Recently elected Frisco councilman will resign due to health issues
Frisco town councilman and mayor pro-tem Larry Sawyer will resign from his post later this month due to health issues. He was recently re-elected to his third term on the council.
Sawyer, 73, a resident of Frisco for 15 years, received the third-most votes (about 15 percent of the ballots cast) behind Deborah Shaner and Jessica Burley in a nine-person race for three open council seats during the April 5 election. However, an ongoing and worsening bout with rheumatoid arthritis, among other illnesses, will keep Sawyer from fulfilling those governmental responsibilities.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said, reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “On town council, I believe you should be out and about talking to people. I haven’t been out and about for about six months — that’s how beat up I am. No sad stories for me, just that I’m sick. I’m thankful the public elected me, I just don’t have it.”
At no point during the campaign process did he suggest to residents that he was not fit for office or would not accept re-election should he win. At a candidate forum at Frisco Town Hall in March, he told the audience he was a list maker with a history of accomplishments on the council and sought re-election in order to finish that list — by acquiring land to build workforce housing, complete Frisco Park on First and Main Street and get the municipal zoning code sorted out for “Funky Frisco.”
But Sawyer told the Summit Daily on Wednesday the chronic disorder that affects the body’s joints, which he’s had since he was 37 years old, flared up this past July after his medication stopped working. By January of this year, he said he felt better by the time he filled out his candidate questionnaire, but that the inflammation “went crazy again” by mid-February and he went to Bill Efting, town manager, to tell him he would not fulfill a third term if elected.
According to Sawyer, Efting told him that to withdraw then would “make a mess if you get out now” and to “let it run since they’d already printed the ballots.” But Sawyer said he stopped actively campaigning.
“I hoped the voters would take me out,” he said. “They didn’t; they were kind. As soon as the numbers were announced, the next morning, I gave a letter to the mayor that I elect not to be elected.”
Efting said Sawyer came to him and the Frisco town clerk’s office after the deadline to take his name off the mail-in ballot, which requires a written withdrawal at least 63 days before the election. In this case, that would have been Feb. 2., and the $8,000 budget to print and mail 2,088 ballots, including replacements, had already been spent.
“This is not the first time this has happened,” said Efting. “Faced with a mail ballot, we just had to go through with what we had. I was kind of hoping he’d get better. It’s life. If there was a way to take him off the ballot, we’d have done it, but there wasn’t.”
Sawyer will formally submit his resignation on Tuesday, April 26, when the new councilmembers, Shaner and Burley, are sworn into office. It is at that same time that town attorney Thad Renaud will provide the council with a list of four choices for finding Sawyer’s replacement.
The last time the council had the opportunity to appoint a new member was in 2000, when then-Councilwoman Bonnie Moscatelli resigned with two years of her term remaining after her husband, Bob, won the mayoral election. The town council chose to appoint the next-highest vote getter, and David Amli took office on May 5, 2000.
Should the new town council go that route among the available courses of action, and most likely make that decision at their first meeting in May, the next-highest vote getter from the April 5 election is Rick Ihnken. Ihnken is five-year Frisco resident, a lieutenant for the safety and medical division at West Metro Fire Rescue and a part-time ski patroller at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Reached by email, he said only that he was out of town for the week with very limited cell coverage.
The council could also decide to interview all those who ran for the three seats during the election and make an appointment among that group, open up the process to all residents for the vacancy or hold a special election. Whoever is ultimately appointed, that person will receive a two-year term, and, should they want to continue pursuing the seat, he or she would then have to run for election to the office in 2018.
Word that Sawyer will be stepping down, leaving open a council seat, came as news on Wednesday to candidate Donna Skupien, the fifth-place finisher in the April 5 election. Skupien, a part-time resident of Summit County since the late-‘90s and full-time Frisco resident since 2006, was 10 votes behind Ihnken and the only other candidate to receive a double-digit percentage of votes.
“It is what it is, and I have no authority, and it’s not up to me,” she said, who acknowledged she had heard rumors of Sawyer’s declining health, but never more than that. “Of course I’m disappointed, I’m so passionate about it. Maybe Rick and I can just arm wrestle.”
Skupien, the owner of a creative-design firm, also ran for a seat on the town council in 2014, losing to current Councilman Daniel C. Kibbie, Jr., by 49 votes in a four-person race, also for three seats. She has sat on both the Ten Mile Planning Commission and Frisco Planning Commission since 2007 and is also the vice president of her HOA. She said she would absolutely seek the seat if it opened back up.
“There’s a lot at stake,” she said. “There’s so much stuff going on right now, it’s really a crucial time. I think if the town made these little changes, there could be big benefits. We want to make it better for everyone, and it would be great to make a difference. Had (Larry) not run, who knows?”
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