gas lobbying group that fights against environmental regulations on fracking and that helps elect candidates who support the industry. Additionally, the twitter feed of Struttman is replete with incessant tweets that glorify the benefits of oil, promote the expansion of fracking, and encourage people to only elect politicians who would pass policies deemed favorable for the industry.

Now Struttmann is managing the Saratoga Strategies lobbying firm, which runs political campaigns for candidates throughout Colorado and which is now assisting the field operations of the Wittman campaign. 

“It’s inappropriate to let an oil and gas lobbying group run a campaign in a small town like Dacono,” said Mayor Baker. “Their involvement comes with demands, so I’m curious to see what will be asked of the city and of our citizens in the future now that an oil and gas company is spending money on a mayoral candidate. It’s frustrating because when the industry calls in their request, all of our citizens will have to bear the weight of it.”

It is unclear how Kathy Wittman became connected to Saratoga Strategies. Wittman recently attended the Energy and Environment Leadership Symposium, which was a convention to address the endeavors of the oil and gas industry. Wittman attended the event with Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who previously served as a Dacono City Council Member and as a State Representative before ascending to the Commissioner’s Office. Saine lives in theTri-County area and belongs to the same church as Wittman, and so the timing of the event and the connections of Saine might explain how Wittman joined forces with Saratoga Strategies.

Saratoga Strategies did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but we can speculate the types of policies that the oil and gas lobbying firm would prefer from Wittman based on the consistent patterns of the industry and the current circumstances in the community.

Increasing the amount of wells in Dacono is one possible goal that the oil industry might desire if Wittman becomes mayor of the town. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the town of Dacono currently has 326 active wells. But the town still has extensive plots of open land, and so the industry may pressure Wittman to streamline the application process to make it easy for companies to add more wells in the town and extract more resources from the ground.  

Reducing setback limits could be another favor that the industry asks of Wittman in exchange for their assistance to her campaign. Setback limits refer to rules in a community regarding how far oil wells or fracking sites must be placed from homes and schools. While the recent SB 181 legislation dramatically strengthened the statewide setback rule from 500 feet to 2,000 feet, the oil and gas industry condemns the new rule and might pressure towns such as Dacono to provide the most lenient setback conditions possible under the new laws.   

Dacono is also currently under a contract with the massive oil company Anadarko, which now operates under the ownership of Occidental Petroleum. In 2018, Anadarko informed the city government that their company planned on initiating a fracking project on approximately 500 acres of land in a central location inside the town of Dacono. The city soon realized that the numerous private companies that owned the land were all subsidiaries of Anadarko, and so the town was helpless to stop the company from implementing a fracking project on the land that they technically owned.

Many residents in the community and members of the government were upset by the announcement from Anadarko. The town already formed plans to generate economic growth by using that massive plot of land to build a residential subdivision and implement a commercial development. But Anadarko deciding to drill on the land forced the town to abandon this plan.

”The oil and gas industry was less than forthcoming when they came in and bought that property,” said Mayor Baker. “That Miller Ranch project was designed to be a mixed commercial use and family dwelling development before Anadarko purchased the land and put in their frack farms. On top of that, having them there is an obstacle towards future development because no one wants to live in a home where they have to stare at an oil rig.”

However, the town held a meeting with Anadarko to form an operational agreement and receive royalty payments. Anadarko is scheduled to begin paying the town about $1-3 million in royalties per year starting in 2022. But the amount the government will get in oil royalties is minimal for the town revenue, the payment amounts will plummet after eight years, and so many residents are still disappointed that Anadarko consumed such a big plot of valuable land for fracking purposes.

The timing in which the royalty payments are about to begin also makes this an ideal moment for the industry to have sway over the town mayor. If Saratoga Strategies is able to use their money and resources to install Wittman into the Mayor’s Office, the leverage the oil industry can wield over Wittman could pressure her to provide Anadarko with more favorable terms for the contract.

“They may be looking for a re-negotiation of the contract,” Mayor Baker speculated. “Perhaps they may want to get a tax break from the city, extend their drilling capabilities in the town, modify the structure of the pay arrangements, or just reduce the overall amount that they’ll pay per year or in total.”

