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Smith, Kennedy, Schilling win fire-board seats

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Most ballots ever

By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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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.

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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.

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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).”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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