Most ballots ever
By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
With five candidates running for three Carbondale Fire Board seats, challenger Carl Smith far-out distanced the pack with 974 votes; incumbent Mike Kennedy logged the next highest total at 917.
In a battle between the other two incumbents, Gene Schilling edged out Mark Chain by five votes (875-870) for the third seat; Gary McElwee netted 863 votes. In all, the bottom three candidates were separated by 12 votes.
Election official Jenny Cutright said voters cast 1,720 ballots of 8,231 that were sent out.
The election comes six months after Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District residents shot down a mill levy hike ballot measure, which could have doubled property taxes, by a 2:1 margin.
Smith (a former fire district staffer and retired firefighter) and McElwee (a former district volunteer) campaigned together on a platform that included more board transparency and better financial planning.
Smith often pointed to his long-time experience as a professional fire fighter in Aurora and later for the Carbondale Fire District. He also campaigned on his Facebook sub-account and on Twitter, joined the Google’s Carbondale group, went door-to-door and recruited three others to do the same. He relied on input and ideas from his wife Vickie, and his three daughters. “It was a family affair, ” Smith told The Sopris Sun. He laughed when he told The Sun “ … one guy said he was voting for me because I look like Willie Nelson … I tried to keep my sense of humor (through the campaign).”
Smith also said the vote “sends a message” on such issues as transparency, financial planning techniques such as objectives based budgeting and fiscal responsibility.
Moving forward, Smith referred to his work on a state-wide emergency medicine and treatment committee that makes recommendations to the Colorado Department of Health. On that committee, he has opinions and ideas but when a vote goes against him, he does not then try to subvert the process. “That’s not my style. … I vote my conscience but if the vote goes against me I accept that.”
Wrapping up, he said “thanks” to everyone who voted. “ … (the voters) clearly gave us direction.”
Kennedy has served on the fire board for 20 years. He told The Sun it was nice to have a bigger election turn out than in previous years. “People took a lot of interest … People realize we’ve put together a good fire district … they know we can continue to do that in the future.”
He is proud of the district, especially its performance in the past 10 years, which saw dramatic growth and increased demand for services. “We’ve made a lot of positive changes and people appreciate the service … we owe it to our paid staff and dedicated volunteers that make it operate on a daily basis.”
One task for the new board, Kennedy said, is to educate the public on what the district does. “People would be surprised about what goes on … it’s pretty complicated … the amount of training that goes on … it’s a constant challenge.”
On the subject of transparency, Kennedy said he could count on one hand the members of the public who have attended a monthly board meeting in the past few years. “We’d be happy to see them. They can go to our website for (meeting) minutes … we’d love for them to take a bigger interest.”
Fire board member Gene Schilling was unavailable for comment.