A dozen people for five seats
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte News hosted its Candidates Forum October 22 and, given the breadth of discussion, we divided the recap into two stories. Part Two delves into public engagement, traffic by weed stores, planning and a rec center. You have until November 7 to return your ballot.
The 12 people running for mayor or Town Council in Crested Butte attended the Crested Butte News Candidates Forum last week to take questions from the citizens. We ran Part One of the debate last week. Four candidates are running for mayor: Jim Schmidt, Chris Ladoulis, Paul Merck and Tracy Smith. Eight people are running for council: Will Dujardin, Lisa Merck, Chris Haver, Kent Cowherd, Jackson Petito, Candice Bradley, Richard Machemehl and Kyle Ryan. Below are the questions asked to the candidates and their answers.
Better community engagement
Molly Murfee wanted ideas on how the public can better engage with their local government.
Haver touted his website, Crestedbuttelife.com, and said it could be used as two-way digital communication between him and constituents. “We want people to be a part of the decision making process,” he said.
“We can increase ways for people to communicate with the council through social media platforms,” said Dujardin. “I’d also encourage people to show up to the council meetings and say something there to get their voice heard.”
“It is important for council people to remain available to town,” said Cowherd. “Councilmembers have to remain approachable.”
Ryan said running for council has been eye-opening. “The last council meeting packet was 194 pages. It took all weekend to read through. We can make a Cliff Notes version or a highlight page for general citizens so they can process it.” He said he has also set up a specific email, firstname.lastname@example.org, to take questions and comments from the public.
“I’ve seen Paul answering a lot of emails and meeting with people the last two years,” said Lisa Merck. “Our town has a really great website. We’re running for council because we want to help the community.”
“It would be helpful to have bullet points or red flag issues highlighted on the town website. The agenda can be a little daunting,” said Paul Merck. “Along with that it would be okay for the council and staff to undergo [public relations] training so we can communicate effectively. That would be money well spent.”
“We can make our plans known well in advance of meetings,” suggested Ladoulis. “Some of that comes with a master plan. We can do a better job of making the agendas reflect our strategic plan.” He also cited success with recent citizens committees helping to shape policy.
“Going to council meetings, I am amazed at the number of topics at a two- or three-hour meeting,’ said Machemehl. “I too think social media could help engage the public.”
“It takes the town, the media and engaged public to make it all work,” said Petito. “I’d suggest people read the legals in the back of the newspaper. Maybe people can subscribe through town to get alerts on specific topics such as alleys.”
“The mayor has a lot of control at meetings and it drives me crazy when the mayor cuts people off when they came to talk about an issue,” said Schmidt. “I won’t do that as mayor. It is important to let people say what they need to say.”
“The mayor needs to react to people when they have concerns,” said Smith. “If there’s an issue they should get a cup of coffee together. That’s how we’ve always done it here. I can do it but I’m not on Facebook.”
“Technology is a great way to stay in contact,” said Bradley. “So is personal interaction. That keeps Crested Butte different and people need to connect.”
Audrey Andersen asked who would vote to stop spending money on marketing the town, especially in the summer.
Eight of the candidates raised their hands, while Ladoulis, Lisa and Paul Merck and Haver did not.
“The where and when of marketing is important. Marketing our backcountry in the summer is not helpful but we could use some marketing in the winter,” said Haver. “How do we market for sustainable tourism without blowing up our town?”
“I feel your pain and while we have too much business in July there are other times we could use some marketing help in June or September,” said Ladoulis. “Like so many things the council faces, it’s never that simple. The other side would not be good, too.”
“The town itself doesn’t need to market itself,” said Dujardin. “I sympathize with business owners. We can’t shut the door on opportunities but the town doesn’t need to spend money on marketing. Other entities are doing plenty of that.”
“I agree that the town doesn’t need to fund any tourism efforts,” said Bradley. “But we need to be aware of what is being put out there about Crested Butte.”
“I believe marketing can be a tool to set the rules of town,” said Paul Merck. “How will people act when coming to this place?”
