Every elective office in the county is now held by a Republican, including newly elected county commissioners Ron Henderson and David White.
Despite being a Democrat, Patterson blamed his defeat chiefly on negative publicity from an ongoing legal dispute between JetAway Aviation and the county, which he called “a concerted smear campaign.”
The conflict began in late 2005 when the county decided to get out of the business of providing services for private aircraft at the Montrose airport and put its fixed-base operator services up for bid.
JetAway lost the bid to Black Canyon Jet Center and has been embroiled in lawsuits and counter suits with the county ever since. Black Canyon is on airport property while JetAway is located on adjoining private land.
JetAway was found in contempt of court for selling jet fuel, a violation of its agreement with the county, and must face those charges today in Montrose County Court.
The long-running dispute boiled over into the election when Patterson was singled out as the responsible party. JetAway, among its many legal actions against the county, named Patterson specifically in an antitrust suit and a complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration.
JetAway owner Steve Stuhmer took out full-page ads in the Montrose paper in early 2006 attacking Patterson’s character and accusing him of exerting influence over airport operations, though Patterson said all three commissioners voted on airport issues.
The same ad, which questioned Patterson’s “honesty, integrity and judgment,” resurfaced a few days before the election and urged people to vote for Henderson. Henderson said he did not place the ad, which was paid for by Stuhmer, according to the Montrose Press.
Patterson said Stuhmer was also behind a failed recall attempt against him earlier this year, which Stuhmer denies. The recall petition was led by Al Head, whose company rents space at One Creative Place, as does Stuhmer.
Stuhmer did not return calls for comment.
Commissioner Allan Belt, who did not run for re-election, said it all points to nasty business, and Patterson was targeted as the scapegoat. The ads claimed Patterson used undue influence over the airport’s financial operations, which Belt said was not true.
“I think there was a concerted effort to get Bill out of office and the focus is a few outsiders who haven’t gotten what they wanted and blamed Bill for it,” he said. “What they seem to be too dense to understand is that Bill never made a decision by himself [but with other commissioners].”
Belt said Stuhmer ran a smear campaign against Patterson, which he called “filthy.”
“There’s no question he’s behind it and I think it’s a disgrace to our community,” he said. “We simply don’t need those kind of people around here.”
The recall attempt to oust Patterson was first brought to public light by state Rep. Ray Rose during a Republican fundraising luncheon last spring. Rose even hand-delivered documents that claimed to show fiscal mismanagement of the airport by Patterson to 7th Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra.
When an independent review by the La Plata County District Attorney’s office showed no wrongdoing on Patterson’s part, Rose distanced himself from the recall effort, which ultimately failed.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said later.
The legal battle with JetAway and the recall effort has cost Montrose County hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Patterson said he’s paid around $40,000 out of his own pocket to defend himself.
But there’s more to the story, according to Patterson. The owner of One Creative Place, investor Paul Girdner of Boise, Ida., is also the financial backer of JetAway, he said.
“If they get a competitive advantage at the airport on private property for commercial purposes, which the FAA does not allow, it increases the value of the property,” said Patterson. “The whole thing is a real estate goal.” And that goal is nefarious, he said.
“Their goal is to leave Montrose with as big a bag of money as soon they can,” said Patterson. “My goal was to keep them from taking taxpayer money with them.”
Patterson said Stuhmer’s efforts to have his way at the airport included running a JetAway employee Brent Wallace as a candidate for commissioner. Wallace came in third, with 2,479 votes. Henderson got 8,128 votes and Patterson received 6,403 for the District 1 seat.
To add insult to injury, last week Henderson and White sent a memo to the current commissioners instructing them to not do anything until the new commissioners are installed, including “any and all land leases, land use decisions, property disposal, or other financial decisions.”
Belt said all three current commissioners were shocked at the memo, but he blames Henderson backer Richard Harding, who nominated Henderson at the Republican caucus.
“Ron Henderson doesn’t know the first thing of what he’s talking about,” he said. “He gets his information from Richard Harding, the Don Quixote of the Uncompahgre Valley. He even invents his own windmills when he can’t find one to joust with.”
Harding said he’s taken on many issues in the county, but he doesn’t think Patterson lost because of the recall attempt. Rather, Republicans were reacting against the surge to elect Obama as president.
“I don’t think the recall played into the situation because Bill had a tremendous amount of support going through that recall,” he said.
But Patterson said Harding “feels he was the architect of my non-election” and played into JetAway’s scheme.
Henderson brought the JetAway controversy into the campaign by criticizing Patterson specifically for not taking action on a settlement offer JetAway made in September, which the county soundly rejected.