Byars, Cortez, Richardson
Byars, Cortez, Richardson
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Approximately 40 area residents showed up on Thursday evening at a mayoral candidates’ forum in Carbondale, listening to the three candidates — Katrina Byars, Ed Cortez and Dan Richardson — as they described what they would like to do as mayor and how they are different from each other.
Prior to the start of the forum, both Cortez and Richardson were up and walking around, working the room, shaking hands and talking with attendees, while Byars sat quietly in her assigned chair at the front of the room, thinking and watching.
Byars, an incumbent trustee whose opening remarks came first, said she is running in part because she hopes to ensure Carbondale’s water supplies “stay clean and pure for the next seven generations,” as well as getting more playground equipment for disabled children into the town’s parks, raise the level of local services for senior citizens, and push for increased lighting of town streets and trails for safety reasons, among other things.
Cortez, a former Carbondale trustee, followed with a declaration that he is “passionate about Carbondale, my neighbors and the town I’ve been a part of for more than 20 years.”
He said he hopes to avoid imposing additional taxes on residents, and to keep working on Carbondale’s ongoing environmental and energy-efficiency efforts, make the streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and adopt policies “that support our economic diversity.”
Richardson, incumbent trustee and acting mayor, spoke last in the alphabetical order followed by the moderator, Jim Green, head of continuing education at Colorado Mountain College.
Richardson told the audience that it has been “fun” to be acting mayor, and that part of his enjoyment of his position during the initial period of his tenure has come from his two young sons, who are actively interested in his role in town government and pepper him with questions about it.
“To me, it speaks to what being mayor is all about,” he said, explaining that the job largely entails educating the community about how government affects the lives of the people, and about the issues facing the community.
A recording of the forum, which was sponsored by The Sopris Sun, the Carbondale Community Chamber of Commerce and KDNK radio, is available on the radio station’s website at www.kdnk.org.
Q&A kick off
Green first asked the candidates about their vision for the town’s future — how much it should grow, whether it should expand its boundaries by annexation and, if so, in which directions; what kind of housing mix should be encouraged, and what kind of new businesses should be invited to locate here.
Byars spoke about people she has talked to who live outside the town boundaries and feel disenfranchised because they can’t vote on town elections and issues even though they shop and recreate in town.
“I do think it makes sense for us to expand our boundaries,” she said, though she stressed it should not be done without the consent of landowners and residents in areas where annexation is proposed.
The town’s future growth and evolution, she continued, should reflect the needs of all residents, regardless of their economic or social circumstances, and it should be the priority of the town to encourage “a more diverse tax base with more small, independent businesses.”
Cortez, acknowledging that the town’s biggest sales-tax contributor is City Market (which he said accounts for roughly 30 percent of the town’s sales-tax revenues), welcomed plans for a newer, larger City Market.
But, he cautioned, that alone “is not gong to be the end of our economic woes.”
Though he did not directly offer his feelings about annexation, he said, “I believe that we need to develop, but we need to do it smartly,” and noted that during his time as a trustee he was involved in the effort to encourage “in-fill” development to avoid sprawl.
Richardson concurred that in-fill development — developing vacant or underused property in town rather than annexing adjacent lands – is a good thing.
He declined to offer an opinion about the mix of housing, saying that policies and such matters should start with the combined conclusions of the planning and zoning commission, which advises the trustees on development matters.
Still, he said, “It seems pretty clear to me that we’re lacking entry-level housing,” though he said he sees development proposals on the horizon that are responding to that need.
“I think we’ve seen a ground swell of interest in developing private-sector, affordable housing,” he commented.
Byars spoke of her belief that the town has resources it can “leverage” to attract additional funding from the county, state and federal levels of government to create affordable housing on a scale that will meet Carbondale’s needs.
Regarding a question about using the town’s general fund reserves — which currently stand at somewhere between 75 percent and 100 percent of the amount need to keep the town functioning for a year — both Byars and Richardson indicated a willingness to draw down those reserves to the 75-percent level for critical programs such as housing and lighting for the town’s dark streets and trails for safety reasons.
