MEET THE CANDIDATE QUESTIONS FROM CORTEZ JOURNAL-Dist 3 Commissioner
- Promoting agriculture and economic development are often touted as candidate priorities. What examples or ideas do you have on how to accomplish these goals?
With the current economic uncertainty, we need to focus on retaining our locally owned businesses.
We need economic development that supports community development and doesn’t just look good on a balance sheet. Big box stores in the unincorporated county with out-of-area owners and no county sales tax contributions are not the kind of growth that provides for our long-term economic sustainability. We’ll need to continue growing existing businesses and build base industries. Base industries are those businesses that bring money into the community from outside such as our existing oil & gas, agriculture, and tourist based businesses.
Some of our biggest opportunities are in sustainable agricultural products, including a cluster of wood processing and manufacturing businesses, USDA certified lumber, meat, dairy, eggs, and other value added products such as canned beans, hard cider, and beef jerky. Agriculture is a key industry that has a huge impact on our quality of life and in promoting a healthy landscape while also providing a buffer from global supply disruptions.
Renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, micro-hydro, and geothermal) is another industry where I believe Montezuma County could easily out-supply our own demand for electric energy. There are many policy barriers to common sense renewable energy development, and I will work with our electric cooperatives and state and federal energy regulators and policy makers toward overcoming these barriers.
I have been engaged in economic development efforts since 2006 when I attended the only meeting where county, Ute tribal, city and town leaders all sat down together; a meeting that spurred the development of the Montezuma Community Economic Development Council. Over a decade of hard, collaborative effort and a lot of support for existing local businesses was torn down by county commissioners, but I strongly support county engagement in the more recent tri-city chamber effort.
- What government or life experience qualifies you to be a county commissioner?
I have been fortunate to grow-up, get my education, work, start a family, and play in the heart of the Four Corners. When elected, I intend to serve full-time as a commissioner. I am committed to our community and the health and well-being of the people and this place including an economy that can provide for us.
I have always been engaged and an agent of progress in every pursuit. I do this by leveraging my connections and starting by finding common ground. My Anthropology interest and pursuits from middle school through undergrad reflect my deep respect for culture and history and also instilled my desire to chart a better course forward in my community. This led me through a masters degree in “New Directions in Politics and Public Policy” which immersed me in land use planning for three years, serving Montezuma County, the Town of Mancos, and the City of Cortez. I’m most proud of my facilitation and writing of the Cortez Comprehensive Plan and the graphic 2020 vision for the City of Cortez, but also discovered the challenges of long-range planning and short-term code implementation in one and two person departments.
As my husband, Joe, and I began raising a family, I transitioned back out of local government service and have contracted with nonprofits ever since, spending the past 9 years primarily on community wildfire preparedness work. I grew in this work from bringing Montezuma neighborhoods together, to supporting Weber Fire recovery, and convening the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative. I have also been part of a network focused on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of wildfire preparedness work across the nation, and have been serving as the Executive Director, Network Coordinator and Financial Manager of the statewide network, Fire Adapted Colorado, as my main job for the past two years. I love the fire work, even supporting wildland fire response with the Dolores Volunteer Fire Protection District and learning how to safely use fire as a tool on my 40 acres. But I can’t stand by and watch the county that is my home get loved to death.
When I’m not doing my day job, I might be gardening, doing a crossfit workout (1st rule), cross-country skiing , hiking, or enjoying a dip at a local reservoir with my family, taking my .30 .30 for a walk-in the woods for that special week in the fall, or volunteering (Dolores Volunteer Fire Protection District, Dolores Schools, Wildfire Adapted Partnership, Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative).
In touch, young(ish), Mom, connected to the movers and shakers, work hard to listen deeply and seek to understand diverse perspectives.
- What do you see as the role of a county commissioner, and what are some of your priorities? How would you describe your governance style?
Roles: policymakers, long-range visionaries, include public voices and represent the community broadly, set the budget to carry out county tasks and support county vision, appoint representatives and set personnel policies, A County Commissioner makes a lot of important decisions around land use,
priorities: Update our County Comp Plan and align policies and their practice with this vision. Engage staff in improving department service delivery and making the County a great place to work for. Land Use vision and policy alignment
Creative leader, ideas person who inherently sees how things can work better and seeks to do so
Network solutions, connections with how others handle similar situations to inform our own local solutions.
