A citizen group, seeking more restrictions on oil and gas development, has launched a petition drive to recall Thornton City Councilwoman Jan Kulmann.
Members of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy say Kulmann, who works for Noble Energy, should have recused herself from votes on energy-related matters.
Kulmann, an energy development engineer, says her expertise is beneficial to other members of council.
She told Denver7 that after hearing from the group last year, she sought the opinion of Thornton’s City Attorney before casting any votes.
City Attorney Margaret Emerich said Noble Energy has no mineral rights in Thornton and would not benefit financially from any of Kulmann’s votes, so those votes would not be a conflict of interest.
Still, the safe energy group says Noble Energy is a member of COGA (the Colorado Oil & Gas Association).
“COGA is the one that sues cities if they do anything to restrict oil and gas in their neighborhood,” said Maria Orms, one of the leaders behind the recall effort.
Orms said the group is concerned about the increasing number of oil and gas operations planned near homes in Thornton and the surrounding areas of unincorporated Adams County.
“This is an emotional issue for a lot of people,” Orms said, “especially people with children.”
Jessica Troy, another member of the group, said she worries about the potential for explosions.
“Accidents happen,” she said. “That’s what they are. You can’t control them. You can’t predict them.”
Troy told Denver7 that she wants a fair and unbiased evaluation of what’s going into their neighborhoods.
“How can we get an unbiased evaluation by someone who’s getting paid by the very industry we’re concerned about?," Troy said.
Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams said, "The City Attorney has advised us that Jan’s employment is not a conflict of interest so the accusations are unfounded."
Williams said she is opposed to any recall that targets elected officials because they don’t share an opinion with another group.
“Recalls should be reserved for corruption and illegal acts,” the mayor said.
Williams is asking voters to not sign the recall petition.
Orms said the group needs about 15-hundred signatures to get the recall issue on the ballot.
“We’re shooting for two thousand,” she said. “We have 60 days.”
When asked about the City Attorney’s opinion, Orms indicated there is a difference of opinion.
She forwarded this section of the Thornton Municipal Code:
Conflict of interest means a personal interest of the councilmember, board member, or employee or of any relative of such which interferes with or influences or may interfere with or influence or which may reasonably be perceived by the public as interfering with or influencing the conduct of the duties or the exercise of the powers of the councilmember, board member, or employee on behalf of the city. The term "conflict of interest" includes the restrictions set forth in Section 2-191 .
Again, the City Attorney said neither Kulmann, nor her employer, would benefit financially from any of those votes.
Aside from the recall effort, oil and gas development is a hot button issue.
Many residents, who support development of oil and gas, are alarmed at the scale of some of the development. They believe oil companies are in a rush to get development underway before voters have a chance to weigh in on future limits.