EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Voters elected three new candidates to replace three incumbents that were up for re-election on the Black Forest Fire Board.
PJ Langmaid, Rick Nearhoof and Jayme McConnellogue won with more than 60 percent of the votes.
The three ran against incumbents Ed Bracken, Preston Cooper and Walter Seelye.
There were 2,500 people that voted in this election. In the last election, 170 people voted. Voters exiting the polling place said Tuesday they didn't vote in previous fire board elections but this year was different.
"Apparently we have a lot of conflict," said voter Nona Womack.
"We want to make sure that the elected officials here were going to lead us in the right direction," said voter Len Calabretta. "We tried to make informed decisions based on the questions they had in the Black Forest newspaper and we made some decisions."
The Black Forest Fire Board announced last month it would collect $185,000 from more than 10 sections of the budget to cover its legal fees. The legal fees include $125,000 in bills to a public relations firm and independent investigator. The investigator looked into accusations concerning Fire Chief Bob Harvey's decisions during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire from El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa to KRDO NewsChannel 13.
Due to budget cuts, the board opted to stop staffing its second fire station and eliminate one part-time firefighter position. It would not lay off a firefighter but rather reduce volunteer opportunities available.
Langmaid, McConnellogue and Nearhoof gave a speech to dozens of people gathered at Black Forest Pies and Grinders after receiving the election results.
"I think the community came together and spoke with one voice. And it's pretty amazing. I think it's a mandate from the community about what direction we need to head," said Langmaid. "When you have a vote of this size, it really is, it's a referendum on the leadership of the entire organization. I still think we are going to review the entire leadership of the organization."
"This community has spoken quite strongly that they support us being in this position so the next step is that we come together as a board because it's not just the three of us on the board and we need to talk about what our next steps are," said McConnellogue. "Chief Harvey and the board haven't been very forthcoming this the news and our community an it's time to get some of those questions and answered to know where we need to head.
Mark Fitzgerald was also running in this election. He lost with 28 percent of the vote. He said by phone that he wished the three newly elected board members well. He also hopes they will further the board's efforts to raise awareness about fire mitigation. He hopes the three will strengthen the fire district's relationship with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and other fire districts.
Ed Bracken also shared his thoughts on the election before the results were announced by email.
"Regardless of who wins this election, it is not a time of celebration. As I have said to you on a number of occasions, we should be healing this community from the disastrous fire we experienced in 2013. I will remain focused on this healing process through the work that over 60 volunteers have contributed with their time and
talents," said Bracken.
Two members of the board were not up for re-election. Bill Marchant and Rick McMorran will continue their four-year terms on the board.
The three newly-elected board members will be sworn in at the next board meeting on May 21.
The results of the election will not be official until 10:00 am Friday, May 16, to allow time for overseas ballots to be received and counted, and for the District to certify the final results.
Here is a breakdown Tuesday's votes:
P.J. Langmaid: 1,620
Rick Nearhoof: 1,595
Jayme McConnellogue: 1,579
Mark Fitzgerald: 708
Preston A. Cooper: 656
Eddie Bracken: 613
Walt Seelye: 394