Trying to Strike Gold in the Mayor’s Office

Dacono City Hall and Library. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the specific demands that the oil and gas industry may make, importing Saratoga Strategies into Dacono can enhance the political power that the industry asserts over the government and increase the drilling activities that the companies fulfill in the town. 

“With that powerful industry, they wouldn’t give anyone a dollar without demanding a return on their investment,” said Mayor Baker. “I’m shocked and disappointed that Kathy [Wittman] brought those oil and gas lobbyists into our town. It’s dirty to let them impact the race, and I don’t like the thought of what they may expect from her when the other shoe drops.”

Having a mayor be financially beholden to the oil industry is especially unjust for the residents of Dacono. The topic of drilling is a sensitive issue that evokes strong passions on both sides and that must be determined by the residents of the given communities. Opponents might resist any drilling due to the pollution in the air, the damage to the environment, and the dangers to the residents. In contrast, supporters might embrace fracking activities to capitalize on the energy resources provided by the companies and the financial revenue paid to the government. Additionally, some might prefer to strike a balance by only permitting moderate levels of drilling activities. Either way, decisions regarding fracking should be thoroughly discussed by the community and ultimately determined by the voters.

But Wittman allowing the oil industry to influence the outcome of the election process and dictate the policies of the local government deprives the residents of a fair debate on drilling issues. The involvement of Saratoga Strategies with the race grants the industry excessive power over the Mayor’s Office, renders her susceptible to always make decisions that benefit the oil companies, and subjects the community to the possible damage that can be caused by the fracking activities.

While inviting any outside lobbying group to influence a nonpartisan local election is problematic, the possible damage that the oil and gas industry can inflict on the environment further intensifies the destructive impact her campaign is asserting on the town. Becoming beholden to the oil and gas industry could induce Wittman to support policies that satisfy the demands of Saratoga Strategies and that maximize the profits of oil companies, even if those same policies are unpopular with the residents or harmful to the community. 

Part 2: The Dacono Mayor’s Race Gets Taken to Church

New Horizons Christian Church. Photo: BusinessYab

The New Horizons Christian Church is another powerful organization that has been inflating the size of the Wittman campaign and influencing the dynamics of the mayor’s race.  The church opened about five years ago by the owner and pastor Rob Thomas, who is the husband of Wittman’s close friend and fellow City Council Member Jackie Thomas. Located in the Pride of Glens neighborhood, the church has emerged as a strong advocate for the Glens Coalition and an important player in Dacono politics. Many of the donations the Wittman campaign has received derived from members of the church, and the congregation has been extremely aggressive in trying to increase its power over the government.

Jackie Thomas. Photo: Daily Camera

The church currently has three members on the six-person city council. Kathy Wittman  is a devoted member of New Horizons, her friend Jackie Thomas is a prominent leader of the church, and council member Danny Long also belongs to the congregation. With three members on the council, stacking the board with more church members and elevating Wittman to the Mayor’s Office seems to be a goal that the church is striving to achieve.

This desire to increase the number of church members on the city council has already landed Jackie and Kathy in ethical trouble. In 2018, an open seat was available on the city council, and Jackie recommended that a man named Amado Sierra occupy the opening and join the council. Another member named John Wargo wound up winning the council vote to obtain the seat and so Amado Sierra did not join the board. But two months later another controversy arose that enabled Mayor Baker and other city staff members to realize that Jackie and Kathy had committed an egregious ethical violation during this appointment process.

Jackie Thomas’ daughter Jaime is a member of the Weld County Board of Education (BOE). In the spring of 2021, Jaime launched an emergency Town Hall rally at the church to express outrage against mask-mandates in schools and to file a petition against the policies.  She arranged this rally with another BOE member named Cody LeBlanc, a former staffer for Rep. Ken Buck who landed in serious legal trouble in 2020 for committing election fraud. 

