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Carbondale’s mayor race attracts three candidates

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Byars, Richardson and Cortez

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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A trio of Carbondale candidates — incumbent trustees Katrina Byars and Dan Richardson, and former trustee Ed Cortez — will be on the ballot in November, each hoping to become the town’s next mayor.

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The three submitted successful nominating petitions to Town Clerk Cathy Derby by the Aug. 29 deadline, as verified by Derby, and were the only ones who turned in petitions in for the election, Derby said on Tuesday.

The general election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8, and whomever is chosen by the voters will serve out the remaining time of Stacey Bernot’s term, which expires in 2018.

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If either Byars or Richardson is elected, that would open up her or his seat on the board of the board of trustees, which would be filled either by appointment or by a special election, whichever the board might choose.

Bernot stepped down earlier this year, when she moved to Redstone.

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Katrina Byars

Elected to her trustee position in 2014, Byars has served half of her current term in office, a term that is set to expire in 2018.

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If elected to the mayor’s job, Byars would surrender her trustee position and, as a result, would need to decide in 2018 whether to run for re-election as either mayor or trustee.

Byars did not respond to telephone requests on Tuesday and Wednesday regarding an interview for this story.

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Dan Richardson

After being elected to the town board last April, Richardson, 43, was soon elevated to the post of mayor pro-tem (meaning he would fill in for then Mayor Stacey Bernot when she was absent) and, soon after that, was named acting mayor when Bernot stepped down.

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With nearly his entire trustee term left to go, Richardson conceded, “I would be giving up my four-year term” in order to serve out less than two years as mayor and, perhaps, take on the challenge of another electoral campaign in a year and a half.

But, he said, he is willing to do so in order to become mayor.

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“It’s a different job description,” he said of the mayor’s potion, which calls for the mayor and the town manager together to set the agendas for town board meetings, among other duties.

“Crazy as it sounds, I love it,” he said both of service in his current capacity as trustee, as well as the idea of taking on more responsibility as mayor.

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“I love everything about municipal government,” he explained. “I think it suits my skill set.”

He noted that a large part of the mayor’s role is to keep meetings moving along smoothly and to mediate any conflicts that might crop up among the trustees, which he feels is something he does well.

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“I enjoy being mayor, rather than just a trustee,” he added. “It’s your (the mayor’s) job to facilitate more productive meetings,” and help the trustees navigate through the decision-making process and the veritable ocean of information that often is contained in the trustee packets concerning the meetings.

He acknowledged that his election, if he wins, would present the board with its second appointment opportunity this year, in order to find someone to serve out the remaining three and a half years of his term.

Already, the trustees are scheduled to appoint a replacement for outgoing Trustee A.J. Hobbs, who is leaving to pursue other interests, some time in September. The appointee will serve out the remaining year and a half of Hobbs’ term (he was elected in 2014).

On the other hand, Richardson continued, the board could decide that there is enough time left on his term (if he changes jobs) to warrant a special election for his replacement as a trustee.

“So the board would have to decide which path to take,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask someone to campaign for a three and a half year term.”

Ed Cortez

The only non-incumbent in the race, Ed Cortez, is hoping to rejoin a board that he left in 2010 because of term limits, having served two four-year terms in office.

Since that time, he said in a telephone interview, his construction and solar-installation business in town was forced to close its doors due to the economic downturn following the Great Recession of 2008, and he went to work as a bus driver for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

“I was destroyed in the Great Recession,” he said of that time.

During the intervening years, Cortez became president and business agent of the Amalgamated Transit Union – Local 1774, and was a leading spokesman in the union’s tussle with the transportation agency over salaries and other issues.

This will be the second time Cortez has tried to be elected the political leader of Carbondale.

The first time was in 2010 when he lost to Bernot, who also ran as an incumbent trustee, by a margin of 686-174.

On election night, according to news reports from the time, Cortez suffered a heart attack and had to be hospitalized.

This time around, Cortez said he is running because he feels the town’s leadership is not acting in the best interests of its citizens.

“I felt compelled to do this,” he said, by actions on the part of the town board that he does not agree with.

For one thing, he said, he was heavily critical of the trustees’ decision last spring to ask voters for tax increases to pay for energy-efficiency programs (the proposal was known as a “carbon tax”) and to create a capital improvements fund that had never existed before.

Both proposals were shot down by voters by large margins.

Mainly, Cortez said, it was the “carbon tax” that most upset him, because in his view it showed an insensitivity to the needs and financial realities experienced by a large number of the town’s residents, who he said could ill afford the additional tax burden.

Another move he considered a failure of leadership was after a recent meeting when a fairly large group of women showed up to demand that the trustees do something to enhance street safety in town.

The women were concerned in the wake of two recent assaults against women in parts of town where the streets are not well lit.

Cortez criticized Richardson for telling the women that the board could not deal with the issue at that meeting (Aug. 23) because it was not a formal agenda item.

The board went on to pledge it would address the issue at future meetings, and turn it over to an advisory committee for further debate.

In a recent letter to the editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, entitled “Carbondale Emergency,” Cortez indicated that if he were mayor, he immediately would have announced an increase in police patrols in response to the citizens’ alarm.

He told The Sopris Sun that stepped up police patrols and other measures could be paid for out of the town’s reserve funds.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 1, 2016.