Heated races highlight Garco election | AspenTimes.com

Heated races highlight Garco election

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent

It was standing room only in the Glenwood Springs City Council chambers for Tuesday evening's election forum. (Kelley Cox/ Post Independent)

Two races for Garfield County office got a heated airing Tuesday night at the annual Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers Forum at City Hall. Republican county commissioner candidate Steve Reynolds went right for his opponent, Democratic incumbent Tresi Houpt, accusing her of obstructing the business of the commission.

” I believe Tresi is a polarizer,” he said. ” I believe Tresi has been more obstructive than constructive.”

He said Houpt’s politics and Commis­sioner Larry McCown’s Republican phi­losophy often make for impasses over important issues. “It’s no secret the board doesn’t work well together,” Reynolds told the standing-room-only crowd.

Reynolds said he has what Houpt does­n’t have: experience as a businessman working in contentious situations ” and coming up with solutions acceptable to all parties. I’m a facilitator, not a polarizer.”

Houpt answered the charge with con­siderably less heat. She said three-member boards often find themselves in a two-to­one votes. But that the single vote “rotates around the commission room.”

Despite the fact that she and McCown and Commissioner John Martin have dif­ferent approaches to issues, “We come to the table and we look for a way to create solutions.”

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Reynolds also was quick to say that Houpt is not entirely at fault for the dynamic of the board.

“I’m not blaming her. To say it’s just Tresi, to say it’s her fault isn’t fair to her,” he said. “We need to put egos and political agendas on the back burner.”

County assessor candidates Shannon Hurst, who is the current assessor, and her challenger, John Gorman, also came out swinging during their debate.

Hurst, a Republican, and Gorman, a Democrat, have faced off over an audit Hurst’s office is conducting of Williams Production, one of Garfield County’s largest natural gas producers. Gorman said Hurst is taking too much time on the audit, and he would speed it up and expand it to include most of the major producers now operating in the county.

But Hurst countered that the job is more than about oil and gas tax rev­enues.

“The job is about experience, not poli­tics,” Hurst said in her opening state­ment. “You cannot represent political interest groups. You must treat all tax­payers equally.”

Gorman said if elected he would “ensure a fair accounting for all [taxpay­ers] and make sure oil and gas pays their fair share of tax … Right now they are reporting their own figures, and no one is making sure their numbers are correct.”

Hurst and Gorman went back and forth about whether she has conducted the Williams audit properly and if time is running out on the audit ” Hurst said it’s not.

Gorman also said he would hire accountants specializing in oil and gas and fraud to prepare audits that would hold up in court.

Hurst pointed out that it wasn’t up to the assessor to enlarge the staff, and the county commissioners hired an oil and gas accountant to train her staff to per­form the audit.

In response to a question from the audience asking about his qualifications to run the assessor’s office, Gorman said, ” The day- to- day operations are covered in manuals. The 17 employees follow those procedures.

“This job is not about reading from manuals ” that just doesn’t happen,” Hurst said. When people call to speak to the assessor personally to ask about their property taxes, “you’re not going be able respond to citizen requests.”

Gorman also said he had no inter­est in making a government job a career.

“I don’t want to be a career county employee ” I don’t have the time. I want to put in place the accounting and audit procedures that can be defended as no such audits have been done.”

Hurst has been with the assessor’s office for 22 years, the past five as the county assessor.