The timing of the anti-mask rally on May 7th of 2021 was perplexing, as the mask policies had kept students in the classroom for the entire year without any outbreaks, and at this point there were only 18 days left before the school year ended. But The Weld County BOE was furious with Jaime and Cody for filing a petition to protest the mask mandates against the Board’s wishes and for coordinating a Town Hall rally without the Board’s permission.

In a scathing letter distributed to the schools in the district, the BOE declared Jaime and Cody as rogue members. Part of the letter stated, “I want to make it very clear that this Town Hall is not sponsored or supported by the Weld Re-8 School District or the Weld Re-8 Board of Education…This meeting is the opinion of two of our Board of Education Directors.There will be NO ACTION taken on this issue. It is not an ACTION ITEM for the Town Hall meeting.”

However, when documents began to circulate regarding this controversy, a name on a document looked oddly familiar to Mayor Baker. While it was widely known that Jaime was the daughter of Jackie Thomas, Mayor Baker realized that Jaime’s last name was Sierra and that her husband’s name was Amado Sierra.

“That name was the same name as the guy who tried to apply for the city council,” said Mayor Baker while reflecting on his reaction. “I said, that’s her husband? That means he was Jackie’s son-in-law.” He was right. Amado Sierra is Jackie’s son-in-law, they live together in the family home, and he was literally down in Jackie’s basement during the zoom meeting in which the council interviewed the candidates and cast their votes. 

The given city council meeting was held a couple months prior to this realization, on February 22nd of 2021. During the meeting both Jackie and Kathy voted against John Wargo to instead support Amado Sierra. The failure of Jackie to disclose her filial relationship to Amado Sierra and recuse herself from the vote represented a clear conflict of interest and a severe breach of ethics. If Sierra had won the vote and joined the council, he and Jackie would have been removed from the council due to this violation. But because he lost the vote and his opponent John Wargo won the seat, Jackie was able to evade any formal punishment for this deliberate deception.

Influencing the Mayor’s Race From the Bully Pulpit

Inside of the New Horizons Christian Church. Photo: BusinessYab

The New Horizons Christian Church has also been attempting to help the Wittman campaign by manipulating the arrangements for candidate forums. Like all cities, candidate forums for mayoral races in Dacono are supposed to be held in neutral sites or public facilities. 

However, New Horizons has been corrupting the neutrality of the forum process by maneuvering to instead have the events in their own church. New Horizon successfully lobbied the chamber in charge of the candidate forums to move the event to their church during the previous mayoral election cycle in 2018.  

Kathy Wittman ran for mayor in that 2018 race as well, and her opponent was current Mayor Joe Baker. While Wittman enjoyed the homefield advantage of having the candidate forum at her own church and in front of her own supporters, Baker had to overcome the difficult challenge of competing on the opponent’s turf while being heckled by a hostile crowd.

“I had a huge problem with them moving the forum to the church,” said Baker. “But I’m not afraid of anybody so I went and I had everyone agreeing with me. But I was getting heckled the whole time by Kathy’s supporters. Even Jackie’s husband [Pastor Rob Thomas] kept heckling me. He was in the front row, and whenever I was answering questions he kept saying ‘speak up’ or ‘I can’t hear you’ the entire time I was talking. My loud voice carries, the back of the room could hear me fine, and so he was definitely just trying to distract my attention and interrupt my answers.”

Pastor Rob Thomas. Photo: BusinessYab

With Kathy Wittman running for mayor during this election cycle as well, New Horizons once again tried to move the mayoral candidate forum to their church. But Adam Morehead refused to allow the church to corrupt another forum process, nor would he subject himself to the same abuse that he witnessed during the previous cycle.

“Jackie and Kathy were talking with the chamber to have it at their church again,” said Morehead. “But after what happened three years ago there was no way I was going to have it there. Last time the crowd was heckling, interrupting, and making crude comments while Joe [Baker] was trying to talk, and even Jackie’s husband was blasting him. So I told them I’m not going to a Wittman rally just to get heckled by her people.” 

In addition to providing an unfair advantage for their candidate and a hostile environment for her opponent, it is against the Council Rules of Procedure for candidates in the race to contact the chamber about the forum or influence the decisions regarding the events. 