“I am absolutely against tapping into (the reserves),” Cortez countered. “I call it the ‘emergency fund,’ because I’ve been a trustee when we’ve had emergencies,” though he did not describe the nature of those emergencies.
He reiterated his belief that “the boom we’re having (in housing prices and tax revenues) is, at some point, going to not last,” arguing that the town should keep its reserves high to deal with the possibility of future economic downturns.
Each of the candidates expressed satisfaction with the number of advisory boards the town has created to help the trustees deal with different aspects of the town’s operations, and Byars even proposed to add one to the 11 or so existing advisory boards — one that would be dedicated to working on the priorities of the town’s growing Hispanic population.
Responding to a question about the town’s aging and, in some cases, deteriorating infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, water and sewer, parks — Richardson noted that he supported a tax-hike question on last spring’s ballot to create a funding source for a capital-improvements program, which was rejected by the voters.
He said the town is not in terrible shape right now, and should be able to get along without new taxes for a while, though he feels Carbondale’s “funding structure” would not be able to accomplish much if faced with a sudden and intensive need for money to make large-scale repairs to its infrastructure.
“I think there’s some work to be done there,” he said.
Byars, agreeing that the town’s facilities are not in critically bad shape today, said that if pressed to name her priorities for fixing things up they would be to put more ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant playground equipment in the parks, and improving the riparian habitat along the Crystal River to sustain the town’s historically clean water resources.
Cortez argued that the question relates directly to the need for more attention on economic development in Carbondale, which he said has been lacking under recent boards of trustees.
The community needs to decide how it wants to approach the underlying issues, he said, not just the trustees.
And, he said, he feels confident that, faced with an urgent need to come up with more revenues, the voters would go along.
“If we needed to, in an emergency, to come up with some kind of a tax to be able to take care of infrastructure, or whatever needed to be done, in an emergency,” the community would do it, Cortez predicted.
Asked directly how they would deal with citizen demands for increased lighting in the dark parts of town, for safety reasons, each candidate agreed that something needed to be done, and quickly.
“That is something that we really need to focus on,” Cortez declared. “That is what I consider an emergency.”
But he was critical of the town’s recent decision to hire consultants to look into where lights should be put, and what kind of lights should be used, insisting instead that Carbondale could turn to RFTA (the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) for research it has done into lighting as it prepared to build new Bus Rapid Transit stations up and down the valley.
Richardson pointed out that the town already is working on this, and expressed satisfaction that the town did not immediately acquiesce to demands last summer for increased lighting along the Rio Grande Trail as it passes through Carbondale. Subsequent discussion has revealed that many people reacting to the conflict between safety issues and concerns about ensuring that Carbondale’s starry night sky is not blotted out by light pollution, Byars remarked, “It’s not an either/or (proposition).” She said adding lights to dark areas can be accomplished, using appropriate technology, without sacrificing the night sky to light pollution.
The final question of the forum asked what sets the candidates apart in terms of being able to bring people together and work toward a consensus on difficult issues.
“This is an ability I have, that I didn’t know I had,” stated Cortez, explaining that when he became a RFTA bus driver after the recent recession put his solar-installation business into bankruptcy, he was quickly asked by other drivers to head up an effort to start a drivers’ union.
“I found out I was an incredibly strong negotiator, Cortez continued, “and I believe these abilities I have are unique and not found in this town,” at least not on the current board of trustees.
Richardson bashfully admitted to feeling he is “somewhat of a boy scout” in that he is “boring” and likes being involved in local governance.
“I’m committed to empowering people by listening and consistently demonstrating integrity and authenticity,” he continued, adding that he had demonstrated these qualities in leading, seeking consensus, and supporting his fellow trustees in debating issues and finding answers to questions and issues brought before the board.
Byars, who spoke last, said she had been a community organizer prior to being elected as a trustee, and that she feels she offers a sensitive, intelligent and compassionate nature, with empathy for the issues facing ordinary citizens.
In addition, she said, she has worked hard to come to grips with an array of complicated, technical issues such as water resources and the Thompson Divide gas-drilling controversy, and is well prepared to lead the board into the future.
Published in The Sopris Sun on October 27, 2016.