MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. - Rich or poor, each American casts a single ballot: one person, one vote. Except here in Colorado's newest town, where the real estate investors vote and the seasonal workers usually can't.
Village is a gated community zoned for 8,000 people, although only
about 800 occupy homes there now. It's close to the ski area and
750 feet above the former mining town of Telluride. Ski slopes and
golf fairways wind their way among huge log "cabins' in a town
founded and governed by Telluride ski company executives and
Even if they already vote in
New York, Los Angeles or Dallas, property owners can vote here,
too; a whopping 85 percent of them are non-residents. They've paid
dearly for this right: An empty residential lot now costs over
$400,000, and the average house sells for $1.3
Employee housing, according to the town
charter, is concentrated in two of the seven voting districts.
Seasonal workers can only vote if they satisfy a six-month
residency requirement: six times longer than anywhere else in
The rules have freed Mountain Village
from the constraints of neighboring Telluride, where 20 percent of
tax income is diverted to open-space acquisition. Mountain Village
had its biggest construction year to date in 1995. By year's end,
$62 million in real estate changed hands. By comparison, Telluride
real estate sales were down 30 percent in
But are the voting restrictions legal? The
American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil-rights class-action
lawsuit against Mountain Village, saying the town had created an
unconstitutional scheme to concentrate representation in the hands
of real estate interests. The ACLU noted that celebrity
non-residents such as Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump and Sylvester
Stallone receive ballots in the mail while local residents must
drive to the polls.
Meanwhile, some town
employees are rebelling. Mountain Village Police Chief Jim
Prendergast, a former Outward Bound instructor and Paonia, Colo.,
police chief, resigned in January. He called the town's voting
rules "unethical," and said he was disturbed by the town's
retaliation against one of the few resident homeowners, Joan May,
who works at Telluride's public radio station. Because May is a
critic of the voting laws, and had tipped off the ACLU, the town
named her in a lawsuit of its own.
resignation and heat from the ACLU have not flustered Mountain
Village Mayor Darrell Huschke. "We'll do whatever it takes (to
maintain the voting system)," he said recently, breaking an
official silence with the media.
there is little to suggest Mountain Village will prevail in court.
When ACLU lawyers tried to track down any legal research performed
by the author of the town charter, Mountain Village attorney
Carroll Boudreaux, they found none. Mountain Village sacked
Boudreaux shortly thereafter.
The ACLU's case
against the town was filed Jan. 22 in federal court. Attorney Barry
Satlow says the town's voting rules violate the equal protection
clause of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. He also says they
are part of a larger plan to avoid county and state land-use laws
and make development easier for real estate interests.
Morgan Lee works for the
Daily Planet in Telluride,