Three candidates answered questions from constituents Tuesday night in Black Forest while three withdrew participation, citing dirty politics.
There are seven candidates running for three spots in the special district election on May 6. Preston Cooper, Ed Bracken and Walter Seeyle are currently on the board and are running for re-election. Mark Fitzgerald, Jayme McConnellogue, PJ Langmaid and Rick Nearhoof are also running.
Seventy people spent almost two hours asking candidates questions at La Foret in Black Forest on Tuesday evening. Cooper, Bracken and Fitzgerald attended the event. Walt Seelye was unable to attend because of an illness.
McConnellogue, Langmaid and Nearhoof initially agreed to the meet-and-greet and then withdrew from the event because they said they were being set up.
"I would have very much liked the opportunity to have our counterparts in this election be able to express their views because that's what this is all about. When you don't have the opportunity to have both sides of the discussion, it's just unfortunate," said Fitzgerald.
Langmaid said Tuesday the three withdrew because of questions for candidates written by Bracken.
"We started getting anonymous tips from from folks, that they were putting people in the audience to ask slanderous questions and a negative mug-slinging type environment so we bowed out of this," said Langmaid.
Bracken said he did write the questions, but said they were not to be asked by the moderator of the event, but rather the community to every candidate.
"If we are going to make an intelligent decision about who should be on the board and who should not be on the board, these questions need to be posed to a these people," said Bracken.
Some of the questions on the list involved the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and candidates' views on the role the Sheriff should play in wildland fires. Lt. Jeff Kramer with the Sheriff's Office said representatives from the Sheriff's Office attended the meeting in case slanderous comments were made about the sheriff and the sheriff's office.
Event attendees asked for clarification on rumors circulating about the impact the election could have on the fire district. One person asked if the district's ambulance service would be eliminated. Another person asked if the district's volunteer firefighting would be eliminated.
Bracken said it was unclear if the staff would be eliminated, but said many are loyal to leadership at the district. He said if Fire Chief Bob Harvey was removed, some firefighters may resign in protest. He said voters would need to ask Langmaid, McConnellogue and Nearhoof if they planned to stop the district's ambulance service.
Langmaid also responded to the rumors for volunteer firefighters and ambulance service.
"We have heard a lot of rumors and speculation. We've heard that the firefighters, if we get elected, will flat out leave, and I spoke to the firefighters, that's not true," said Langmaid. "Ambulance service is a revenue stream. I don't know why you would cut it. We need to add revenue to cover this exorbitant bill from the investigation."
There are 7,000 people who can vote in the election but as of March 31, 1,000 voters were inactive in the system. That means they won't have access to a mail-in ballot unless they change their mailing information. The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office said some Black Forest residents may have inadvertently disqualified themselves from voting in the upcoming election for the Black Forest Fire Board.
Voters should go to the website www.GoVoteColorado.com or come to one of the Clerk and Recorder offices to update their voter registration. This must be done by 11:59 p.m. Monday in order to receive a mail ballot for the election.
Voters are encouraged to contact the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's Office with questions.