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City of Florence holds historic special election months after city council resigns en masse

FLORENCE, Colo. (KRDO) -- Nearly five months after all six Florence City Council members resigned en masse, eligible voters headed to the polls to elect a new city council Tuesday. It's a day multiple Florence citizens called "a new beginning" for the small Colorado town.

Some of the former council members told 13 Investigates they quit their jobs because they did everything they failed to get city leaders to follow their directions to get corruption allegations investigated by an outside agency.

"It needed to come out, especially with former employees that had already reported things in the past and were not believed," Florence citizen Janelle Dodd told 13 Investigates.

13 Investigates previously uncovered a city hall sexual harassment scandal, missing taxpayer money, and allegations of fraudulent sick time for city employees. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is now on the case after the 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley called them in following the council resignations in March.

Since the resignation, Florence Mayor Paul Villagrana has been the only elected official in Florence.

Florence voter Tim Jordan told 13 Investigates he wants new council members that will ask questions of current city leaders.

"They do have a duty not to interfere according to statute, but I don't believe that includes not asking questions and I think asking questions and getting concrete answers for several years has been absent," Jordan said.

Some citizens said it has been difficult to get answers out of city leaders since the council resigned en masse, including getting answers about how decisions involving taxpayer money have been handled.

"We are getting conflicting answers about things. For example, they couldn't put on a Fourth of July event in the park because there was no council to approve it, and yet we have legal settlements being resolved," Dodd said.

Jordan said he was unsure who had the authority to authorize an insurance deductible in a recent lawsuit.

Court records show the City of Florence settled a federal lawsuit filed by the former City Clerk in July. The lawsuit accused the City of Florence of failing to protect female employees from alleged sexual harassment by former City Manager Mike Patterson.

Florence citizens who wished to be on the ballot were required to get 25 petition signatures from their fellow citizens. Six council members will be elected from three wards in Florence.

In total, 11 Florence citizens are on the ballot. Below are the candidates for each ward:

  • Ward 1
    • James Vanhoutan
    • Rudl Mergelman
    • Kevin Bradley
    • Anthony Puckett
  • Ward 2
    • Matthew Stiefel
    • Steve Wolfe
    • Eric Hatfield
    • Kathryn Johanna Nabors
  • Ward 3
    • Mike Vendetti
    • Gayle MacKinnon
    • Deborah Gibson

Vendetti is the only former city council member running in the special election.

Interim City Clerk Cortlyne Huppe told 13 Investigates they will have preliminary results by Tuesday evening. Official results will be released on August 12. Once elected, the new city council will be seated on August 15.

Huppe said she estimates there are 3,200 eligible voters in Florence. As of 6 PM, 358 citizens cast their ballots. All ballots will be hand counted by election workers on Tuesday.

Voting is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Emergent building gymnasium located at 215 N. Maple Ave.

Results can be tracked here.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.

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