“We need to remember we’re here because it’s a great vacation destination,” said Lisa Merck. “If people don’t come here, it is hard for the businesses to thrive. We can market in a positive way.”
“Crested Butte doesn’t need to market itself,” said Machemehl. “People come to ski but come back for the town.”
“The town doesn’t spend a lot of money on marketing,” said Schmidt. “I’ve always wanted this to be the best place to live and that attracts people. We’ve made this an awfully nice town.”
“Remember that this is a town where people live, and market or don’t market accordingly,” said Petito.
“I’d like to see more sustainability with the growth we’ve already seen. July is overwhelming,” said Cowherd.
Kim Walter asked the mayoral candidates what two or three elements would be in their long-term plan.
“Plan beats no plan every time,” answered Ladoulis. “A plan defines where we are gong, but just as important is the will to execute it so the elements in a plan need to be attainable. Public input for such a plan is important. No doubt in Crested Butte, affordable housing would be a top issue but most would be importantly preserving our community.”
“We have a lot of plans at the town,” said Schmidt. “There’s a Parks and Recreation plan, an energy action plan, and zoning is a plan. I can’t get excited about bringing in someone as a consultant to tell us how to plan. And plans need to be flexible because things do change. But my overall plan would include affordable housing, energy efficiency and how to maintain our quality of life.”
“First and foremost, we have to look at health and public safety. That applies to everything,” said Paul Merck, “the energy action plan and using this small town to reflect what others should do in the world. A strategic plan that covers everything would need the public to get involved with that.
“Getting the public involved on committees would be important for me,” said Smith.
Caps on development
A resident asked about possible development caps.
“Population in the world is a big issue and a cause of many of the problems,” said Paul Merck. “Right now we are dealing with a lot of growth and the county is growing around us. But the town has to provide the things like parks and schools. All around is a lot of development. It will take a lot of work and discussion to bring caps to this.”
“Growth in the valley has to be managed,” said Ladoulis. “We need to participate more in the county LUR process and with the town of Mt. Crested Butte. We need to work with them. Sometimes Crested Butte is seen as the Land of No but we need to talk and work with our partners to shape growth. We have more to agree on than disagree on, and that’s something I want to work on.”
“The town of Crested Butte has the most aggressive annexation policies almost anywhere. We demand housing, trails and parks,” said Schmidt.
“We need to control our growth,” said Smith. “Other small towns have more problems than we do but we as a town have to discuss how much more we want to grow in the next ten years.”
Dispensary impacts on traffic
Caroline Murphy asked about how to deal with increased traffic on Belleview Avenue that seems to have resulted from marijuana dispensaries. That opened up an overall parking and traffic discussion for some candidates.
“Simple things like speed bumps can be used over there and getting the laws we have to be enforced,” suggested Smith.
“Speed bumps are a great idea,” said Lisa Merck. “More enforcement of speeding on Elk Avenue is important. We can encourage people to ride bikes and take buses.”
“Belleview is a business district and the business owners need to come to the council to help figure it out. Maybe sidewalks belong there,” said Dujardin. “It’s a real problem with all the big trucks, the contractor trucks and the kids at the skate park.”
“I like the council looking over the parking issue again,” said Haver. “The point of the parking program is to get people walking and taking the bus everywhere. We need to get visitors to change their mindset and get people to use public transportation instead of using cars.”
“It is good to get people out of their cars,” said Petito. “I had suggested a sign at the entrance to town that said ‘Welcome to Crested Butte: A Park-and-Walk Paradise.’ I wanted it big but it didn’t fly with Yerman.”
“We should speak to the law enforcement and get their suggestions,” said Machemehl. “I would defer to the professionals and get their input to come up with a solution.”
“There are a lot of conflicts over there,” said Cowherd. “I want to hear from the business owners.”
“I used to have my tattoo shop in the area and semis parking over there impacted that a lot,” said Bradley. “We should find a way to develop a traffic plan for those larger vehicles that would be ideal. More signage and lighting at night to better see the kids around the skate park would help, too.”
