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Supporters of tax increase wrote a 'no' argument in Jeffco voter guide

The against argument in the guide was written by supporters of the tax hike. How was this allowed?

GOLDEN, Colo. — There is a strange argument against a tax increase in Jefferson County on the county’s official voter guide.

Perhaps why it’s strange is because it was written by a supporter of the increase.

In the TABOR notice for November’s election, the lead argument against the increase states, in part:

The County doesn’t need more revenues; it can balance its budget by making further cuts to public safety, roads, bridges and other county services.

It caught Natalie Menten, RTD board director, and head of the campaign to defeat the property tax increase off guard. She hadn’t read the guide over the weekend and started to get strange phone calls about it on Monday.

“Then the Facebook messages started coming in…who wrote this?” she said. “This is embarrassing. This is not at all what our side is representing.”

Menten immediately knew the comment was not from someone arguing against the increase.

“We realized that we had been sabotaged and somebody had submitted comments appearing to be against the measure and making us look ridiculous,” she said.

Menten said her committee would never argue the county should cut budgets for public safety, roads and bridges. She said Thursday that her group, in fact, supports annual increases for those budgets.

Curious about who submitted the unsigned statement, she submitted an open records request to the county clerk, George Stern.

Through that request, Menten received an e-mail submitted with the comment from a man named John Gill, though the e-mail didn’t include Gill’s name or address, as required in state statute.

“We happened to notice that John Gill shares the same address as the registered agent for the yes campaign,” Menten said.

Reviewing the document even further, Menten realized the metadata on the file indicated that Rebecca Winning, the registered agent for the pro-tax increase campaign, was listed as the author.

“We receive comments pro and con from any registered voter in Jefferson County,” county clerk George Stern said. “We have to take those we print them verbatim in the TABOR notice.”

“There is nothing I can do to interpret the intent or goodwill of anyone who submits statements,” Stern said. “I have to assume goodwill and publish them. That’s what the statute tells me.”

Winning confirmed to 9NEWS Thursday that she wrote the “con comment” with her husband.

“My husband is a conservative republican and even he has been concerned about the level of misinformation that’s coming out in opposition to the 1A campaign,” Winning said.

“We wanted to make sure that factual information was included into the con statement.”

Though Winning says her husband is conservative, she told 9NEWS he will likely vote yes on the tax increase. Though she defended his decision to submit a fake comment against the increase.

“I don’t think it’s misinformation,” Winning said.

ENOUGH INFORMATION

Menten doesn’t believe Gill’s comment should have been accepted. State statute requires a signature and an address before publishing comments.

Gill’s e-mail contained neither.

“I don’t believe George Stern followed the law,” she said.

But Stern said his office confirmed Gill’s voter information with an e-mail address.

“We decided in the interest of free speech and transparency to interpret the issue more broadly to interpret them with electronic addresses.”

Menten filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office regarding Stern’s handling of the comment. A spokeswoman for that office confirmed an investigation into that complaint is ongoing.

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