By Teresa L. Benns
SAGUACHE —District Judge Martin Gonzales swore in Saguache County officials at 8:30 Tuesday morning in the Saguache County Courtroom amidst controversy over certification of the Nov. 2 election by County Clerk Melinda Myers.
Gonzalez congratulated the newly elected officials and told them their offices were “well deserved.” He also reminded officials jovially that, “The people who voted you in can vote you out.”
The Saguache Canvass Board first certified the election then withdrew certification and issued a statement of non-certification when they realized it was based on incomplete information. The Secretary of State’s Office accepted the non-certification as valid. The county however needed certification to pass and collect mill levies and to fund the Center School construction bond.
Myers first certified the Center School bond issue, signing legal documents for the school and later told the BOCC in open session that she had the authority to certify the election to allow passage of mill levies.
Gonzales administered the oath of office to County Treasurer Connie Trujillo separately Tuesday morning. Commissioner Mike Spearman arrived during the closing oaths sworn during the ceremony.
Following the ceremony Saguache County Commissioners met for their regular session.
BOCC chair Sam Pace commented that “The board feels it’s done everything it could [on the certification issue]. It has to rely on legal guidance.” Commissioners asked County Attorney Ben Gibbons if he had changed his mind on allowing the certification to stand and Gibbons said there was no change to his position.
“The SOS office came down, oversaw the second count and felt there was no hanky-panky or extra ballots,” Pace said. He then started laughing, finishing his comment with: “People will look for conspiracies wherever they can find them.”
No representatives from the Secretary of State’s Office were on hand for the second actual count or “retabulation” Nov. 5, attended by judges, watchers and press members. The SOS came Nov. 15-16 to oversee the count only of the actual pieces of paper run through the machine to assure residents that no extra ballots were counted. Owing to several security violations and a machine glitch, the ballots according to law were required to be hand counted for election results to be official.
Comments from Jan. 4 BOCC meeting
In their first meeting of the new year Jan. 4, commissioners addressed a letter by election activist Marilyn Marks on the certification issued by Myers to allow mill levies to go into effect for taxing purposes. “In summary, the number and severity of the irregularities in the November election undermines the credibility of the election,” Marks concluded in her letter. “Considerably more work is required to determine whether the reported outcome can be certified, or whether a new election is necessary. In either case, official action to move forward based on the flawed election should be postponed.”
Responding to Marks’ comments, County Attorney Ben Gibbons told commissioners: “It looks like the canvass board has done what it is legally required to do. There is no type of action for the county to bring and it appears the election is certified.” Pace agreed the county was not required to do anything further and those objecting could hire a lawyer to give an opinion.
“Everything that has gone on the SOS has scrutinized — they have supported these measures,” Commissioner Linda Joseph said. “Murky canvass board duties have gotten mixed in with areas needing improvement.” She further indicated that Myers has complied with what was dictated by the SOS “every step of the way.”
Canvass board member Lisa Cyriaks reminded commissioners that the SOS accepted the non-certification the board issued on Nov. 22 and this needs to be addressed to prevent future problems. “It is important to be as clear as possible,” she noted, in order to address concerns of the various taxing entities.
Former commissioner’s candidate Steve Carlson cited chain of custody issues and told Myers that, “lots of thing went wrong with the process and citizens of the county need to have finality with what happened here. The biggest issues are transparency and honesty.” He objected that Myers has not gotten “to the root of people’s concerns and has not admitted to one thing publicly yet.”
“I have 75 pages of seal logs and only one is missing,” Myers responded. “That is chain of custody. The machine was not sealed but it was under video surveillance and it was not tampered with. There was a flawless chain of custody. I am not going to admit to things people in the press accuse us of. They can write anything they want to.”