“They shouldn’t even be involved,” said Morehead. “It’s unethical for them to be making calls to the chamber, they definitely shouldn’t be able to move the forums to their own venue, and instead the city is supposed to just plan the details of the candidate forums without any involvement from active candidates.” 

The refusal from Morehead and the disapproval of Baker succeeded in moving the forum to the more neutral site of a local school. But this tactic of manipulating the candidate forums is destructive to the election process and harmful to the entire town. These public forums offer residents rare opportunities to learn about the issues facing their community, engage in discussions about important topics, and understand the opinions expressed by their candidates. Thus, the tactic of corrupting the forum process and turning it into a political rally was a disservice to all residents of Dacono. 

Expanding the Reach of the Church

The church is most likely fighting hard to get their member Kathy Wittman elected because they know that she would substantially increase their control over the local government. Since the church opened about five years ago, the city staff and Mayor Baker have struck a healthy balance by providing the church with the freedom to exercise their beliefs and fulfill their traditions, while also limiting their ability to assert excessive influence over the government or inflict any damage to the community.

The anti sex-trafficking trailer that the church displays in the Glens neighborhood is an optimal example of this necessary balance. The outside of the trailer features images and messages opposing the crime of sex trafficking, and the inside of the trailer features an exhibit to address this cause and receive possible donations. While the church is free to showcase this anti sex-trafficking exhibit in their own neighborhood, the government has tried to discourage them from bringing the trailer to public events.

One such incident occurred at the National Night Out event.

Pride of the Glens Gathering. Photo: PrideOfTheGlens.com

“The National Night Out event occurs every August,” explained Mayor Baker. “It’s a chance to recognize our first responders and get the community involved by allowing everyone to gather at City Hall, enjoy snacks and beverages, and mingle with police officers, firefighters, and public works officials.”

But in 2018 the church showed up with their anti sex-trafficking trailer to advertise the church and promote their exhibit. Though all Dacono government officials are in unanimous agreement regarding their opposition to sex-trafficking, this crime is not relevant to the small town of Dacono and the exhibit is inappropriate for public — and secular — community events.  

“That one set me on my heels,” said Mayor Baker. “They said they were just promoting their church, but we had to explain that this is not the right venue for that, and we’ve asked them multiple times not to bring the anti sex-trafficking trailer to these types of public events.”

The church also recently took it upon themselves to move a food bank away from a retirement complex for seniors and relocate the food bank to the Glens neighborhood by the church.

“Taking the food bank away from our senior housing area on 7th and Cherry infuriated a lot of people,” said Mayor Baker. “They moved it to their church without permission, the seniors were upset about that, and the city staff were upset too because we had to start bussing the seniors back and forth so they could get food and bring it home.”

These are the types of overreaches from the church that the government has been able to check. But if the church achieves their political goal by installing Wittman into the Mayor’s Office, it is likely that these checks and limits will be removed. There is a huge risk that Wittman would provide the church with preferential treatment throughout the community, allow them to maximize their control over the local government, and obliterate the walls between church and state by incorporating the religious beliefs of the church into the public policies of the town.

Yellow Scene reached out to the New Horizons Christian Church, but the church did not respond to our interview request before press time.

Exchanging Favors with Habitat for Humanity

Providing favorable policies and increased funding for the local Habitat for Humanity group would be a top priority for the church and for Kathy Wittman. As a Christian nonprofit, the local Habitat group is located in the Glens Coalition neighborhood and is affiliated with the New Horizons church. Wittman works with the Habitat group, and she has entrenched herself in multiple scandals over the years with her fervent attempts to increase funding to the organization.

This local Habitat for Humanity group has also been mired in a controversy of its own. In 2017, the group hired a woman named Krystal Erazo to lead the Dacono Habitat branch. However, this decision was widely criticized because before taking the position Krystal had to resign from the Longmont HUD (Housing and Urban Development) department under scandalous circumstances. Krystal had police officers conduct warrantless searches on a complex of affordable housing units where many minority residents lived and where she suspected drugs were being used.

