A recall effort has begun against a Woodland Park city council member — who in the past decade was the chief of staff to Colorado's House Republicans, a legislative candidate in Indiana and a former congressional staffer in Washington, D.C. — over allegations that he did not meet the residency requirements upon his election in April.
Jim Pfaff, who received 1,067 votes for city council in the Teller County community of just under 8,000 people, rapidly wore out his welcome with a collection of current and former civic leaders who were appalled at his behavior and suspected he did not actually live in city limits when he claimed he did.
“I’m a registered Republican and the ideology that he espouses I probably subscribe to,” said Carrol Harvey, a former mayor pro tem who is one of the recall organizers. “But if he was not a legal resident of Woodland Park, I would really like to expose that.”
Pfaff has not yet responded to an email from Colorado Politics.
Woodland Park Concerned Citizens, as the recall group is named, released on Dec. 2 a packet of public records that included a candidate affidavit Pfaff signed in February attesting that he had been a city resident for 12 consecutive months prior to the date of the election, as the charter mandates.
However, on Jan. 30, city clerk Suzanne Leclercq emailed Pfaff questioning whether he had moved to Bristlecone Lodge — a cabin and recreational vehicle park — by April 7, 2019.
In response, Pfaff sent her a picture of a check from a bank in Evansville, Ind., showing a deposit paid on April 1, 2019. City attorney Jason Meyers countered that the image was “unclear” about who the recipient was, and did not speak to when Pfaff’s lease started.
“Our concern is that the Bristlecone [Lodge] has made the representation to the City that you did not begin occupancy until May 26, 2019,” Meyers wrote.
In a seven-paragraph explanation, Pfaff indicated that he and his wife were “working to reserve a spot” in March. As proof, he attached a letter on Bristlecone Lodge letterhead — although with his own contact information in the signature line — saying the Pfaffs “requested to live at Bristlecone in March of 2019. We would have been happy to accommodate, but we didn’t have space available at the time. We reserved a place for them and promised to give them the first available opening.”
Pfaff, in his email, took offense to the questioning of his residency, arguing that “previous office holders in Woodland Park were not required to provide the same kind of proof of residence prior to their taking office when there were questions raised . ... I am running [for council] because many people who have lived in this town for decades and know how long we have lived here have asked me to consider running.”
Meyers did not conclude that Pfaff’s explanation was ironclad, only that the city had covered itself by making the inquiry.
“[T]he City requested this information because of a comment your wife made to staff at City hall that you all had moved to the area in May,” he wrote back. “While there is still some ambiguity, your explanation and documentation is sufficient for the City’s needs at this time.”
Career as a conservative
Pfaff’s online resume lists 15 job entries spanning nearly two decades, including 10 months spent as Colorado state director for the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity; nearly two years as the chief of staff for the GOP caucus in the state House of Representatives; and as the chief of staff to two Republican congressmen from Kansas and Kentucky.
In addition to his council job, Pfaff, the former chair of the Douglas County GOP, hosts the “Against Nice” podcast featuring conservative guests, and owns the Fit Nutrition Depot with his wife, Myra, in Woodland Park.
“The only time I’ve ever been in it was when I dropped my card off during the election to try to get Jim Pfaff coffee and introduce myself,” said Council Member Kellie Case, who noted she is also a Republican with policy views similar to Pfaff’s. “That was never replied to.”
In 2016, Pfaff ran for the open 9th Congressional District seat in Indiana. His resume placed him in Highlands Ranch the prior summer. Pfaff ended up dropping out, but not before dismissing now-U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth as having “the political itch and moved to Indiana to buy a Congressional seat.”
Pfaff then entered the Republican primary for the open Indiana House District 65 race.
“He had a very strong social media presence,” remembered William Ellis, the Monroe County Republican Party chairman. Misrepresenting his residency status, Ellis said, would be out of character for Pfaff, adding that in his Indiana campaign, Pfaff knew election law well.
“He knew he wanted to run for the state House and he researched where would be the best opportunity to do that," he explained.
Asked whether he meant Pfaff had been strategic in choosing which office to run for, Ellis clarified: “At least in my opinion he was.”
When Pfaff entered the Woodland Park city council election, he campaigned in part by posting video speeches to Facebook, often shot in his vehicle. The regular issues he talked about were how the $14 million aquatic center was a bad idea and how government gets in the way of economic prosperity.
“The growth of the American Dream from our founding, through war in the 19th century, the Civil War, through wars in the 20th century, through economic downturns and upswings — every time we have made it through these things, it’s not because of a government program,” Pfaff said in a video posted on March 2. “As we look at the next stage of what it’s going to take to make our town successful — our city — is to give you an opportunity to succeed, not to give the government an opportunity to succeed.”
In municipal elections, where issues of public safety, development and residential services often take center stage, such rhetoric was unusual.
