With Sawyer’s resignation, Frisco town council appoints Ihnken
In the wake of recently re-elected Frisco Councilman Larry Sawyer’s resignation due to worsening health issues, the new town council unanimously decided at its meeting on April 26 to appoint the next-highest vote getter from the April election, Rick Ihnken, to fill the vacancy.
Sawyer, 73, officially tendered his resignation Tuesday night, declining to accept a third term in office — to which voters elected him on April 5 — due to an ongoing battle with rheumatoid arthritis. Faced with a decision on how to select his replacement, the newly-seated council voted 5-0 to appoint Ihnken, a five-year Frisco resident and captain with West Metro Fire Rescue out of Lakewood.
The council said the swift decision was made to save both time and money. The estimate to hold a special election for the lone seat would be more than the $8,000 the town spent on the April election because Frisco would have to cover added costs of equipment normally shared among all the municipalities for a general election. That cost is approximated at $3,000.
“In light of the $11,000 price tag for a special election, and the fact the election was held so recently,” Councilwoman Jessica Burley, who was sworn in Tuesday night, said via email, “we decided to appoint Ihnken to the vacancy. (We) can now move on to addressing town business.”
A phone call and email to Ihnken each went unreturned by deadline.
Town manager Bill Efting previously told the Summit Daily that the council would have four options in picking Sawyer’s successor: It could, as its members chose, appoint the next-highest vote getter, hold a special election among the runner-up candidates from the April 5 election, interview the other six candidates who ran for the three open seats to make a selection or open up the process entirely to additional citizens.
Through the town, an attempt to contact Town Attorney Thad Renaud — who operates out of Denver and was said to be the person delivering the list of options for replacing Sawyer to the council Tuesday night — was met with a reply that “(the) town attorney does not field press inquiries.”
The council’s decision is not without its critics. Unease exists among some residents primarily over not being informed before the election by either Sawyer or Efting about Sawyer’s health problems and intent not to accept the new term were he again elected.
In addition, just 10 votes separated Ihnken from fifth-place finisher Donna Skupien, a part-time county resident since the late-’90s and full time in Frisco since 2006, and, some have argued, perhaps the results would have been different had voters been better informed and not cast their ballots for Sawyer. Ihnken and Skupien were the only candidates other than the three winners — Burley, Sawyer and Deborah Shaner — in the nine-person council race to receive a double-digit percentage of votes.
Frisco resident Mike Hammer, who attended last night’s meeting, called it a “sad day for Frisco” and asserts that the council did “the easy thing” in appointing Ihnken instead of exploring other means for replacing him. In a letter to the Summit Daily, Hammer said he speaks for a number of longtime Frisco residents in his disapproval of the decision.
“We are angry that the remaining candidates were not given the opportunity to see new results with the votes cast for Mr. Sawyer being dispersed amongst them,” he wrote. “We believe Frisco’s recent election was managed incompetently, rigged or maybe both. We will remember this at the next election.”
The Summit Daily previously received several pieces of correspondence from citizens disappointed with how the election played out. One Frisco resident, Mary Wilson, implored the town “to do the right thing.”
“The town should have made the effort to make a public announcement,” she wrote, regarding Sawyer’s situation before the election. “If the town council is going to appoint someone, and not have a special election, they need to look at the experience of the candidates and select the most qualified.”
Skupien was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. She, however, proactively sent a statement regarding the council appointing Ihnken, as she anticipated, rather than considering another course for filling Sawyer’s vacant seat.
“I am glad for Rick,” Skupien wrote, “but disappointed in the town. This is a quintessential example of how the town works. This is an important time for the town, and I will continue to contribute wherever I can and question things I think need improvement.”
With the appointment, Ihnken, who is also a part-time ski patroller at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, receives a two-year term according to the town charter. The seat will then go back up for another vote at the next regularly scheduled election in April 2018.
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