Kathy Wittman and Krystal Erazo in Atlanta. Photo: Facebook

However, the ACLU sued the city of Longmont for the violation of the 4th amendment rights of the residents. The settlement of the lawsuit cost Longmont $210,000 and the scandal forced Krystal to resign from her position, but Krystal landed on her feet by promptly assuming a leadership role with the Habitat group in Dacono.

The close connection between the Habitat group and Kathy Wittman has landed her in trouble as well. In November of 2018 the Habitat group paid for Wittman to take a trip to Atlanta and participate in a political and religious convention. The city staff condemned this incident because during the trip Wittman represented herself as serving the city council despite failing to get permission to attend the event and despite having an outside corporation pay for the trip.

Furthermore, less than one month after returning from the trip Wittman requested that the city council allocate $10,000 of funding to the Habitat group, which reinforced the detrimental perception that the Atlanta trip was a gift provided by Habitat and that Wittman was returning the favor with her funding request.

The given city council meeting was held on December 10th of 2018. The council had just finalized the budget and was preparing to vote it through, when suddenly Wittman threw a wrench into the wheel by insisting that the council give $10,000 to her local Habitat group.

There were many reasons why Mayor Baker and other council members scolded Wittman for making this inappropriate request during the meeting. There were two conflict of interest issues, with Wittman belonging to the Habitat group and with her just returning from a trip to Atlanta that was paid for by the group. There were also funding issues. The town only has $20,000 available for donations each year, and so requesting $10,000 for Habitat is an exorbitant sum that the small town did not possess and that the wealthy corporation did not need.

Additionally, the line items of the budget had already been painstakingly decided, and so

conjuring up $10,000 more for Wittman’s Habitat group would have blown up the entire budget and would have prevented services from being funded.

Due to all of these points and more, the city council moved forward to pass the budget without granting Wittman’s request. But making the request to give Habitat $10,000 just one month after they paid for her trip to Atlanta showed a tendency to cast aside ethical considerations for her church affiliates, a propensity to grant favors in exchange for personal gifts, and a willingness to use the taxpayer’s money for her own self-interest. 

“I definitely think Kathy should’ve recused herself from that issue,” said Mayor Baker. “I recused myself when I was on the Fire Board and a vote came up for them, and yet her conflict of interest with Habitat was far more extreme because she belonged to the organization and because they had just paid for her Atlanta trip.” 

Trying to Funnel Money to the Habitat and the Church

The chance to receive more funding for the local Habitat group and the New Horizons church is another point of contention in the town and a primary focus of Wittman over the years.

Regarding Habitat, the city used to donate about $5,000 per year to the organization until the council curtailed those payments. The decision to stop those payments is understandable. The small town of Dacono has limited revenue, many areas of the town are in dire need of those resources, and Habitat for Humanity is a massive multi-million dollar corporation that clearly does not need extra money.  

“I didn’t like Habitat for Humanity asking for donations,” asserted Mayor Baker. “We gave them money in our budget before, but we put a stop to that. Habitat is worth $750 million, their president makes $379,000 each year, and the organization doesn’t pay any taxes. I can’t give that much to Habitat when the average per capita income in Dacono is only $18,000.”

Although under Mayor Baker the council ended those unnecessary donations to instead fund more pressing needs, it is highly likely that if Wittman becomes Mayor she would revive and increase those payments to her Habitat group.

“She’s always been big into trying to have the city give money to her Habitat group,” said Adam Morehead. “It’s not a bad organization, but they’re a massive corporation. For our little town to give them $10,000 bucks didn’t make sense, and so I was glad we stopped those payments. But it’s pretty much guaranteed that if Wittman wins the first thing she’ll do is bring that funding back.”

Wittman would also most likely increase the funding to her beloved New Horizons church. Although the town provides reasonable funds to the church, the government has resisted requests from the church members to receive more funding.

The lavish lifestyle of Jackie Thomas and Pastor Rob Thomas is an essential reason that the town does not believe it is necessary to provide more funding to the church. Pastor Thomas used to live in a house that was donated to the church for free, but he and his family sold that house and moved into a much bigger and more expensive home in the high-end Sweetgrass neighborhood. Moreover, the town was disconcerted that Pastor Thomas bought this expensive house for a rate that was extremely below market value while purchasing it from a man who was suffering from dementia. With Pastor Thomas living in a fancy house and driving around town in a Mercedes Benz, many residents wonder how the church has so much money and the government cannot justify providing them with inordinate funding.

