This is Part 4 of a Series on the forces behind the removal of Dacono City Manager A.J. Euckert. Read the rest of the series here.
Healing a deeply divided town takes more than an election and a few new laws.
Behind the drama in Dacono, there is a city with business to attend to. There are residential and commercial development projects to be approved, infrastructure to be maintained, and community development projects to support.
But the divisions in Dacono run deep and are seemingly guided by both politics and religion. What happened over the last six months is emblematic of where the country stands as a whole following the 2020 presidential election. Opposing groups claim to both be working for the people yet neither side is willing to reach a compromise with the other in order to serve the largest group possible. And it seems the cinders of this approach will be burning in Dacono for the foreseeable future.
Two of the Dacono city council members who voted to remove former city manager A.J. Euckert in February, Jim Turini and Jackie Thomas, were recalled during a June 27, 2023 election. They were replaced by locals Michelle Rogers and Tony Cummings, which razed the four-council-member coalition that effectively ruled Dacono for several months. However, tensions still run high.
Turini spoke to the city council during the swearing-in ceremony for Rogers and Cummings on July 10. He accused city attorney Kathleen Kelly of violating state law by not printing bilingual ballots for the recall election. Colorado law requires bilingual ballots to be printed for county elections but does not have the same requirements for municipal elections, like Dacono’s recall election.
Sitting behind Turini in city hall were several community members wearing black t-shirts with red letters that read “Two Down, Two To Go,” referring to Mayor Pro Tem Kathryn Wittman and council member Danny Long, both of whom voted to oust Euckert.
Turini also had some choice words to share with council member Doris Crespo, who Turini and Wittman previously attempted to recruit for their scheme. Crespo is also the only member of Hispanic heritage on Dacono’s city council.
“Doris, I’ve done more for my Latino neighbors than your token Latino presence on the council has done,” Turini said. The comments prompted audible gasps from the audience.
Megan Thornam, who helped organize the recall campaign against Turini and Thomas, also spoke at the July 10 meeting. Thornam told council member Long that he was no longer protected by a local ordinance that allowed him to serve for six months before facing a recall, and that the community did not support his presence on council.
“I just wanted to remind Danny Long that it was not difficult to recall them for a lack of transparency,” Thornam said. “I’d encourage you to be on the up and up from here on out because we’re watching.”
A path forward?
To some in the community, the July 10 meeting also represented a potential path forward for Dacono. The city council re-hired former city attorney Kathleen Kelly by a vote of 4-2 and unanimously hired former City Development Director Jennifer Krieger to be Dacono’s interim city manager.
City council has also gotten back to working on city business. For example, council agreed to rezone the new Daisy Subdivision to allow for light industrial development and approved a $1.15 million change order for construction on Glen Dale St.
City council drafted and passed a few charter amendments that they hope will prevent future council members from attempting another soft coup. They approved an ordinance that requires department leaders and the city manager to be appointed by a city ordinance, thereby giving them protection from being arbitrarily dismissed. Council members also approved a resolution requiring city councilors to be trained on the Colorado Open Meetings Law within the first six months of taking office, and another ordinance that changed the way the Mayor Pro Tem is appointed. Each of these ordinances still need to be approved by Dacono voters during the November 7 election before they take effect.
Each ordinance passed by a 4-1 margin. Wittman was absent from the final vote and Long was the lone voice of dissent. Before the vote, Marian Thompson, who helped organize the “No Access On Andrews” coalition, asked council to choose between serving God and serving man, which implied the ordinances they were sending to the voters were divisive in nature rather than about healing the community.
Other Dacono residents also believe that the city council no longer represents their interests. During a meeting on August 28, one resident said Krieger has done “virtually nothing” to promote commercial growth in Dacono over her 16-year career. He added that the Colorado Bureau of Investigations report exonerated Turini and Thomas and also accused Mayor Adam Morehead of organizing the recall efforts at the Sweetgrass neighborhood HOA meetings.
“All we got left is Danny. Everything else belongs to you,” said Dan Spagnuolo, referring to Morehead. “I have been around 72 years and I know crooked when I see it,”
Thomas also addressed the city council on August 28. She spoke out against one charter amendment regarding how Dacono’s city manager is appointed. Thomas alleged that the ordinance asks voters to decide on two questions simultaneously. Colorado law requires ballot initiatives to address a single subject, but that does not apply to ordinances passed under a home rule charter like Dacono’s.
“This is distraction and distortion at its very core,” Thomas said.
Council member Kevin Plain noted that there are several aspects of the charter that require ordinances or resolutions ranging from city staff pay to contracting snow routes. The Weld County charter also has similar provisions requiring city managers to have only one job while in office.
“That is not unusual. We just need it in our charter as well,” Plane said.
It remains to be seen whether the charter amendments proposed by Dacono’s city council will make a difference. The divisions in Dacono seem to be having an impact, not just on the community but also on the city’s staff. The accusations from Dacono community members during the August 28 meeting prompted Morehead to apologize to Kelly and Krieger.
“As a politician, I am compensated to take bullsh*t from people but not you guys,” Morehead said.