|Two Westcliffe trustees abruptly resigned from the town board on Tuesday night because they could no longer work with fellow trustee John Johnston. Mayor Pro-Tem Audrey Glusckhke and Trustee Paul Wenke walked out of the early part of the meeting after Johnston refused to resign.
“Now we have no quorum,” Mayor Christy Patterson said in the quiet after they left.
Because Trustees Brian Clince and Art Nordyke were absent, Glushke and Wenke’s sudden departure prevented the board from voting and being able to conduct business.
“Since there is no longer a quorum,” town attorney Jay Printz advised, “you can’t even recognize their resignation.”
The drama began as the board discussed the issue concerning the murals on the side of Johnston’s Courtyard Country Inn.
The first four murals, painted by muralist Buck Arnhold, were done without town approval. Although it was waived, Johnston paid the $300 fine. Johnston attempted to get approval for the next five murals during September’s town hall meeting, but failed to bring the renderings of future murals.
During that meeting, the board told Johnston that he could not willfully break town ordinance. Because he is a trustee, they said he is held by a higher standard than “John Citizen.” At the time, Johnston stated that he would just pay the $300 fine again rather than wait for approval at the October meeting because Arnhold was already scheduled to arrive from out of state that weekend.
Mayor Patterson had been absent during the September town hall argument, and called for a special meeting later that week to approve the murals. There was not a quorum then, so the meeting was not held.
Mayor Patterson explained why she had called the special meeting during the beginning of Tuesday’s town hall fiasco.
“(Johnston) sent me an email stating he had provided our town clerk, Kathy Reis, a copy of the renderings of what the drawings are going to be,” Mayor Patterson said, “and he didn’t understand why she didn’t give them to the board. I would have called a special meeting if any citizen had said that to me.”
However, Reis did not have the renderings because the file Johnston sent could not be opened.
“So being told she hadn’t done it wasn’t exactly the case,” Mayor Patterson said. “If I had listened to the meeting minutes first, I wouldn’t have called for a special meeting.”
Wenke explained that the board’s issue was never about the rules, but rather Johnston’s attitude.
“You thumbed your nose at us,” Wenke said, “you thumbed your nose at the ordinances of this community, and you thumbed your nose at this town. You gave an oath, you gave your word, to uphold the ordinances when you took this seat. You didn’t do it once, you did it twice. . . You angered all of us on the board and single-handedly destroyed the camaraderie that we have as a working body to do what is best for this town. We don’t always agree, but we respect each other and that is one thing you did not do. I don’t know how any of us can trust you anymore, and frankly John, I don’t know how you think any of us are going to work with you.”
Printz explained that if the special meeting had been held, there was a good chance the murals would have been approved. He explained that the board could do what it feels is appropriate, even asking Johnston to resign. If he refused, the board could vote him off. If that were to happen, Johnston could take the town to court because he was refused the opportunity to comply with the law when the special meeting was called.
“The town would be negligent for intentionally road-blocking him,” Printz said.
Johnston extended an apology to the board because “I was arrogant.”
He explained that this attitude originated once Arnhold came to town and “I was told that either he goes home or we ask for approval later. It put me in a difficult position because I paid him thousands of dollars to paint. I didn’t understand that (Reis) couldn’t open what I sent. I thought she had opened it. I thought I was fighting this board.”
Trustee Thornburg stated that he didn’t accept his apology and disagreed with his logic.
“We begged you to show us your drawings,” he said. “If you said they were of two of your dogs, then that would have been enough for me. Shame on you. I have no sympathy for you. I’ve listened to all the bull crap I’m going to listen to. Bull crap John.”
“Are you denying me the privilege to speak?” Johnston asked.
“Just about,” Thornburg said. “You’re not telling the truth.”
The ordinance read that $300 would be fined for each day the murals were in violation. Johnston’s total fine was $9,000. The board voted to reduce it to $300, then voted to approve the murals, and finally came to concurrence to ask Johnston to resign from his position on the board.
“Having spoken to several constituents,” Johnston said, “I will not resign. This is something that I think has become personal because of my arrogance. (Gluschke), you ran for an office where you couldn’t fulfill the obligations. If you miss more than three meetings, you’re excused from the board. The board changed that for you.”
Thornburg stopped Johnston, scolding him for attacking board members individually.
“Am I not being attacked?” Johnston asked.
Gluschke then closed the binder in front of her and gathered her things.
“It’s been a pleasure working with most of you,” she said, “but when you have someone who is part of this board who consciously decides not to obey our town regulations, I cannot be a part of this board.”
“I share Audrey’s feelings,” Wenke said.
Another meeting will be held today, Thursday, October 8 at 8 a.m. to approve items that had been listed for the Tuesday, October 6 meeting.
– J.E. Ward