Self-directed doer, Collaborative leader
Not afraid to try a new approach, but supporting testing a new strategy at a trial scale or short duration.
- What are the pros and cons of the current commissioners’ leadership style and actions?
Pros – They care about this place and work in service to the community. I appreciate current District 3 representative, Commissioner Suckla, raising issues to higher levels of government and elevating our counties voice around issues he believes in. I also admire his desire for more action and less talk, though sometimes you have to “go slow to go fast”.
- No vision or effort at long-range planning.
- Erosion of employee morale and kept the county in the black through increased demands on employees without a cost of living allowance increase in six years.
- Paticipation in efforts as a token representative, nodding agreement, remaining silent, or not showing up, then tearing down what has often been built through years of hard work and collaboration, such as the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association, and the Lower Dolores River Working Group.
- Dismantling or ignoring efforts developed out of the County Comprehensive Plan.
- Poor listening and formulating final opinions without taking into account all or best available info, including ignoring staff expertise (COVID and Septic health department efforts are clear examples)
- Blaming rather than finding common ground.
- Questionably self-serving policies and recommendations – such as pursuing contracts for friends or road improvements for personal gain.
- Claiming hard earned success of others for themselves. Holding the almighty dollar above all else.
- Acting as if the same old tactics are going to have different results.
- Governance can be a rocky road when there is disagreement. How would you deal with a controversial topic or tough decision where there is strong debate and emotion on all sides about the best approach?
I would start by looking for common ground and work within the rules and regulations to make a decision that supports the best long-term best interest of the most citizens. I would listen to different viewpoints to try to understand the specific issues and base my decisions off of the best available information. If something is well within the rules and there are still many negative feelings and dissent about a decision, we would need to look at amending our policies to align with the desires of our citizens.
- The county commissioners make final decisions on land-use applications based on the county land use code. Have you read the land use code?
I have read the current code…
and I am also familiar with how the code read and was implemented 15 years ago and with the planning profession. When I worked in long-range planning, I initiated a regional planning group to support our professional development. In a small government, without extensive specialization of duties, a professional network is helpful for understanding opportunities and consequences of various land use approaches. I believe the current code provides very little direction for how we want the county to develop. The county has not had the capacity to implement much of what had been added to the land use code as a result of a 25 year-old comprehensive plan and other community engagement processes. Without enforcement, many build first and see how long they can get away with code violations (usually people don’t know the rules as they never asked or looked them up). In a sense this unintentionally punishes those who consult the county and follow the code. Other Commissioners have been stripping away these very deliberately, collaboratively developed plans rather than figure out a way to improve the implementation and enforcement of the code.
- If there were a Heavy Industrial application request in an agricultural area with substantial agricultural and residential opposition, how would you handle the situation?
We can do a better job providing incoming landowners information about county zones and land use policies. If a property is already zoned for the industrial use and the development standards can be met, it is ultimately the neighbors responsibility to know the allowable development pattern where they live. If the property is not zoned for the industrial use, I would prefer to see a re-zoning request. Whether we went through the re-zoning process or a simpler High Impact Permit process, our code has a public comment process in place including notification to neighboring residents to allow them to weigh in on how proposed development will impact them. If there is reason to believe the new use will impose on the rights of the neighboring landowners in ways that cannot be reasonably mitigated and there are other more suitable locations for the industrial development, I would guide the industry to a different location if possible. I believe improvement can be made to align our county land use code with a comprehensive plan for community development, including creating some certainty about expected land uses in an area and a more robust public engagement process. Property rights are paramount, but should not infringe on the rights of your neighbors.
- If there were an application for a new oil or gas well near a residential subdivision whose residents have concerns regarding the construction process and hazards, how would you handle the situation?
Similar to above. Our policies have room to consider all impacts of a proposed land use and there are often reasonable ways to mitigate neighboring concerns. As Commissioner, I will advocate for a process that engages neighboring residents earlier through more robust public notice and recommending that land-use applicants talk with their neighbors about their proposal at the outset of their land-use application.
