John Acha: GarCo Commish candidate
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Garfield County voters in November will be faced with a choice between incumbent John Martin and challenger John Acha to serve the next four years as county commissioner for Dist. 2, which encompasses parts of Glenwood Springs, as well as New Castle, Silt and the central portion of the unincorporated county.
The election is scheduled for Nov. 8, and is to be conducted primarily by mail.
John Acha, 43, who is hoping to beat Martin and take his seat on the county board, has lived in Garfield County since 2000, when he moved here to work with the Gallegos masonry company and soon opened up his own company, Action Estimating.
That firm, he said, contracts with small construction companies to evaluate and pursue contracts for construction projects in competition with larger firms, essentially an extension of work he did for the U.S. military during an eight-year career with the U.S. Air Force.
Striking up a colorful analogy to describe his hope to reorient the priorities of government in the county, Acha likened the current county administration to a suckling farm animal that has for too long been using the same teat, and maintaining that the old teat is drying up.
“We have got to find different commissioners, and different teats,” Acha declared during a recent interview with The Sopris Sun.
Married with an adopted son, Acha comes from Gooding, Idaho, which he described as “a small town much like Rifle — very blue collar, very working class.”
He refers to himself on Twitter (@acha2016) as “a political outsider” running against an entrenched incumbent.
Acha graduated from Gooding High School in 1992 and went into the Air Force. Trained to be a contract officer, in charge of writing up and administering defense contracts for the Air Force, he worked in such far-off locales as Japan and Europe over the course of eight years.
Among his tasks, he said, was providing logistical support for military operations in such arenas as the Balkans during the Croation/Serbian conflicts and in Iraq during the Desert Fox operation after Iraqi dictator Sadam Hussein kicked U.N. Inspectors out of Iraq and U.S. forces amassed at the Iraqi border.
He also earned a college degree while in the Air Force. By 1999, he was back in Ketchum, Idaho, where he took a job with the Gallegos masonry company for a year, ultimately transferring to Garfield County.
But in 2001, after he got laid off by Gallegos, he started Action Estimating, which remains in business today.
For two years, in 2008-10, he said, he worked for the White River National Forest offices in Boulder, Colorado, where he was hired to clear up what he called “major problems in the contracting office.”
After digging into those “problems,” Acha concluded that the WRNF was violating federal laws and rules in its contracting procedures, and he blew the whistle to the U.S. Inspector General’s office, which got him fired. He currently is locked in a legal battle over his termination. He is now back at his home in New Castle, and, with his wife, Jennifer, spends much of his spare time caring for his adopted son, Mason, who suffers from profound and very expensive health problems.
“Obamacare saved me,” he said of the high costs of care for Mason.
Acha is a troop leader for Cub Scouts in the New Castle area. His wife, Jennifer, is in charge of a program known as “Bountiful Baskets,” which brings baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables to the homes of needy residents.
A big portion of his campaign is devoted to economic development, which he believes has not been a priority for Martin thanks to the property-tax bounty of the oil and gas industry, which has fattened the county’s tax revenues.
“I mean, John Martin’s been in there for 20 years, and, I think wholeheartedly, his first eight years were great,” Acha said.
But with the energy industry in a boom cycle and the county poised to get rich as a result, he said, the county has failed to look for ways to diversify the local economy.
“It’s easy to be a superhero when you don’t have any problems,” he remarked, and then asked what the county will do when oil and gas revenues dry up.
“Where have they brought in new businesses?” he asked. “Better yet, where have they gone out and found new businesses?”
Continuing, he said, “When the crash happened, they should have been putting in these programs” to bring in other kinds of businesses and jobs, such as putting together “pro-forma” documents showing the county’s economic potential and actively seeking companies that could move here.
For example, he said, the Love’s chain of truck stops once expressed interest, about 15 years ago, in building a facility in western Garfield County, but it never happened.
“Well, now they’ve got the West Parachute interchange (build a few years ago with county support and financial assistance) so, boom, let’s put this together,” Acha said.
Resorting to colorful, if somewhat surprising terminology, Acha concluded that the commissioners have been “sucking for too long on the wrong teats,” a reference to farm animals feeding.
“We need (different) teats and asses,” he said, continuing the colorful reference. “We need to get rid of the asses we have, and find different teats to suck on. That’s exactly what this county needs.”
