Channell and Swenson to seek second terms
With the fall race for seats on the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners still months away, incumbent commissioners Hap Channell and Paula Swenson, both Democrats, have announced they will seek re-election in November.
Channell and Swenson agree that after four years on the job, they’ve learned some lessons and are in an excellent position to serve citizens.
“There is an old joke about how a county commissioner’s learning curve is a vertical line. It takes a few years for a person to develop the experience necessary to understand how it all goes,” says Channell, the board’s chairperson. “The public is well served if they give public officials a second or third term.”
Channell is being challenged in Gunnison County’s District Two seat by Republican Erich Ferchau, while Republican Doug Sparks is running against Swenson. Both Republican candidates announced their candidacy in February and are running on a platform of reducing county regulation.
While the Republican candidates have declared, Channell and Swenson expressed some reservations about starting the campaign far in advance of the November elections.
Channell and Swenson, both elected to the board in 2004, have each lived in the county for nearly 30 years and have been involved in the community in various ways.
After retiring from a career as a science teacher at the Gunnison Middle School in 2004, Channell became active in the community theater and a local restoration/preservation project, according to the county’s website. But it was his years in the classroom that provided the preparation for his time as a commissioner.
“I think that a teacher is required to be organized. They also have to have a strong work ethic and it is not an easy job. That experience serves a person in public service well because you’re used to making a lot of decisions. That has aided me in terms of seeing compromise and finding the middle ground,” Channell says.
As far as putting the ability to find common ground into practice for the community, Channell says he’s particularly proud of being a part of the Gunnison Valley Observatory.
“I took a leadership role in redesigning the board of the Gunnison Valley Observatory, which is a nonprofit board that was floundering a little. I got a few stakeholders together and we reconstituted the board with representatives of the stakeholders,” says Channell. “That has created the potential to get the observatory up and running.”
It is that middle ground that Channell and Swenson sometimes struggle to find among the commissioners on various other issues, although they must give the impression that it’s easy.
“There are certain people out there who think we agree on everything—and that is certainly not true,” says Swenson. “We all come at things with different points of view and experiences in life, and being the only woman on the board I definitely have different experiences.”
It is the time she has spent in public office that provides Swenson with much of the experience needed to do a good job, she says. Those positions include two terms on the Gunnison City Council and as president of the Dos Rios Golf Course, as well as positions on more than a dozen other boards and associations, according to the county website.
“I’ve been on so many various boards within the community that I get a good sense of the broad range of people who are in the community,” says Swenson.
She also owned Misty Mountain Floral in Gunnison for more than 20 years. She purchased the business after graduating from Western State College in 1985.
“As a business owner, you have to make those decisions about employees and things. You also get a sense of community that other people might not have. And I have a degree in accounting, which helps with the budgetary issues in county government,” says Swenson.
But ask her why she wants to take on another term as a county commissioner and she’ll tell you. “I love Gunnison, I love the community, I love the county. I love being a part of the community, and giving back to my community gives me a sense of fulfillment,” she says.
“I am a very moderate, even-keeled person and I take that same approach in my policy decisions. I think Gunnison County thrives on a moderate outlook of government and I think I can continue to bring that forth in our community and move us forward as we look at some of the issues we’re going to be facing,” says Swenson.
The issues facing the board are as varied as land-use decisions and their continued work on an integrated health care system and tackling the issue of affordable housing for the county’s residents.
For Channell and Swenson, it is the gravity of these issues that requires a board with the experience and compatibility shared by the current board.
“We have a good working relationship on the board. We discuss our issues and working through our disagreements. We do a tremendous job of it and sometimes we know that on some issues we aren’t going to agree, so we move on,” says Swenson.
And beyond the ability of the commissioners to compromise, they agree that allowing them some time to grow in their current roles will only benefit the community.
“By the time you hit your third year [in office], you’re starting to get a good grasp of everything and you can make some good decisions that move the county forward in finding a direction. You’re setting your goals and starting to achieve your goals, and then by your fourth year you have to re-run,” says Swenson. “So by your fifth year, you’re really becoming the most effective person you can be in county government.”
Frank Venturo, chairman of the Gunnison County Democrats, is very confident that the party’s candidates will be successful in the upcoming election.
“Before they got elected as county commissioners they both had a good background in community service. They’ve initiated a lot of efficiencies in airport operations, they’re concerned with public transportation and are going to continue working toward funding the corrections facility and an integrated health system,” says Venturo.
Addressing the claim that the Democratic Party is anti-growth, Venturo says, “I don’t see that. We want sustainable growth. We want to break that old 19th-century boom and bust cycle that the mineral extraction industry brought to this county when it was originally developed.
“I think what the people in county Democratic Party are in favor of is problem-solving and coming up with solutions that will protect what we have here, and save something for our children,” he says.