“If the church asks for permission to do anything, it almost always also involves funding,” said Mayor Baker. “They usually ask for money or financial help, but I don’t know about giving them money when the pastor is driving around in a Mercedes Benz. People were also upset about how he got that huge home in Sweetgrass, and so the visuals are just bad.”

But with the church fighting so hard to elect Kathy Wittman as mayor, she would most likely maximize the amount of money that is allocated to the church. This would be harmful to the town because straining the budget to funnel exorbitant funds to her church and to Habitat could reduce the amount of resources that are available for other areas of the community, including secular charities, infrastructure projects, community amenities, or educational systems.

Special Treatment for The Pride of the Glens Coalition

Implementing policies for the Pride of the Glens neighborhood would be another priority for Wittman. The Pride of the Glens Coalition includes the New Horizon Christian Church, the local Habitats for Humanity group, and the actual Pride of the Glens neighborhood.

The Glens neighborhood is an old area of Dacono that was constructed in the 1970s.  Although the neighborhood consists primarily of trailers, it is starkly different from traditional trailer parks in that the residents can own the land on which the trailers reside and the property values have increased exponentially over the decades. The longevity in which many residents have lived in the Glens for years or even decades instills them with a sense of passion for the neighborhood and a sense of camaraderie with eachother.

However, the Glens has facilitated many contentious battles with the town and intense disputes with the government. In the recent years, the Glens neighborhood has launched several complaints that the town could not placate, and has made many requests that the government could not approve.  

The Glens Coalition often presses the local government for increased resources to be allocated to their neighborhood. While the Glens residents consistently express grievances by contending that their older neighborhood has been neglected in favor of newer areas, their requests are often denied because records show that they actually receive more resources than any other neighborhood in Dacono. City records show that the Glens neighborhood does receive the most resources regarding infrastructure funding, utility resources, water distribution, street maintenance, sidewalk replacement, and calls to the police department.

When the topic of funding the Glens neighborhood was addressed during the city council meeting on December 10th of 2018, multiple council members touted the plethora of resources the town provides for the Pride of the Glens. During the discussion, Councilmember Kevin Plain expounded, “the city has invested [millions] of dollars into the Glens with roads, utilities, parks, and all kinds of stuff. So we’ve done a great job over the past decade as a community of investing in the Glens.” As a result, the complaints that the Glens neighborhood gets neglected by the government seem unfounded, and the requests that the Coalition makes for even more funding seem unreasonable.

The Glens Coalition has also consistently instigated conflicts with the government by violating rules with illegitimate projects. The Glens Coalition often implements big projects on their own without receiving the required permits, and then criticizes the local government for obstructing their unlawful projects.  

One such instance involved a crosswalk on Highway 52. The Glens Coalition initiated a meeting with CDOT and the nearby Town of Frederick to discuss crosswalk enhancements on Highway 52, but the Coalition conveniently forgot to mention this CDOT meeting and crosswalk project to the city staff until the day before the meeting.    

Additionally, the Glens coalition often criticizes the government for not completing tasks that are outside the powers of government and that should be fulfilled by an HOA for the neighborhood.  

“The Pride of the Glens used to have their own homeowners association, but they voted to dissolve the HOA to save 12 bucks a month,” said Mayor Baker. “Because of that, they’ll complain to us about traffic in the neighborhood, people not cutting their weeds, or residents not paying rent on time. So I’ve had to explain to them that those covenant issues must be handled by Homeowners Associations, and our municipality can’t provide those types of covenant services for free just because they chose to dissolve their HOA.”

These issues help to illuminate what the supporters who are propping up the Wittman campaign might want from her if she lands in the Mayor’s seat. Though the Glens neighborhood deserves to be respected as a valuable aspect of Dacono, there is a risk that Wittman would indulge the neighborhood with preferential treatment. The illegitimate projects of the Glens Coalition might be permitted, the excessive resources they demand might be granted, the unreasonable requests they make might be approved, and the rest of the neighborhoods in Dacono might be neglected.

