The last chapter for the recall election filings finally came to a close last week. Voted to finish out his term, Mayor Paul Donahue sat before Town Council to request reimbursement from the Town for legal expenses he personally incurred during the months proceeding his possible recall.
“The council adopted an ordinance in September–that is being applied for the first time this evening–which authorizes the council, upon request of a council member who has retained his or her seat in the face of a recall to recover and be reimbursed by town funds of certain expenditures that were incurred,” said Bob Slentz, Castle Rock’s Town Attorney.
The bill Mayor Donahue presented included hours of legal advice. “When a recall petition is submitted by residents, there is an opportunity to have a protest hearing,” Mayor Donahue continued, “It was during that protest time period that I decided to protest some of the signatures that were on those petitions; I had to hire an attorney.”
Hiring outside legal help was a direct result of the recall. Mayor Donahue was not able to seek legal council from the Town Attorney—a position that is subsidized for the Town, by the Town. “During a recall election, the person under recall loses access to all those resources,” he said.
Instead, he sought the representation of Abraham Layden, an Attorney at Burns, Figa and Will, P.C. “I did have to go out and find my own representation,” said Mayor Donahue. “During that time period, I did rack up an attorney’s bill of approximately $14,000.” An amount that he paid out of pocket.
After his request, the floor was opened to Town Council for questions and comments. Councilmember Renee Valentine (District 5), whose recall petition was retracted before going to election, expressed her feelings. “This was really hard on both of us–for doing nothing wrong other that volunteering our time for our community,” Valentine added. “I think that Paul should be 100 percent reimbursed for his fees.”
Other citizens then came forward to show their support. Former three-term councilmember, Joe Precopio spoke. He pointed out the possible repercussions of the decision to not reimburse Mayor Donahue and future councilmembers who may be subject to recall for unfound accusations.
“You’re going to turn away volunteers if you don’t treat them fairly,” said Precopio. “If they are found not guilty, not culpable, not something that they have done dishonorably- I think they should be reimbursed.”
Attorney Slentz proceeded to give the floor back to council before their vote. Councilmember Chip Wilson (District 6) took the opportunity to challenge some of the wording of the ordinance regarding what is and is not subject to reimbursement.
To that Sletnz replied, “I think it’s the overall effort and the expenses incurred in determining whether there was a legal basis to challenge that,” he said. “Was this (expense) related to challenging the sufficiency of the petition?”
The request was likewise challenged by District 6 Councilmember, George Teal. “It’s apples and oranges here guys,” he said. “Sir, it was a bad decision that came out of your own pocket; you did not have to engage legal recourse.”
Debating Teal’s sentiment, District Councilmember Brett Ford, expressed his support of the Mayor. He agreed that the fees incurred from the legal advice the Mayor received to fight the recall were justified.
“The way that you seek out advice and direction should be up to you,” he said. Because he sees the importance of making the public feel that they can serve their community without worrying about the personal costs of someone not agreeing with your voting record.
Unable to come to a unanimous decision for full reimbursement of the $14,000 requested, Town Council voted 4 to 2 to allow Mayor Donahue to recoup his legal fees. The check awarded will be processed and taken from the Town’s unobligated General Fund.