Candidates square off
The six candidates running for seats on the Board of Pitkin County Commissioners squirmed, squabbled and sought to win over the electorate last night in Squirm Night debate on GrassRoots TV.Here’s a breakdown of the individual debates.District 4: Jack Hatfield and Cheryl KoehneIt was a battle of youth versus experience in District 4 as incumbent Jack Hatfield argued his nearly 20 years’ experience as an elected official trumps the enthusiasm of political newcomer Cheryl Koehne.Hatfield said he is a member of a board in the middle of several important projects, particularly the simplification of the land-use code, that require his re-election for completion. When asked why he should be re-elected, he answered: “We [the board] have accomplished a lot. And I think we are all looking forward to continuing.”Koehne argued she represents a neglected portion of county voters – young professionals hoping to buy property and settle down in the county.”I’m running for the people who want to stay in this area,” she said. “I think I can bring some fresh, new ideas.” Koehne added that providing housing should be the county’s priority, and that she is against further county property taxes.Koehne was the victim of the most obvious “squirm moment” of the night after she admitted ignorance regarding several recent board decisions. Asked about a vote by the commissioners to restrict large homes on the face of Smuggler Mountain, Koehne said, “To be honest I’m not completely familiar with the details.” To a question about a recent settlement regarding public access to Hunter Creek Valley, Koehne again stalled, replying “I’m trying to recall all the details. I’m not familiar with what the final settlement was.” Aspen Times editor Allyn Harvey, one of three moderates of the debate, asked Koehne if she had ever attended a county commissioners meeting. “I’ve watched them on GrassRoots television,” Koehne replied.Hatfield used the opportunity to demonstrate command of county material, offering detailed responses to the moderator’s questions.Koehne closed the debate by defending her qualifications for the position. “I worked with the city [of Aspen] for three years and I have a good understanding of government,” she said.District 5: Dorothea Farris and Tom McBrayerThe debate between incumbent Dorthea Farris and Crystal River Valley challenger Tom McBrayer predictably drifted to two recent board decisions on which McBrayer has focused his campaign.In a mood of barely contained civility, the two candidates sparred over the county’s proposed trail from Carbondale to Redstone and the county’s support of the Sustainable Settings project near Carbondale.McBrayer said that as a Crystal River Valley resident he feels so poorly represented by Farris on those issues that he wants a complete overhaul of the county’s voting process. Instead of voting in all commissioner races, county residents should vote only in their districts and in one at-large race.”Instead of representing taxpayers, commissioners are representing voters in the resort centers,” McBrayer said.Farris countered that a commissioner, although elected in certain districts, has allegiance to all county residents.”We have to vote with the entire county in mind,” she said.Regarding the trail, McBrayer said the county has steamed ahead with the project despite objections by Crystal River Valley residents. He said the proposed trail infringes on local private-property rights, threatens wildlife in the area and is far too expensive.”I’m not opposed to a trail as long as it doesn’t destroy habitat or violate property rights or waste colossal amounts of money,” McBrayer said.Farris replied the county is still in the provisional planning stages and that no final decision has been reached. She also said McBrayer’s provincial views on the trail ignore the importance of public land and trails.”We’ve never discussed condemnation [of private property],” Farris said. “As a taxpayer, I have the right to enjoy the land the county has.”McBrayer then challenged Farris’ support of Sustainable Settings ranch, arguing the county should have bought the land outright, instead of teaming up with the Conservation Land Trust and the Sustainable Settings organization for the purchase.Farris countered the deal created more flexibility and funds for the county’s open space program, allowing it to pursue other projects.When asked whether he could work with a board he has so vocally opposed, McBrayer replied, “If I have to be an adversary, I can be an adversary.”District 3: Shellie Roy and Michael OwsleyThe debate between incumbent Shellie Roy and Woody Creek challenger Michael Owsley highlighted two different views of the role of county government.Perhaps the most eloquent of the candidates, Owsley offered an articulated plea for “grass-roots government from the ground up,” arguing commissioners should bow wherever possible to the desires of local neighborhood caucuses. When asked where county affordable housing should be placed, Owsley replied: “[The commissioners] are not czars. The neighborhoods themselves have to decide. The decision should not come down from the commissioners but from the grass roots up.”Roy argued instead for powerful, independent commissioners. She challenged the actions of the Woody Creek Caucus, with which Owsley has been active for years, saying the neighborhood had wrested too much control from the county.”There are ways that Woody Creek can veto [county actions] without actually using a veto,” Roy said. “They’ve threatened lawsuits in the past for that purpose.”Owsley said he would support an impact fee that collects money from owners of large private homes for affordable housing projects. Roy said she “was on the fence” regarding impact fees.Roy said she supports the current plan to lengthen the runway at the county airport, saying it will make takeoff and landing safer. She expressed concern over the growing private-jet traffic at the airport and their impacts.Owsley said he felt the commissioners should do “everything in their power” to break United Airline’s current monopoly on flights from Aspen to Denver.”We must tell prospective airlines that we will protect you from unfair practices [by United],” Owsley said. “And that includes providing legal assistance.”Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the evening came when the two were asked which presidential candidate they support.”It depends on what candidate is speaking on what day,” Roy, an unaffiliated voter, said.”I don’t think Bush has political views. I think he has religious views. And therefore I’m going to vote for Kerry,” Owsley, a Democrat, replied.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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