Publisher, Palisade official in dispute over recall
What began as a rift between Palisade Mayor Dave Walker and a group of residents seeking to remove him from office has expanded to the town’s weekly newspaper.
Palisade Tribune Publisher Bob Sweeney alleges Walker, unhappy with the publication’s coverage of the effort to recall him, demanded that Sweeney fire General Manager Darralee Mathews earlier this month or Walker would push advertisers to boycott the newspaper.
The mayor denies giving such an ultimatum and counters that it was Sweeney who threatened him during a phone conversation two weeks ago.
The dispute marks the latest turn in a political issue that has become increasingly personal and divided the town.
Walker said he called Sweeney, who has owned the Tribune for 20 years and lives in the Denver area, on Sept. 9 to discuss “the smear campaign that his paper was running against me.”
That was the same day the Tribune ran an article that initially documented recall committee member Jeff Meade’s felony drug case in Rio Blanco County earlier this year. The balance of the article contained a number of quotes from recall committee member Wayne Reid criticizing Walker and claiming the mayor had harassed and threatened residents and businesses in town. The article didn’t include any response from Walker.
Walker alleged the newspaper has run a number of letters to the editor attacking him while declining to publish several letters backing him.
Sweeney said during the conversation, Walker on three separate occasions demanded that Sweeney fire Mathews or he would convince businesses to stop advertising.
Sweeney said he told Walker the newspaper was simply doing its job. He said he was taken aback by Walker’s words and considered them a form of harassment.
“I think calling up and threatening the weekly newspaper is probably more serious than when he threatened The Livery,” Sweeney said, referring to a February incident in which witnesses reported Walker, following a confrontation with Reid and others, threatened to close down the Palisade bar. Walker has said he spoke out of frustration because bar staff didn’t offer his wife and him any assistance, but he had no intention of closing of the bar.
The mayor called Sweeney’s claims that he threatened the paper “absolutely, emphatically not true.”
“I haven’t done any of that,” Walker said. “That is something that Mr. Sweeney has created for whatever reason he thought to do so. It just didn’t happen. I have no intention of harming the paper.
“He (Sweeney) said to me, ‘So I suppose you want me to fire my editor?’ ” Walker said. “My response was, ‘You need to do what you need to do.’ “
Sweeney and Walker agree that Sweeney offered to have Mathews interview Walker but that the mayor initially declined.
Walker said he’s considering issuing a written statement to the Tribune.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have any trust for the Tribune in following through and being honest of what is said in the interview,” he said.
Walker claims Sweeney ended the phone conversation with a threat and hung up on him.
” ‘Let’s go to war,’ ” Walker quoted Sweeney telling him. “I will kick your (expletive) right out of office.”
Sweeney said he bears Walker no malice and, in fact, likes him. He said he opposes the recall against Walker in particular and recalls in general, unless an elected official is accused of legal misconduct.
“I don’t think recalls are good for communities,” Sweeney said, adding that a recall that occurred while he was the publisher of the Craig Daily Press created ill will in Moffat County for years.
At the same time, Sweeney said he considers Walker’s battle with the newspaper “another error in style on his part.”
“If you make too many errors in style, no matter what your performance may be, it may eventually catch up to you,” Sweeney said.
While Walker denies telling Sweeney he would ask advertisers to pull their support of the newspaper, Walker supporters and Wine Country Inn owners Richard and Jean Tally canceled their weekly advertisement in the Tribune due to its coverage of the recall.
“We pulled the ad to make a statement that we felt they were being unfair,” Jean Tally said this week.
Tally said Walker had no idea the inn planned to yank its ad and that she and her husband didn’t take action until they spoke with Sweeney.
Tally claimed the ad cancellation won’t harm the Tribune’s bottom line because the inn didn’t pay for the ad. In exchange for giving the inn space in the newspaper, Sweeney stayed at the inn for free whenever he came to town, Tally said.
Tally said she doesn’t believe the Tribune has presented all sides of the issue and that Walker’s accomplishments as mayor have been overshadowed by “what was essentially a barroom disagreement.”
“It seems too bad that these grudges are overriding what’s the bigger picture,” Tally said.