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Lawsuit filed in Pueblo over ballot question

Group claims voters are not being fully informed.
Posted at 3:23 PM, Feb 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 19:07:31-05

PUEBLO — A lawsuit was filed on Friday by a group questioning the transparency of the ballot question Pueblo voters will decide regarding the public takeover of the electric utility from Black Hills Energy.

Former Pueblo District Attorney Gus Sandstrom, community activist Colennda Fratterelli , working with Pueblo C.A.R.E.S.( Clean, Affordable,Reliable, Energy Solutions), claims that voters are not being told within the context of the ballot language, that by voting "yes", they forfeit their TABOR, or taxpayer bill of rights, to vote on rate increases or debt related to the electric utility takeover, and that the city has failed to include this critical information in advocating for the ballot measure.

Pueblo C.A.R.E.S. spokesman Steve Welchert, said in a news release, “It’s bad enough that the ballot is completely silent on the hundreds of millions of dollars this government takeover will cost Puebloans. But they hid the fact that by voting yes, Pueblo residents will give up their TABOR rights to vote on any future debt issues to finance this risky scheme.”

The release goes on to state that the intent of the suit is not to interfere with the May 5th special election. They do not want to stop the election or throw out the ballot question, but to "simply fix it".

Welchert went on to say that “our goal is to make sure Pueblo voters know exactly what they’re being asked to approve, without having to decode complex legal language on the ballot. A judge has the power to fix this for the community, so people are clear in what they are being asked to vote on.”

News5 reached out to the city for comment on the lawsuit, speaking with city attorney Dan Kogovsek, who said they had just received the lawsuit Friday morning, were still in the process of looking it over and analyzing it, but did say that the city rejects the premise that it would be in violation of TABOR guidelines. They said the money that voters are being asked to approve to move forward with the acquisition and operation of the public utility is not taxpayer money, rather, money generated from utility ratepayers.

Additionally, Kogovsek implied that Black Hills Energy is behind this effort saying the utility is quote, "going to pull out all the stops to defeat it." He added that the city has until March 6th to finalize ballot language, but did not indicate to News5 that the language would be adjusted, that additional language would address the allegations made by the group filing the lawsuit.

We will continue to follow this legal battle through the process and bring you updates as we receive them.