Cowdin explains stress-fueled resignation
By John Gardner
Berthoud’s recent mayor-elect, Pete Cowdin, last week explained in a letter to Berthoud citizens that a disagreement between new trustees on who should be mayor pro-tem, coupled with a family-related illness, spurred his decision to resign before being sworn in.
Cowdin’s resignation before taking the oath to be Berthoud’s mayor on April 12 stemmed from a previous heart condition aggravated by stress, he said, because of an inability to reach consensus with other trustees about the mayor pro-tem position.
“Over the course of a very long week, the demanding negotiations with three of the board members, coupled with concern over an unrelated family illness, finally succeeded in triggering an old stress-related heart issue that has not bothered me for several years, Cowdin explained in his letter.
“While it’s not life threatening in itself, it can lead to much more serious problems if not addressed.”
Cowdin said he never spoke to trustees in a group situation and the conversations with five other trustees were all individual conversations regarding their interest in open advisory positions.
“Realizing I was clearly going to have similar on-going issues throughout my term in office, and based on my doctor’s previous advice, I chose to submit my resignation out of simple self-preservation,” Cowdin concluded.
In his letter, Cowdin expressed regret for the situation and apologized for his resignation that may lead to a special election to select a new mayor.
“I sincerely apologize for my sudden departure that may have led to the extra expense of a special election. It was certainly not my intention. However, I owe you a true explanation of the events that led to this issue,” Cowdin’s letter reads.
Mayor pro-tem is a position for municipalities that don’t have a vice mayor position. The mayor pro-tem acts as mayor in the mayor’s absence, including presiding over board meetings.
After an election, the board’s first action of business is typically to select, through a majority vote of the board, a mayor pro-tem, among various other advisory committee vacancies such as the planning commission and the historic preservation committee positions. Cowdin said he contacted all the newly-elected trustees after the election and prior to April 12, and had discussions with five of the six other trustees. Through the conversations, Cowdin hoped to find support for his selection of Chris Buckridge for mayor pro-tem.
Buckridge said Cowdin asked him to consider the position and – after a couple of days of deliberation – Buckridge said he told Cowdin he would do it and that he would do a good job for him.
“He asked me if I would entertain the idea of being pro tem for him because he thought that I would represent him well in his absence,” Buckridge said.
“It shouldn’t have been a big deal this time,” Cowdin said in an interview with the Surveyor. “I made a very careful selection for the person who I felt would be most well-suited to help me in my position as mayor.”
Cowdin didn’t name any specific people in his letter, but claimed one of the trustees “demanded” they be appointed to both the pro tem and planning commission positions based on a “self-perceived mandate from the people.” And the trustee, later determined to be newly-elected trustee Jeff Hindman, began “aggressively lobbying” other trustees in an attempt to press his demands and undermine Cowdin’s recommendations.
Hindman confirmed with the Surveyor that he had spoken to Cowdin about the position but said he didn’t “demand” that he be appointed, since the board would have to vote on a nomination. Hindman added that the conversation between the two, which was an hour-and-a-half over breakfast, was a “wide-ranging discussion” and “perfectly cordial.”
“I told him I was disappointed he had talked to [Buckridge] without even talking to me and that I thought I was the best choice to be mayor pro-tem,” Hindman said.
Later that day, Hindman said, he sent Cowdin and several other trustees an email listing the six reasons they should support him over Buckridge for the position. Hindman said he also told Buckridge that he would ask the board to consider him for the position as to not blindside Buckridge.
“Sending [two] emails to fellow board members, or calling them or meeting with them about why they should support me is not aggressive lobbying,” Hindman wrote in an email to the Surveyor. “[Cowdin] perceived it that way because he somehow thought he just got to make all the appointments himself and not the board.”
Trustee Jennifer Baker told the Surveyor she too had expressed to Cowdin her interest in the pro-tem position, but their conversation focused on other advisory positions as well.
Mayor David Gregg, who remains in the position he’s held for the past term, said in the past, mayors have found consensus fairly easily among trustees on a pro tem selection.
“In the past, the board has confirmed the mayor’s selection as a courtesy,” Gregg said.
When Gregg was elected mayor in 2012, he selected Jan Dowker as mayor pro tem and she was unanimously approved by the board. He explained that he selected Dowker because she had a complimentary temperament and high integrity.
“She was someone I was comfortable having fill-in in my absence,” Gregg said. “I asked the board to confirm [Dowker] and it was done as a courtesy and mutual respect.”
Trustees are expected to decide how to proceed with the selection of a new mayor at its April 26 meeting. Trustees have a couple of options to consider: they can either appoint by a majority vote of the board, a person to fill the vacancy, or they can hold a special election and let voters decide. A special election could take up to three months to select a new mayor.
Five of the current trustees; including Hindman, Buckridge, William Karspeck, Kelly Dunkelberger and Brian Laak, all said they supported a special election so Berthoud voters can decide who’ll be their mayor. Both Gregg and Baker didn’t take a position on the process yet, but said it would be up to the board to decide how to proceed.
“The fairest thing to do is to have a special election so the citizens can pick who they want to be mayor,” Dunkelberger said. “The easiest way would be for us to pick among the trustees, but it’s not the fairest.”
“In my opinion the mayor position needs to be opened up to a vote of the people,” said Karspeck. “Any appointment, beyond something temporary, should be a fully-open process and every voter should have their say on the next mayor of Berthoud.”
Hindman said he has heard support for a special election and said that is probably the best approach if there is more than one qualified candidate. However, he noted, that since Cowdin ran unopposed, it wouldn’t make sense to hold an election if there is only one interested candidate.
Hindman clarified he had no interest in running for mayor previously, but he would consider an appointment to the position if it came down to that.
“In light of my experience and the results of the recent election, there is a case to be made for me to be appointed mayor as the next highest vote getter,” Hindman said.
If the board chooses to appoint a current trustee as mayor, leaving an opening on the board, Lorna Greene, the next highest vote count on the ballot, could be appointed to the open seat. A mayor pro tem would have to be selected.
Gregg said the he intends to fulfill his duties and will remain as mayor until a conclusion is reached, however long it takes.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Trustee Chris Buckridge’s comment about accepting the pro-tem position if others agreed. He said that he would accept and do a good job, but understood that it would have to be voted on by the board.
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