By virtue of their jobs and the decisions they make, the mayor of Aspen and the chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners have had brushes with constituents that they worried would escalate further.
“I’ve been in some uncomfortable situations,” Kelly McNicholas Kury said.
Last year, the commissioner, who was elected in 2018, was called a Nazi and other names by then-Aspen resident Lee Mulcahy, who also reportedly told her children — while they were playing in their front yard — that she was trying to kick him and his family out of his house.
Mayor Torre said on separate occasions during social settings, once as a councilman, the other in his current position, he’s “felt intimidated if not threatened. They didn’t go far, but I did notify the police department at one time, but there wasn’t a formal complaint.”
The incidents with McNicholas Kury and Torre did not rise to the levels of criminal charges or a prosecution, but maybe a sleepless night or two.
The same can be said for Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill, who as an elected official runs a department that handles elections, vehicle registrations, property records, marriages and other affairs.
“I will state that I’m always concerned with my staff and how they are treated by customers,” she said, noting that once she had to contact Aspen police.
Now there’s legislation aimed at addressing treatment of elected officials. Senate Bill 21-064, which passed April 5 and is in the state House where it has been assigned to the judiciary committee, would beef up penalties for those who threaten or harass elected officeholders or relatives.
“Under current law, there is a crime of retaliation against a judge if an individual makes a credible threat or commits an act of harassment or an act of harm or injury upon a person or property as retaliation or retribution against a judge,” the bill reads. “The crime is a class 4 felony. The bill adds selected officials and their families to the crime.”
The bill’s sponsors are Sens. John Cooke, R-Greeley, and Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Adams County.
Politics can be highly charged in Aspen, but rare are the times they lead to criminal behavior by residents and citizens.
“We have never prosecuted, but there have been some situations that have involved our elected folks who have been threatened by perhaps overzealous constituents,” Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said.
Whether through emails to officeholders or posts on social media, the tenor of the language used can “come off really strong,” Linn said. “But in all of the instances, nothing physical came of them. But if you’re sitting at home worrying about it, that’s a consequence, and I do know from talking to elected officials in the city and county that that is worrisome.“
Senate Bill 21-064, also known as Retaliation Against An Elected Official, has the support of the Colorado Municipal League, Denver Department of Public Safety, and Adams County commissioners, for example, while it has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, according to coloradocapitolwatch.com.
McNicholas Kury said the Pitkin BOCC is monitoring the bill but has not taken a position on it. McNicholas Kury does not support it.
“The Mulcahy situation is probably the best known incident where I’ve been the subject of personal attack,” she said, “and at the same time, I also think there are other laws in the books and other tools to use as well.”
“I’ve heard from colleagues (not in Pitkin County) who’ve had their offices broken into and had their houses shot at. But I also think that we sign up for a fair amount of criticism and verbal abuse on the job.“
Torre said he had not read the bill but supports a measure that “gives some level of safety and assurance for an elected official, and the reason I would say that is I would hate people to be dissuaded from running for public office because of threats or intimidation.”
The mayor said there’s a higher level of tension and anxiety these days, but “I wouldn’t connect it toward local government. I’ve kept an eye out for that to make sure it doesn’t come here, at least in the way you saw it play out at the Capitol.”
He added: “I know that locally I’ve felt an amazing amount of collaboration and respect and openness. I’ve gotten to appreciate that.”