By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Erica Sparhawk, program director for regional alternative-energy advocacy organization CLEER (Clean Energy Economy for the Region), was picked on Tuesday to fill the trustee vacancy that came open last year when Mayor Dan Richardson was elevated by voters from his original role as a trustee to take on the mayor’s job.
Sparhawk, 40, will begin her new post immediately after being sworn into office on Feb. 14.
The position, however, will only be for the next year and three months, under requirements in the town charter, meaning Sparhawk’s will be one of five positions up for election in 2018.
In April of that year, current Trustee Frosty Merriott will step down due to term limits, and trustees Katrina Byars, Heather Henry, Sparhawk and Mayor Richardson all must run for re-election.
The reasons for the large field of open seats are that Richardson was elected to fill out the term of recent mayor Stacey Bernot, which expires in 2018; Henry was appointed to fill the term of former trustee A.J. Hobbs, which expires in 2018; Byars’ first four-year term expires in 2018; and Sparhawk, appointed to fill out Richardson’s term, is required by the town charter to run in the next scheduled regular election, in 2018.
Born and raised in Carbondale, Sparhawk, who is married with two children, has had experience studying and working abroad as well as in the U.S.
She studied at the Universidad del Mayab, in Merida, Mexico, in 1997, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in economics at Colorado State University in 1999.
Following that, she worked for what was then a Carbondale-based alternative-energy company, Solar Energy International, building straw-bale homes, designing sustainable houses and other tasks, before moving, in 2007 to Billings, Montana, where she spent the following two years working and learning about sustainability and alternative energy.
Sparhawk said she has no problem at all with the idea of serving a rather short first term.
“I think it’s a great way for my family and myself to make sure that this works for us,” she said, referring to the rigors of being a trustee with multiple official responsibilities.
Plus, she said, assuming that she wants to continue her service, she is able and willing to run an election campaign in 2018.
“I enjoy campaigning,” she said, noting that while she was living in Montana, first working as a carpenter and project manager for a construction company and then founding her own alternative-energy consulting firm, she spent some time as campaign manager for a state legislator.
And she has been part of other campaigns, for issues and candidates, at other times.
But, she admitted, “I’ve always done it for other people,” so 2018 would be her first time at running her own bid for office.
Although she plans to keep her job with CLEER, Sparhawk said she will recuse herself from discussions between CLEER and the town board about financial issues related to the town’s ongoing energy conservation programming.
In addition, she said, where she has been the primary contact at CLEER for Carbondale-related energy efficiency policies, she already has set in motion a plan to turn that work over to another staff member at the nonprofit.
In a written summary of her life, Sparhawk noted, “I’m a careful listener, which I think is one of the most important traits for an elected official. I can bring a diplomatic voice to the discussion, because I frequently understand the perspective from both sides of the debate.”
She also pointed out that she has had broad working experience, from waiting on tables at local restaurants to designing and building energy-efficient homes, which she felt should serve her and the town well.
“I’m a home-grown, global-thinking, engaged resident of Carbondale and I think I’d do an excellent job working for and with our community,” she concluded.
And it appeared the majority of the board of trustees agreed.
The board interviewed six of the eight people who applied for the trustee position, a list that included food server, photographer and veteran volunteer April Spaulding; long-time Carbondale Parks & Rec. Commission member Becky Moeller;veterinary technician Beth Broome; educator and water-quality specialist Sarah Johnson; retired draftsman and part-time ski instructor and salesman Jim Breasted; and Sparhawk (local businessman Michael Durant withdrew his name from the selection process, and 26-year local resident and chiropractor John “Doctor Dandelion” Philip did not appear at the meeting for an interview.)
Breasted was nominated for the post by Trustee Marty Silverstein, citing Breasted’s “years of experience” in valley affairs, but Sparhawk was the only other applicant discussed in depth by the board as a whole.
And it was largely the board members’ familiarity with Sparhawk, thanks to frequent interactions with her as a representative of CLEER, that tipped the balance for the trustees, though Merriott mentioned that bringing Sparhawk onto the board would “kind of equalize” the balance of men and women on the panel.
Several of the applicants complimented the field of candidates interested in the job, noting that the board was lucky to be faced with a choice among such well-qualified individuals.
“This is a very talented group of people,” said Johnson, expressing gratitude that the town has such a competent population base to draw from.
The other applicants all were urged to stay involved and interested in civic affairs, and to consider “tossing their hats into the ring” for the 2018 municipal election.
In other action, the trustees:
• Discussed their top five or six priorities for the coming year, which mainly centered around affordable housing; coming up with a permanent funding source for needed infrastructure work; creating an “environmental charter” or “environmental strategic plan” to guide future town decisions about energy-efficiency programming; and expanding mass-transportation opportunities to the entire town rather than simply Main Street and the northern portion of the community; along with others.
• Signed off on a list of 30 “special events” for 2017, which will involve closures of town streets, parks and other facilities to accommodate the festivities.