“I used to live over there and it should be noted there are no sidewalks so people walk in the middle of the road,” said Ryan. “It is a very commercial area of town and a traffic study might be needed, as well as advice from the marshals.”
“I am thrilled to live in a town where a big council discussion is how to maintain our 15-mile-per-hour speed limit,” said Ladoulis. “We are all involved and looking at ways to address these issues.”
“The parking and traffic issues are an unintended consequence of putting the dispensaries on Belleview,” said Schmidt. “Overall with parking we need to look at where the cars are shifted to when you close down one area. It’s like a game of Whack-A-Mole.”
“We need to enforce the two-hour parking regulations and the Four-way [stop] parking lot is an amenity,” said Smith. “I’d like to see downtown closed to parking on a locals’ days to see it work.”
“There’s an idea about using the school parking lot for free parking and maybe that can work better if you do something like give people who park there a pass that leads to discounts at local stores,” said Paul Merck.
Rec Center wishes
KBUT’s Chad Reich asked the candidates to be specific on their thoughts on a rec center: who was for it, did they think it matched the community values of Crested Butte and how would it be paid for.
“I support a rec center,” said Paul Merck. “It would be helpful for the community. To pay for it, we would have to team up with Adaptive Sports. There are ways to make it happen. Most communities do it.”
“I’m for it, but up on the mountain where there is room for it,” added Smith.
“It could maybe go in the place where the Mt. Crested Butte performing arts center was going to be,” suggested Dujardin. “As for paying for it, it would have to charge for services. We would have to figure out funding solutions.”
“I would support a rec center,” said Ryan. “The square footage needs are probably not in town. The mountain is an excellent place to put it. It falls in line with our values. We would need a paced, long-term plan to figure out how to pay for it.”
“This is something that needs to be well thought-out,” said Haver. “We can start looking now for a place but if we hit an economic downturn, how would we cover the costs?”
“I definitely feel we can support a rec center in Crested Butte,” said Lisa Merck. “It is in line with our values. Lots of towns do subsidize rec centers and it would be a perfect asset for our community.”
“The idea of a community rec center fits with our values but the challenge is paying for it and how we [would] fund it once it’s in place,” said Cowherd.
“The only way to pay for it would be a tax, probably through the Met Rec district,” said Schmidt. “Mt. Crested Butte did a study on a rec center and found it would be expensive to build and operate, especially given our population base. I’d love a recreation center but it really is a push to say we could afford it here.”
“I think big cities build rec centers because they’re not lucky enough to live inside a rec center like we do. We have thousands of acres of rec center around us,” said Petito. “I don’t mind driving to Gunnison to use the rec center and do some grocery shopping. My kids love the pool. Maybe we can spend a lot less money and subsidize the pools in Mt. Crested Butte to allow local kids to use them.”
“Everyone likes the idea of a rec center but no one knows how to pay for it,” added Ladoulis. “We recently passed a parks and rec tax just to take care of the facilities we have today. We have to make choices. Are we willing to live with what we have and appreciate it or are we going to keep signing up for this never-ending want for more and more and more? An indoor pool might be the least environmentally conscious thing we could do as a town. We all say we want land for affordable housing but we want a swimming pool. There are challenges. We need to be very careful before starting down that path.”
“It would be a good place for kids to hang out,” said Machemehl. “It doesn’t necessarily need a pool; maybe it has things like a basketball court and indoor things for kids to do. I think it would be fun.”
And who has read the parks and rec plan?
The final question came from Elliot Stern, who wanted to know who among the candidates had read the town’s 2010 Parks and Recreation master plan. Schmidt, Ladoulis, Paul Merck, Haver, Cowherd and Ryan had, while Smith, Dujardin, Lisa Merck, Petito, Bradley and Machemehl had not.
Ballots are out and should be in the hands of voters by now. They can be mailed back to the county but must be dropped off by 7 p.m. November 7 to be counted. There is also a ballot drop-off at the Queens of All Saints Parish Hall building in Crested Butte.