Back to the Future: To Grow or Not To Grow

But there’s also a large ideological issue regarding the impact of Wittman on the future of Dacono. A common attitude of the Glens Coalition relates to their anti-growth sentiments for the town. Since many Glens residents have lived in the neighborhood for decades, they tend to harbor a nostalgic fondness for the small town atmosphere and they typically oppose the concepts of community growth. For instance, they frequently oppose the government adding new features to Dacono, implementing innovative projects for the town, or constructing new residential neighborhoods and commercial developments on the available land.

“The Glens Coalition doesn’t want any growth, and they’ve been anti-growth since long before I took office,” said Mayor Baker. “They opposed the beautiful Memorial Park for Veterans, a lucrative gas station on the I-25 exit, and several new retail stores and housing developments in the town. They want to remain a tiny little town, but I say you better embrace growth and prepare for it because if you don’t you’ll get passed by, swallowed up, and left in the wind.”

Adam Morehead also agrees that trying to resist the inevitable growth and change that is occurring in Dacono is a regressive and unsustainable attitude for the town.  

“Dacono is going to grow whether they like it or not,” said Morehead. “The acreage is already selling to developers as we speak, the population is increasing every year, and so growth and change are coming. But at least we can control what that growth looks like, we can determine how and where to grow, and then we can shape that growth according to what we want for the community.”

The campaign message of Morehead primarily focuses on the benefits of growth. His positive messages emphasize that accommodating the growth of the town, adding exciting features to the land, and generating more revenue for the government can improve the conditions of the neighborhoods and enhance the lives of the citizens.

“It’s beneficial that we’re exploding with growth here in Dacono,” exclaimed Morehead.  “We’re going to double in size over the next decade, and so residential development is crucial, getting diverse businesses here would be great, and even adding entertainment venues or recreational centers would be exciting for the people and beneficial for the town. But it’s an important time to be here because I want to guide that growth in the right direction, and the decisions we make right now are going to impact the town for the next 30 years.”

However, the voters still need to decide whether they want to resist growth or embrace progress. With the Glens Coalition fueling the Wittman campaign, she might integrate the anti-growth sentiments of her supporters into the public policies of the government. Her government might oppose new residential developments, commercial projects, infrastructure improvements, neighborhood parks, or community amenities.

Conclusion: A Big Decision for a Small Town

The voters will also get to decide whether the campaign tactics of Kathy Wittman will be effective in their small town. It is unprecedented for a candidate in a Dacono mayoral race to receive exorbitant funds from various donors, to benefit from the excessive influence of the neighborhood church, and to import outside political groups and professional lobbying firms to generate a massive field operation.  

Inevitable consequences of her campaign tactics entail the skepticism of the residents and the questions about her priorities. Most small town government officials are not beholden to any entities other than their own neighbors and their own communities. But importing outside groups and accepting hefty donations asserts a destructive impact on the town by corrupting the integrity of the election process and by compromising her priorities as a government official. 

With the Saratoga Strategies lobbying firm, the residents are justified in wondering whether Kathy Wittman would focus on increasing the profits of oil companies rather than addressing the needs of the Dacono community. With the contributions from numerous donors, the town is right to question whether she will focus on returning favors to her donors rather than solving problems for the residents. And with the assistance of the church, Dacono citizens are correct to ponder whether she will represent the entire town or just serve the Glens Coalition.  

But another consequence of Wittman magnifying the size of her campaign is that she also magnified the stakes of this election.  

That relationship between local government and community residents is the last pure form of representation we have left. Thus, it would be devastating for our society if small towns begin to let big money and powerful groups corrupt their leaders, influence their elections, and control their governments. However, Dacono has been given a rare opportunity to help our society by resisting this trend. On Election Day, the voters in the small town and charming community of Dacono will have a chance to reject the influence of powerful groups, maintain the integrity of their election process, and protect the purity of their local government.

 

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