Who really lives in Bonanza?

Brief by Central Staff

Local Politics – May 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

Unlike many mountain towns where the mines have closed, Bonanza still has residents and a town government. And it has a controversy about who’s enough of a resident to be part of the town government.

Bonanza sits about 20 miles northwest of Villa Grove, and it had its scheduled municipal election on April 4. Turn-out was perfect — all 22 registered voters cast ballots.

Most town boards have six members and a mayor; Bonanza’s has only four. Incumbent Mayor Joan Salvage was unopposed and re-elected. Her husband, Robert, along with Beth Pool and Richard Williams, were elected to the town board.

But were they even eligible to run? Another Bonanza resident, Gail Holbrook, said they weren’t. She lives there year-round, while they spend most of the year in Pueblo. And state law, she says, requires elected town officials to reside in town for 12 months prior to the election.

Mayor Salvage counters that they’re all legal residents of Bonanza, since they do not claim other legal residences or try to vote elsewhere.

Mayor Salvage also charged that Holbrook and her husband, Ed Carpenter, live on a mill site that’s not in the town limits, so she shouldn’t be voting in Bonanza elections or challenging their outcome.

The mayor is seeking some legal advice, and called off a swearing-in ceremony scheduled for April 8.

Bonanza’s annual town budget is $10,000, which goes for maintenance and street lamps. Its share of state highway money goes to Saguache County for maintaining streets, and the county sheriff handles law enforcement there, too.

Challenging residency is difficult in Colorado, or at least it was when our publisher, Ed Quillen, edited the Summit County Journal in Breckenridge in 1978.

There’s an incorporated town, Blue River, just south of Breckenridge. During the municipal election that spring, several candidates listed one house in Blue River as their residence.

Ed found the house, and took a picture. Snow was drifted to the eaves all around the place, and it was obvious that no one had been in or out of the house for months. He published the picture, along with the names of the people who swore it was their legal residence.

Some litigation ensued (Ed wasn’t part of it), and the Colorado Supreme Court held that the unvisited house could still be the legal residence of those candidates, just as long as they weren’t registered to vote anywhere else.