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LIFE ON THE EDGE

IN QUIRKY EDGEWATER, THE CIRCUS IS ALWAYS IN TOWN.OUR TOWN IN EDGEWATER, THE JUDGE IS A CONVICTED FELON. THAT'S JUST FOR STARTERS.

According to city records, Pfeuffer's department went over budget in 1991 and 1992, and was projected to do so again in 1993. "There's nothing to prevent them from doing that," says Brune. "He asked for a motorcycle and we said no, so they leased one. His next move," she predicts, "is going to be that he needs more police officers."

Actually, Pfeuffer's next move is to ask the city to establish its own probation department, a high-ticket item that most cities his size would never dream of having.

The chief says he suspects that some of the criticism directed at him is "politically oriented. We do have some problems," he says. "I admit they exist. One of them is that it's difficult to present a positive image when you're being attacked by people with different agendas."

The town's political agendas were front and center when Pfeuffer arrived in Edgewater from Rangely. Back in the spring of 1991, Edgewater was in the midst of one of its most highly publicized--and highly destructive--public squabbles.

Much of the dissension centered around then-city attorney James Windholz, who was under fire for representing the city and the embattled redevelopment authority at the same time. "The citizens," says Brune, "were questioning whether or not he was advising council in the city's best interest or in the urban renewal's best interest."

Windholz's fees also became a matter of contention when city clerk Julie Calvert brought to Mayor Allison's attention her estimate that more than ten percent of the town's revenues were going to pay Windholz's $100,000-plus annual legal fees.

Somehow, Calvert's attempt to save the town money backfired. Rather than replace Windholz, the council--reportedly led by councilmembers Jodie Lucero and Rex Swann--took the exceptional step of ordering a costly outside audit of Calvert and the town's own clerk's office. The audit dragged on for months but turned up nothing questionable. According to city council minutes, Calvert took a leave of absence at the suggestion of her therapist, who advised that contact with the council would be too stressful. Windholz, meanwhile, continued to hang on to his job. But just barely.

"I asked [Windholz] several times if he could cut his bill, and I told him if he couldn't I'd have to terminate him," Allison recalls. When Windholz (who didn't respond to requests for an interview) declined to lower his fees, Allison sent him a letter announcing that the town no longer required his services. Then, at a March 7, 1991, council meeting, the mayor introduced another laywer he hoped to appoint as the new city attorney.

But Windholz also showed up at the council meeting that night--and not as a spectator. Instead he stood up and gave his own interpretation of the charter, telling the council that Allison could only appoint a new city attorney with their consent. Four of the seven councilmembers decided they didn't want Windholz to go, and voted to retain him. After the vote, however, former mayor Joe McDonald, then serving on the council, asked Windholz to get out of his chair. Windholz refused, sparking a head-butting contest that would last for months.

Windholz, Allison recalls, "fought a valiant effort. I brought in other attorneys to take the job, and Jim would get there early enough to take [the seat reserved for the city attorney], and would not leave it."

In protest, Allison began placing Windholz's paychecks from the city in an escrow account. That prompted councilmembers to hire attorney Pat Tisdale to advise them about the mayor's "arbitrary refusal" to pay Windholz.

Tisdale's interpretation of the charter didn't please anyone. Yes, she told the council, the mayor can fire the city attorney. But, she added, the mayor must have council approval to appoint a new one.

That left the city in a quandary, but Allison's foes got around the matter by appointing Windholz "special legal counsel" to the council.

In the meantime, the furor over the audit of the city clerk's office, combined with citizen unrest over the redevelopment authority's blight declaration, had led citizens to petition for Lucero and Swann's recall.

But the council, says Brune, decided that Julie Calvert wasn't qualified to validate the petition. Instead the councilmembers hired someone else to do the job. That person "threw out a large number of names, and we had to go to court to get them reinstated," Brune says. A Jefferson County District Court judge ordered that the signatures be reinstated, and informed the city in no uncertain terms that a recall election would be held. "Then Julie posted a notice of election and started the preparations for it," says Brune, "and the council decided that she hadn't done it correctly."

Windholz then informed the council he "assumed" that if the members failed to appoint election judges, an election couldn't be held. "So they voted no on the appointment of judges," says Brune. "And we had to go back to court, and they were ordered to appoint judges and hold the election."

The recall vote took place in early August. Lucero lost her seat to Brune by 7 votes. Rex Swann was retained by 25 votes. Brune's election gave Allison the majority he needed to appoint a new city attorney. At the next council meeting, he introduced and--this time, successfully--appointed Tami Tanoue to the post.

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