Published in The Sopris Sun on September 1, 2016.
John Martin: GarCo Commish candidate
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, with 20 years on the job and a seemingly deep well of support from a large portion of county residents, said he still is not taking lightly his current race for re-election.
“I always give it a 50-50 shot, just like any election,” he said of being challenged by Democrat John Acha of New Castle for the Dist. 2 seat on the board of county commissioners. “You never take any chances.”
Martin and Acha will be facing off in a largely mail-in ballot contest that concludes on general election day, Nov. 8.
As he has for some time, Martin is running on his record as an incumbent who was first elected in 1996 after some 25 years as a policeman in Glenwood Springs.
But he said he is not resting on his laurels, which mainly involve his stewardship over a county that has for most of his time in office been the lucky home to an oil and gas drilling boom that has enriched the county coffers and provide an ever-changing number of high-paying jobs directly with the energy industry and any number of second-tier jobs with various support industries.
Over those same years, Martin told The Sopris Sun in a recent telephone interview, he and his fellow commissioners have instituted “a whole new budgeting process” to replace what he said was once, back in the 1990s, a contractual arrangement that counted on a private accountant to do the county’s books.
With a focus on balancing the annual budget and keeping tight controls on asset management, he said, “We made it space age.”
At the same time, he said, the board has worked to upgrade the quality of county workers to the point where he called the county’s staff “the most educated, most prepared folks anywhere in county government.”
The county government also has vastly increased the list of assets it holds, mainly in buildings constructed or purchased in Glenwood Springs, the county seat, and the towns at the west end of the county — Rifle and Parachute, which are at the nexus of the county’s oil drilling activities.
The county has quadrupled the size of the Garfield County Regional Airport near Rifle, and purchased roughly 80-90 acres of lands adjacent to the airport, which are planned to become a variety of private-sector support businesses for the airport’s central operations. Among the services, he said, are fuel sales, mechanical work on the planes, transportation, and hangar rentals, to name but a few.
That, he said, is “economic development, giving people the services they need, preparing for the future.”
He estimated that the airport generates $67 million in annual revenues that he said are “returned to the people of Garfield County” in the form of county services.
Plus, he said, “We’re talking 40-50 people who work out there.
Martin also talked of the county’s awareness that the revenues from the oil and gas industry have dwindled sharply in recent years, and the slimming of the industry’s economic footprint likely will mean a $17 million shortfall in county income in the coming years.
He said the commissioners have been working on ways to set priorities, trim staff and take other actions aimed at keeping the county from racking up debt in order to maintain services.
“We’re not into debt,” he said. “And we have no unfunded liabilities,” such as ballooning or under-financed pension obligations for retired employees that have crippled some local and state governments around the U.S.
The county has up to $126 million invested, he said, which generates between $700,000 and $1 million in annual interest.
“We invest in 100 percent safe stuff, which is low interest,” he explained, adding that the investments are managed by a three-person board on which serve the county treasurer, the county manager and one citizen.
“It’s all of those kinds of things we do to take care of business,” he said enthusiastically.
In reaction to his opponent’s charges that the county is not managing its finances well, or concentrating enough on non-energy-industry economic development to stave off hard times when the energy industry inevitably experiences periodic downturns, he said, “Then he should read the trends and our budget workbook and our financial handout.”
In there, he said, anyone can read about the past decade of management by the county commissioners.
Concerning Acha’s accusation that the county is not doing enough to attract new industries and businesses, Martin asked, “Is it government’s job to make investments into private industry … to give people jobs? No, it’s not.”
Rather, he said, it’s government’s role to set things up so private-sector companies can thrive.
For example, he said, the county was deeply involved in the creation of the West Parachute Interchange on I-70, which has been annexed into the town.
Martin said, and Parachute Town Manager Stuart McArthur concurred, that the town currently is working to plan for private-sector development around the interchange, which could include a large-scale truck stop, or perhaps a water park for recreation, or other amenities.
Martin said he is counting on voters to again recognize his experience, expertise and knowledge as something that is needed, but he adds that if he is voted out of office he can always retire to his farm in the Cedaredge area in Delta County, where he already works several days of every week.
“It’s not my life, being a county commissioner,” he commented. “We’ll see what the citizens say.”
More information on Martin’s life is available in a profile on the county website, www.garfield-county.com.
Published in The Sopris Sun on September 1, 2016.