photo by Lydia Stern

Crested Butte council election thoughts

First a big “thank you” goes out to everyone running for the Crested Butte Town Council. It can be a high-profile, not always easy position. Having the courage and commitment to put yourself in front of your community can be scary and difficult, so everyone running for a seat in this election deserves a pat on the back.

This is an interesting Crested Butte Town Council election, in that it isn’t super interesting. All six people running have a passion about and care for the town. For that the voters are lucky. There are some differences but not major philosophical differences. Each hopes for smoother Town Council relationships. No one wants meetings to go until one o’clock in the morning. Each wants to keep Crested Butte special and its citizens involved. I haven’t really heard any new big-picture ideas and all seem content with the general direction of the town.

As one would expect, incumbents Glenn Michel, Skip Berkshire and Aaron Huckstep all came across as the most knowledgeable about the issues at the Crested Butte News Candidates Forum. They spoke about plans made and changes needed from the recent political situation with Town Council. The other three, Paul Merck, Laura Mitchell and Erika Vohman, all weighed in on what they hoped a future council could address. When asked for some ideas about major initiatives that would put a stamp on the town’s future, there wasn’t much there. Speeding was the most talked about concern, and while there might be some citizen concern about speeding, I don’t see that issue being a game changer. Nor is parking or better signage.

photo by Lydia Stern
photo by Lydia Stern

So there is style. The two men running for the office of mayor are both good councilmen. Frankly, each brings good views on different issues and contributes a grounding element to a sometimes volatile council. It would have been best if they both could have remained on the board.

My observation is that Glenn is the more academically-oriented of the two. He is proud of his political science studies. He is comfortable with consultants, processes and subcommittees. He enjoys the academic aspects of the job. He loves things like the lengthy OVPP process and feels it can be used for years and years in public decision-making. There have been occasions he was obviously frustrated with his fellow councilmen and even at times seemed to take some issue differences personally, and that can be a problem at the table. While it appeared to me he went through a period of time where he sort of checked out with the council dynamics, he said at the Candidate’s Forum he has been “re-energized” with this campaign. When he gives an opinion, I usually come down in the same area as his conclusions.

Skip’s style is a bit more of a wild card. Eminently quotable, Skip can ping-pong between analogies to make a point. He is quicker than Glenn to jump in and try to guide debate at the council table. He brought a more rational, adult vibe to some of the discussions when he joined the council a year ago, filling the seat of a departed council member. He can at times come across as serious and brusque and other times as a goofball—sort of like the town in general. Skip would rather act than study an issue to death and I can really appreciate that. I usually come down in the same area with his conclusions as well.

Both lament the length of meetings and promise to expedite the process. I have seen Glenn run tight, solid meetings as the chairman of BOZAR. Skip tries to view every issue pretty much as how it can keep Crested Butte unique. As I said, ideally, both would garner votes to stay on council. That won’t happen so my recommendation to the citizens in town is to cast their vote for mayor for whomever they are more comfortable approaching on the street, Nordic track or ski hill. Both Skip and Glenn can bring a fresh perspective to the center seat as mayor.

As for the councilmembers, I am frankly glad Huck is stepping out of the center seat. Mayors are under more pressure than councilmembers. They are targeted more by citizens and stopped more often by people wanting to compliment or (more likely) complain about the town. That begins to wear on people after a while. And whether they admit it or not, most mayors start to go a little crazy about three years into a mayoral run. Huck is approaching his fourth anniversary. He is a lightning rod with the seven-member council for whatever reason. But Huck’s political contribution can be that he enjoys the contacts. He likes reaching out to Mt. Crested Butte, the county, the ski area, the Forest Service. If he’s re-elected, that’s where he wants to focus his council time, and with his charm and ability to talk to anyone, he can be good at it. It will be interesting to see how he deals as a councilmember if he is elected to the board.

For the record, all the ex-mayors who still live here get over their craziness and usually continue to contribute to the community.

Paul Merck has a similar political skill. He has no qualms talking to people. He wants to seek you out, question your views and digest them before making decisions. He has a long history here and that goes into his digestive mix. Merck will be one who is out and about, volunteering, socializing and engaging, and that is always a good element to have on the council.

Not to be sexist, but Lord knows it will be good to have a woman sitting up at the table. You can at times cut the testosterone flying around the current council. Having a woman, and maybe two, with Laura Mitchell and Erika Vohman on council bringing a female perspective to the debate will be welcome. Not that either of these two are wallflowers. Both are strong women with passion for the community. Based on appearances at some previous meetings, Vohman, who claims to be an introvert, is not shy about making her opinion known. She has, shall we say, a bit of an edge at times. Mitchell too would be confident with her thoughts as a member of the council.

 

Honestly, I don’t feel strongly enough about the choices to make a strong endorsement. They all bring some positives and each have some things that I don’t quite get. No one will promote rampant growth or try to put up a gate. The bottom line: Voters should vote for those they can talk to. There are more than a few things on the town’s political horizon: Development on the edge of town, the mine, round-abouts, skate parks, a creative district, an Arts Center expansion. There are issues that you will want to share your perspective with a councilperson. I think the new folks will have a learning curve but fresh blood is needed.

And however you vote, these candidates have stepped up knowing the current situation is sometimes volatile and frustrating. For that we give everyone accolades.

Now, given the timing, the one thing in this election I do strongly recommend is not mailing your ballot but rather dropping it off at an official polling place before Tuesday. See page 9 for locations.

—Mark Reaman

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