County commission race gets under way

Republicans Erich Ferchau and Doug Sparks challenge Democrats

Ten months before the November election, two candidates have already announced their intentions to vie for Gunnison County Commissioner seats, and both say they are running against over-regulation.




"The LUR (County Land Use Resolution) is 456 pages of regulations," says Republican Doug Sparks, who will run for the Gunnison County’s District One seat, currently held by Democrat Paula Swenson. "Regulations tend to squeeze the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit out of people," he added.
Republican Erich Ferchau, who will battle for the District Two seat currently occupied by Democrat Hap Channell, agrees. "Regulations can be very divisive in nature," he says. "They tend to pit people against each other."
Both Channell and Swenson say they intend to run to retain their seats.
Gunnison County Republican Committee secretary Cory Watt says the committee has endorsed both candidates. “We, as for the committee, are unanimously supporting Doug and Erich,” she says. Watt says both will declare their candidacy at the Republican caucuses on Tuesday, February 5 and will be formally nominated at the Republican General Assembly on Wednesday, March 5.
A third seat, held by Commissioner Jim Starr, a Democrat,  is not up for election this year. All registered Gunnison County voters can vote for every district. 
Ferchau and Sparks are both longtime Gunnison residents, and their stake in the community is apparent. "I think I have an appreciation for everything in the valley," says Ferchau. "My feeling is we need to strive for excellence in everything we do."
Ferchau moved to Gunnison with his family in 1962 when he was three years old. His father was a professor at Western State College, and Ferchau received a degree from Western in microbiology.
From Gunnison, Ferchau moved on to University of Georgia, where he received a master’s degree in business. But after working for Coca-Cola for 15 years, Ferchau decided it was time to come home. "We started the Remax offices both here and in Crested Butte," he says.
Besides a career in real estate, Ferchau has been involved in several public service endeavors, including a stint on the County Planning Commission and the comprehensive planning process. He’s currently a member of the Gunnison County Strategic Sage Grouse Committee.
A businessman himself, Ferchau promises to work toward creating a better environment for small businesses. "We need to do some things to help neat businesses like Blue Addiction," he says, referring to his main street neighbor that recently went out of business. "I think the county commission should be a leader in the community to help move them along."
Ferchau is married and has two sons. One is in college and the other attends Gunnison High School.
Sparks is also a Western State graduate in biological science and, like Ferchau, took a long hiatus away from home. His wanderings took him to the far reaches of the globe, where he was involved in humanitarian aid work. "I was on the board of directors of Mercy Ships," says Sparks. Mercy Ships is an organization that provides surgical and humanitarian needs via boat to developing countries.
Sparks says he was drawn into the commissioner race because he feels the current commissioners aren’t addressing the community’s future concerns. "The reason I’m throwing my hat into the ring is because it’s time for Gunnison to embrace the 21st century," he says. "It’s my sense that we are being left behind."
His contact with poor developing countries and their people gave him a soft spot for Gunnison’s immigrant population, according to Sparks. "The reality is we have a thousand immigrants here in Gunnison, and we can’t ignore them," he says. "We have to make sure we address the social issues here," he adds.
Sparks, who owns an advertising business called "In-Store Advertising,” hopes he can open up new lines of communication with his constituency if he is elected. "I’m looking more than anything to create a sense of dialogue," he says.
The 59-year-old self-described moderate says he feels like he’s in the perfect spot to give something back to the community as a public official. "I feel like I can have a balanced approach and promote change that’s positive."
Sparks is married and has a daughter who works in Afghanistan for the humanitarian organization Save the Children. He plans to officially announce his candidacy at a party in Webster Hall at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 7.  

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