Effort to oust Snowmass councilman bolstered by ‘irrefutable’ evidence

The release of a video showing Snowmass Village Town Councilman Chris Jacobson’s alleged destructive behavior at the Pitkin County Jail sealed the deal for local citizens mounting a recall effort against the embattled elected official.

“If the video had not been released, we would probably not be in a position to do a recall,” said John Hornblower, a five-year resident of Snowmass Village who said he is helping collect signatures at the behest of former town councilman Fred Kucker.

“Because it was made public, the evidence is pretty irrefutable,” Hornblower said.

Released July 8 by Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo at the request of several media outlets, the jail cell video shows the 50-year-old Jacobson’s alleged actions in the aftermath of his June 26 arrest in Snowmass Village for DUI. He has since been charged with criminal mischief, a potential felony, because damages to the cell are estimated to exceed $14,000.

The video includes scenes of Jacobson tearing out a section of the isolation cell’s padded wall, urinating in his cell, punching the cell’s door and pulling wiring out of a light socket.

In the wake of its release, Jacobson’s attorney Arnie Mordkin argued that the case was now being “tried in the media,” a stance he reiterated on Friday during an interview.

“When you release evidence to the public beforehand, you’re poisoning the minds of potential jurors,” said Mordkin. “The sheriff and I have gone around with this, whether or not this kind of information is part of our Freedom of Information Act.”

Mordkin said it is not, while DiSalvo disagrees. The sheriff affirmed that it’s within the open records statute and that officials “may or shall release records on request. I do consider video a record,” he said.

DiSalvo added, “I believe in transparency in government.”

He did suggest that the video release was previously uncharted territory in Pitkin County. Elected sheriff in 2010, DiSalvo’s been a member of the department since 1987.

“I don’t believe that in at least the last 20 years we’ve had a request,” he said.

‘Disgrace to the community’

Former Snowmass Village councilman Fred Kucker said he is one of “about 14 or 15 people” who are collecting signatures for the recall effort. According to town clerk Rhonda Coxon, recall organizers have 60 days to collect 242 signatures of registered electors. After the signatures are submitted, another 30 days will be allowed for them to be certified and cured.

Should the recall go to a vote, the electorate would be asked whether Jacobson should be removed from office; voters may also be asked to select from a list of candidates to fill the potential vacancy.

The clock started ticking July 21 on the recall effort when former Snowmass Village mayor Jim Hooker, who is heading up the petitioner’s committee, submitted a form to town offices for review.

Coxon estimated that a recall election would cost between $4,000 and $5,000. She added that in her 22 years working for the town of Snowmass Village, there have been initiative petitions, including one on Base Village, but not a recall petition.

Kucker, whose tenure as a Snowmass Village councilman ended last November when he opted not to run for re-election, said he hasn’t had to look far to find willing participants. As of July 24, he had collected 21 signatures.

“People who signed the petition said it brought disgrace to the community,” Kucker said. “Everyone who signed the petition feels he should not be on council.”

Kucker reiterated that by no means should his inclusion on the recall committee be construed as “sour grapes” against his former council foe.

The two clashed repeatedly on the board, and in the fall of 2014, Jacobson accused Kucker of “ex parte communications,” or improperly speaking with Aspen Skiing Co. executives in the midst of the council’s view of amendments to the Base Village plan.

Asked if Kucker would consider tossing his hat in the ring if Jacobson is replaced, he said, unequivocally, no way

“Not a chance,” Kucker said.

The recall petition language includes this statement: “The grounds on which recall is sought include the actions of Council Member Jacobson the night of his arrest for DUI as well as his subsequent actions while incarcerated the same evening to be unworthy of a Town Council Member and such actions that evening have brought disgrace to the Town Council and this community.”

The “subsequent actions” to which the petition refers allude to Jacobson’s alleged behavior that was captured within the video, Kucker said.

A retired attorney, Kucker said the recall route was the only way he believed Jacobson could be removed from office.

“We are trying to do this by the letter of the law,” he added.

While the town’s charter could force Jacobson to resign if convicted of a felony, attorney Mordkin allowed that, “I try to do the best job for every client I have,” which could include a plea bargain for a lesser charge if possible. Mordkin emphasized that it’s still early in the case and, “I have not received information that felony information has been filed.”

Hornblower, who said he is “not proactively collectively signatures like Fred is,” said the recall process offers both citizens and the accused the best chance at resolution, regardless of the outcome.

“If he survives a recall vote and the vote is completed prior to his criminal trial, at least he will have the knowledge that he retained the confidence of the community during this process,” Hornblower said.

Professing to have “no dog in the fight,” Hornblower said Jacobson’s interactions with him while representing a citizen’s volunteer board “were professional.”

Hornblower suggested that Jacobson’s alleged behavior on the night of his arrest couldn’t be characterized in that way, however. Instead, it represents “conduct that is not acceptable by a public official ... I feel that the citizens of Snowmass Village deserve the opportunity to give him an up or down vote.”

Initially pulled over by Snowmass Village officer Franz Zedlacher for weaving and erratic driving, sheriff’s deputies, including Jason Kasper, transported and booked Jacobson to Pitkin County Jail in the wee hours of June 26.

Jacobson’s next court appearance is set for August 3.

Twitter, @Madski99