“All I took from it was that he hates government at all levels but wants to serve on it,” said one person, a council member in another small city, who viewed the video. “I didn't hear much of anything as it pertains to what he would actually do other than ‘get government out of the way.’ ”
In a forum that the city and the chamber of commerce hosted, Pfaff stood out for his answer to one question: whether candidates would participate in a hypothetical vote to allow the health services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood into the city. Most candidates agreed that it was undesirable, but if a clinic met the legal qualifications, they were obligated to approve it.
“Sixty millions babies or more in this country have been destroyed. I think it fundamentally goes against the principles of this country,” Pfaff responded. “This particular issue, where life is destroyed in the womb, at some point in this country we need to make a stand. I would propose council legislation that would prevent a Planned Parenthood or abortion facility.”
Harvey, who was moderating the forum, recalled that the answer was “over the top.”
“He doesn’t know our community and doesn’t want to know our community,” said Case, the council member. “That’s where the mystery lies for me. I don’t know why he’s here.”
In July, Harvey went to David Guest, a deputy chief investigator with the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office. After receiving her affidavit about Pfaff’s residency, Guest asked the Woodland Park Police Department to send an officer to Bristlecone Lodge to “find out if James Pfaff was living there.”
According to Guest’s report, a sergeant talked to the campground’s manager. “She said that her records show that Pfaff has been a registered camper there from May 26, 2019, to the present day,” which would not have placed Pfaff at the Lodge 12 months prior to election day.
A Bristlecone Lodge employee took down an inquiry from Colorado Politics, but the owner did not respond to the question about Pfaff’s residency.
Another investigator, Philip Donner, interviewed Pfaff on Oct. 1.
“I asked Mr. Pfaff if he could tell me when he moved to the 510 N. Highway 67 address,” Donner wrote in his narrative. “He told me that he could not give me an exact date but, that he and his attorney ... had determined that he met the requirements.”
Pfaff “assured” Donner he was at Bristlecone in April 2019, and told the investigator he would locate documents to show it. Donner subsequently checked Pfaff’s driver license and saw it was issued on Jan. 23, 2019, for the Bristlecone Lodge address.
“I specifically asked him if he was in Woodland Park at any time from April 1 until April 7, 2019,” Donner wrote. “Mr. Pfaff said he can’t really give me an exact location.”
Voter records from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office showed Pfaff first registered to vote in Teller County on Sept. 6, 2019, and an employee with the Monroe County Voter Registration Office indicated that someone with Pfaff's name and year of birth voted there in the 2018 Indiana general election.
On Friday, spokesperson Lee Richards for the district attorney’s office said prosecutors would not take action because there was no likelihood of proving the residency allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The factual and legal assertions contained in the complaint are unfounded,” she said.
Under state law, a person has within 10 days of an election to challenge a candidate’s filing statement. Otherwise, the alternate tools of removing a council member are applying pressure to resign or a recall.
"There is a very narrow window of opportunity to legally challenge someone’s candidacy if someone is alleged to have not met residency requirements when elected,” said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League. If no protest occurs in that period, “that’s it. If nobody challenged by the deadline, the person was lawfully seated and there would be no effect on the council member's votes while on council.”
Pfaff told Colorado Politics in June he had run his residency by “the top elections lawyer in the state,” without elaborating who that was, and was told he had no conflict.
“I'm always curious about why people put so much emotion into such things,” he added. “I've found there is usually a very good explanation for those emotions.”
Since his time on council, Pfaff’s personality has grated on council members, staff and residents, according to multiple people.
At the Oct. 15 budget workshop, The Mountain Jackpot News reported that Pfaff criticized former city manager David Buttery for making “condescending and unnecessary” comments, labeling the council’s budget deliberations a consequence of “poor decisions that were made during his administration.”
“Mr. Mayor, is that appropriate for him to be attacking a citizen?” Buttery said from the audience.
Pfaff continued to argue the point, prompting the mayor to halt the crosstalk.
One month later, Pfaff sent an email to council and the city administration accusing the three council members who form one faction of the council of a strategically-planned absence.
“That’s interesting. Suddenly three members are unable to attend on the same night. Could this be COVID related? Or could it be a mini-protest?” he wrote on Nov. 3. “I will consider that it is the latter until I am informed otherwise. And I will be more than happy to make the public aware of my suspicions. I suggest you all provide a ‘doctor’s excuse’ or I’ll be highly inclined to have this out in public.”
To Case, who later told Colorado Politics she had a family obligation in Colorado Springs, Pfaff followed up with an email titled: “Do you have your doctor’s excuse yet?”
“Putting my information together, but willing to stop my public efforts if you have reconsidered,” he wrote.
“I just don’t understand the abrasive, aggressive, my-way-or-the-highway ... and abusive is all I can say. He’s a bully,” Case said.
Buttery, who would not confirm whether he is part of the recall group, speculated that Pfaff won because he ran a good campaign and offered to the residents what they wanted to hear. But Pfaff’s continued service disturbs him, and not because Pfaff is critical of Buttery’s tenure as city manager.
“I don’t have my name on anything in this community. I don’t need a legacy,” he said. “This isn’t about defending David Buttery or the things that I did.”