Volume 104, Number 12 - March 22, 2007
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Hoback Ranches plows into court
The uproar over snowplowing in the Hoback Ranches extended beyond the letters page of the local newspapers and into the courthouse.
Judi Adler, chairwoman of the Hoback Ranches (HR) subdivision, filed a peace bond against three HR residents, Gary Capron, Frederic O’Connor and Geoffrey Canfield, alleging the defendants threatened or planned to “commit an offense against the property of another” by disregarding the Hoback Ranches Property Owners Improvement and Service District rule that forbid snow plowing within the subdivision without the approval of the district’s chairman.
On March 16, Sublette County Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws, discharged the men mentioned in the peace bond, on the grounds that he found no probable cause to believe they posed an imminent threat to property or to others, he stated. The early warm weather may have made the issue of snowplowing a moot point. A peace bond is a court order intended to preemptively prevent a person from breaking the law or harming another after he or she has threatened to do so. Adler claimed Canfield told her that he intended to keep the subdivision district roads open with a vehicular “groomer.” The petition also states that Capron told HR District Director Peter Teller he would plow subdivision roads, in defiance of district rules.
Adler and her attorney, Dale Aronson, submitted an affidavit signed by HR resident Shari Hahn, who maintained she observed O’Connor using a bulldozer on a district road on Feb. 28. In her statement, Hahn reported O’Connor told her he was not plowing, but that the wind had moved the snow drifts. O’Connor allegedly added “he did not want District property owners who did not live here in the winter telling him what to do and that he would plow if it ‘snowed or blowed,’” according to the affidavit.
Hahn’s statement also charged that Canfield indicated he planned to plow because he did not believe the roads had been “ ‘shut down by the Board.’” The prohibition against unauthorized plowing angered many HR residents during the winter of 2007. They feel that it makes travel within the district unnecessarily difficult. They cited concerns about the safety of transporting children to school on unplowed district roads.
Adler said in an interview that the district’s plowing rules were adopted in the late 1990s to ensure the roads remained safe for all travelers in the subdivision. Several years earlier a property owner plowed a portion of a road, creating snow banks that blocked access from other property. Plows and cars could threaten snowmobilers, who often have difficulty hearing other vehicles over their noisy engines, Adler added. The district’s board chose to grant the chairman authority to permit plowing because many residents leave the Ranches in the winter, making it difficult to establish a voting quorum.
Adler is joined on the district’s board by Barbara Burris and Peter Teller. A board election will be held in May of 2007. Supporters of plowing, Adler suggested, were fully informed of the district’s rules when they purchased their property in the subdivision.
“It’s not a secret what winter’s like,” she said. Disgruntled HR inhabitants have also charged the district’s board with improperly administering elections, following the November 2005 elections. All residents who are qualified electors in Bondurant are entitled to vote in district elections. However property owners who are registered to vote elsewhere receive only one vote per household. A group called Concerned Citizens for Hoback Ranches (CCHR) accused the Hoback Ranches Service and Improvement District (HRSID) of failing to recognize individual registered voters.
In an open letter to HR residents, the CCHR also claimed that “unethical, and arguably illegal, [sic] activities surrounding the distribution and collection of absentee ballots” took place. Some absentee voters never received ballots, the CCHR stated. The group also stated that the board received the mailed-in absentee ballots and then chose the person or people who count the votes, “even if a current Board member is on that very ballot!” the letter states.
After Judge Haws discharged the defendants, Canfield said he and other residents had a bonfire party to celebrate. They are considering taking legal action to change the HRSID’s voting procedures, to ensure that vote counting is performed by an independent party.
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