- The current county commission supports completion of the 17-mile Paths to Mesa Verde rail connecting Mancos and Cortez, and has obtained grant funding for final planning. Would you support moving forward on this project?
I definitely support a trail linkage between Mancos, Mesa Verde, the Fairgrounds, and Cortez. I dug up the original plans for such a trail with Jay Harrington when he was Cortez’s City Manager, and convened the initial discussion with City, County, Mesa Verde, and Mancos decision makers to consider pursuing the project again. I am excited that the initial plans are off the shelf and there has been a great deal of public engagement to define what kind of trail we want. It is naive to think that a 17 mile trail won’t cost anything including for long-term maintenance, but I also think that the current bids that have come back for engineering are outrageous. We need to secure good right-or-ways, come up with a trail surface that will meet ADA accessibility closer to key public access points while focusing on trails that will truly be multi-use. If we can get the right-of-way and minimize road and waterway crossings, I believe we can leverage grants with a small local investment to create a great new trail. Trails have also been touted as economic stimulus projects, but unless the trailheads give ample information and incentives to spend money in the community, many people use the trails and then drive on. New trails should be for the local community first with a secondary benefit of being leveraged to connect more visitors with local products and services.
- The county commission has banned retail and commercial marijuana operations in the unincorporated county. Do you support this ban, why or why not?
I support the ban on retail sales as there are a plethora of shops in the local city and towns and the county wouldn’t currently benefit from any sales tax revenue. I remember being surprised at the ban on commercial growing in a community that prides itself on agricultural production, but I’m sure there are many good reasons not to allow commercial marijuana growth in the county. I wouldn’t consider changing this ban unless a proposal came forward that was able to address all of the concerns of law enforcement and neighboring landowners.
- What should the county commission do to help to protect the community from the COVID-19 virus?
Commissioners are statutorily responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. The county commission should listen to and support the recommendations of experts and health officials and make informed decisions. Commissioners should demonstrate and help the community adapt to necessarily new ways of doing business. We have some excellent public health staff that have been doing a tremendous job trying to protect our community from this new virus. We should not sacrifice the vulnerable among us just because we want things to be ‘normal’ again. We should wear masks inside if it means being able to open our businesses safely. There are health exceptions of course, which are all the more reason for those of us who can to protect those who cannot. I, for one, am looking forward to a school year where my kids aren’t going to bring home every virus or bacteria that breeds in our schools. The County Commissioners should show leadership in establishing new norms instead of promoting dichotomous tensions and pretending to be experts.
- Kinder Morgan’s CO2 production provides more than 50% of the county tax base. What suggestions do you have to replace that tax revenue and job base when the CO2 resources begin to decline?
Oil & Gas extraction is a boom and bust industry founded on non-renewable resources, but it will likely be a very important part of our landscape and way of life for a long time to come. We are likely looking at a significant drop in property tax revenues in 2022 from the current production downturn which will affect all county and special district services. We are likely going to have to tighten our belts even more for a little while and focus on maintaining services rather than carrying out long-range projects, while simultaneously working to support local businesses and base industries as I described above and considering new revenue sources such as a sales tax that can distribute the cost of services among locals and visitors.
- Montezuma County does not collect a sales tax. There has been discussion in recent years to ask the voters for a 1% sales tax. Do you support this idea, why or why not? Would you support putting this tax question on the ballot?
I support a county visioning process to map out our community values and what we want to maintain and improve in our county as a basis for any ballot proposal to adopt a countywide sales tax. If voters were to consider a sales tax, one could be structured so it doesn’t add tax to essential goods and services like food or fuel.
- Colorado open meeting laws require adequate public notice be given any time two or more commissioners meet to discuss county government business, including through email and phone communication. Will you comply with this law?
Of course. I can say hello to a fellow commissioner at an event of mutual interest, we just cannot discuss county business together. I will also be diligent to make sure we don’t discuss items during an executive session that should be part of the public record and vice versa, don’t discuss personnel or other private issues in public.
- Will you be transparent about potential conflicts of interest and abstain from voting on decisions where you have a conflict of interest?
Absolutely! If there is even a perceived conflict of interest, I will recuse myself and leave the room as appropriate during discussion and decision making.