Pitkin Board of County Commissioners
Three of the five Pitkin County commissioners are up for re-election this year and each race has its own unique character.In District 4, challenger Cheryl Koehne is running a campaign that targets the county’s younger voters, claiming that incumbent Jack Hatfield has ignored the needs of residents under 40.District 5 challenger Tom McBrayer has attacked incumbent Dorothea Farris on two recent board decisions, accusing Farris of neglecting the needs of her constituency.And District 3’s challenger, Michael Owsley, has said publicly that incumbent Shellie Roy “doesn’t know how to say no to developers.”
Hatfield vs. KoehneCheryl Koehne feels unfairly represented by local governments in Pitkin County. Look around the county, Koehne will tell you, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find young elected officials.What do the younger residents of the county need? More opportunities to own property, for one. Koehne opposes any further county property tax because “not everybody who owns property in the county is rich.” She also said affordable housing projects should create more ownership opportunities.”I hear from so many of my friends that if they don’t win the housing lottery they will have to move downvalley,” she says. “There’s an undersupply of houses to purchase; the county needs to lead the way. We can’t just target renters.”
Koehne’s youth and inexperience has gotten her in trouble, however. At a recent “squirm night” debate, Koehne was shown to be ignorant of the details of several recent county actions.In contrast to Koehne, Jack Hatfield is placing his nearly 20 years’ experience as an elected official at the center of his campaign. At the squirm night debate, he listed continuity as the main reason he should stay in office.”We [the board] have accomplished a lot. And I think we are all looking forward to continuing,” he said.Hatfield’s philosophical beliefs are a particularly Pitkin County concoction of liberal environmentalism and fiscal conservatism.Since he took office, Hatfield says he has been integral in the de facto adoption of the county’s urban growth boundaries, which limit dense development to town and city cores. He’s consistently worked to limit development and sprawl.
At the same time, he’s been mindful of the county’s projected budget deficit. And it’s this insistence on pinching pennies on which Hatfield says his reputation rests.”Every board member has his or her role,” he says. “I am the one who always leads the in-depth questions about fiscal matters and the responsible use of public money. It’s the role I play.”McBrayer vs. FarrisTom McBrayer feels the District 5 commissioner has not fairly represented the views of her constituents. And if he can win Dorothea Farris’ seat this Nov. 2, he’s planning big changes to make sure that never happens again.
To McBrayer, the county’s voting system is to blame. Currently, commissioner candidates run for seats in a particular district and are mandated to represent that district. Commissioners, however, are elected by voters across the county. McBrayer says such a voting system undermines candidates’ accountability to their district. And he says he has a solution.”I want to see four voting districts and one at-large seat,” McBrayer says. “Under my plan you can only vote for the candidates in your district and the at-large seat. The issues in rural Pitkin County are different than the resort centers.”McBrayer’s complaints about Farris center around two decisions by the county’s open space and trails board, both supported by Farris.The first dispute came recently over a feasibility study partially funded by the county for a trail from Crested Butte to Carbondale. McBrayer helped form a lobby group – the Crystal Valley Alliance – to oppose the trail route proposed by the study, claiming it infringed on local private-property rights as well as threatened wildlife in the area. The other conflict came when the commissioners approved the use of open space money to secure a section of land near Carbondale for Sustainable Settings, an independent research organization. McBrayer believes 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.
In response, Farris has accused McBrayer of provincialism and recently called him a “two-issue candidate.” Farris says commissioners have to vote with the well-being of the entire county in mind. She has also defended both the trail and the Sustainable Settings ranch, arguing that the latter prevented the development of 11 homes of up to 15,000 square feet while creating more funds for the county’s open space program. Farris says her platform is broad and well-informed. As chairman of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board, for example, Farris hopes her leadership has enacted far-reaching changes, convincing Garfield County, New Castle and Silt to join the board this November.She also says she has been looking closely at the budget in response to the county’s projected deficit. With revenue limited by state amendments – most prominently the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR – cuts are all but inevitable. But she has strong beliefs where cuts should be avoided.
“I’m convinced that employee retention is so important. It costs the county so much money to retrain employees. As far as other departments, any decision I make will have conservation and wildlife protection as its priority. I’d leave a pothole in the street to protect wildlife. It’s that important to me.”Owsley vs. RoyThe race between incumbent Shellie Roy and Woody Creek challenger Michael Owsley highlights two different views of the role of county government.Woody Creek Caucus member Owsley argues for “grass-roots government from the ground up,” claiming the commissioners should bow wherever possible to the desires of local neighborhood caucuses. When asked in a recent debate 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 argues instead for powerful, independent commissioners. She challenges the actions of the Woody Creek Caucus, saying the neighborhood has wrestled too much control from the county.”There are ways that Woody Creek can veto [county actions] without actually using a veto,” Roy says. “They’ve threatened lawsuits in the past for that purpose.” Owsley points to his strong belief in strictly controlling growth and change in the county as a difference between him and Roy.”I really care about the preservation of the county as it is,” Owsley says.
Roy agrees this is a difference with her challenger, but claims that she is “more open to finding ways for change that maintains the character of Pitkin County.””In Woody Creek they do not seem to want any changes at all, but I believe that in order for us to survive, we have to figure out how to deal with change without destroying who you are,” she says. “It’s a hard line to walk, but I believe if you don’t change, you die.”Roy says she excels at representing the county as a whole, rather than focusing her efforts on one area, such as Owsley’s ties to Woody Creek. Owsley, on the other hand, says it’s time for voters to change direction and vote for a citizen who believes in grass-roots participation.”Shellie has criticized the Woody Creek Caucus for its actions, but grass roots has all the answers. Five people at the top don’t have all the answers; they can just act on their best instincts,” he says.
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