Election thoughts on candidates and local issues

Hey everyone—now that break is over and the season is changing, go cast your ballots. The county needs them soon so they can stay on track and get the results out early on November 2. It’s time for you to prove that mail and drop-off ballots can be done without it being fraudulent!

As usual, the CB News Candidates Forum held this past Sunday was enlightening. It gave people running for the Crested Butte town council an opportunity to share their thoughts, demeanor and policies. No one shined above the others on Sunday and no one tanked. Given the rapid changes in the valley we all are feeling, perhaps this is a time to not focus on flash and instead look at steady substance. The eight people running to represent the town are all solid, thoughtful people wanting to represent the citizens of CB and by extension the North Valley. All value the idea of maintaining a unique community.

There were some policy differences when it came to things like support for the empty house tax and the continuation of permit parking and a one-way Elk Avenue configuration. That matters but it is just important to see how they interact with one another. Chemistry on a board is important and frankly this last council in some of its iterations has had some bad chemistry, which can lead to subtle and overt conflict that is not productive. As the guy who sits through most of the meetings, I appreciate good chemistry.

I will note that no one really made me or the audience laugh much on Sunday except Chad Reich and Denis Hall who were moderating the discussion but Anna Fenerty’s suggestion that “radical times call for radical redheads” did make me smile. Despite the serious issues confronting us, a light touch is always appreciated.

So when it comes to casting a vote this fall, and you can do it now. I see three groups that sort of emerged Sunday and all are committed to representing community. Very generally, the more conservative group consists of Chris Haver and Sean Horne. Both are sincere business owners with kids and the two came across as having the intention to represent business and tourism in CB. On the more liberal end of the spectrum were Jasmine Whelan and Anna Fenerty. They both are young service workers and understand the dilemma of seeing their co-workers and friends leave the valley for a number of reasons. The middle came across with Beth Goldstone and Jason MacMillan. Those two seemed to me to lean more to the liberal side with positions but like the job professionals they are, were open to listen more and do more research on certain topics before making policy decisions. Their demeanor as much as their policy positions put them in the middle.

All of the council candidates are worthy and I always recommend when in doubt, vote for someone you know so that you can communicate comfortably with a representative.

Individually, Haver provides the most experience. A four-year incumbent, he has sat on a variety of boards aside from town council. He, like everyone running, sees the value of regional collaboration but has had the time to develop relationships with other elected officials in the region. I really like Chris and it pains me to see him as he often struggles with difficult decisions because he would like to make everyone happy. He is putting a lot of future faith in the outcome of the Community Compass planning process to guide some of his direction. While he said that council has been the hardest job he’s ever had, I wish he saw it as one of the most fun jobs as well.

Horne is strongly against the empty house tax and feels he can successfully make the ask of the second homeowners to help fund affordable housing in the community. He envisions a Crested Butte public-private partnership where the town spearheads a rental project for local businesses. But he is extremely wary of the division inherent in the proposed “vacancy tax.” I like that he brings a retail and an artist’s perspective to the conversation. He is not the typical person getting involved in politics and his unique vision is interesting. He is obviously stoked to be taking part in the democratic process.

MacMillan is one of those people who listens, analyzes and then speaks quietly but forcefully. He has proven himself to be a steady voice at the council table since being appointed to serve. He strives to see a future Crested Butte that includes his four-year-old daughter.

Goldstone is very thoughtful and smart and probably the candidate most focused on making decisions through the climate lens. She too comes across as a steady voice. She lives in affordable housing and works for the school district so brings a good perspective.

Whelan has been a good addition to the council since being appointed. She is intelligent, prepared and articulate. Being a two-year newbie to town, Whelan is less entrenched in how Crested Butte was, and looks at how to maintain the good things she sees disappearing. She is unafraid to state a position and while I don’t always agree with those positions, it is refreshing to hear clear reasoning for taking a stand on an issue. Sometimes I have seen her move away from her instincts in policy discussions to be swayed by the staff and if elected, I hope she learns to trust her gut after listening to the public.

Fenerty was born and raised in Crested Butte and is living the young 20’s life in a resort community. Working several jobs and trying to navigate the changes coming to the Valley, Fenerty brings the most unique native perspective to the discussion. She too is smart and unafraid and while I don’t agree that citizens should be writing traffic tickets, I think her youth, creativeness and history are valuable.

So Crested Butte is fortunate to be in steady hands no matter who is elected to council. I would lean toward choosing a candidate from each group to provide good debate and perspective. I’d lean toward MacMillan over Goldstone in the middle only because of his proven example sitting on the board. I believe Beth will be contributing to town for a while. Fenerty and Whelan both would add good energy and perspective from the young, working people who are disappearing. Haver or Horne are both fine choices depending if you desire regional experience or downtown retail representation.

Mayor candidates
Which brings me to the mayor’s race. Again, two experienced candidates, Ian Billick and Kent Cowherd, are running so it comes down to who do you think will best lead the council in “interesting” times. For me, that would be Billick.
I am admittedly closer to Billick personally but I have watched him professionally guide the council since his recent appointment. I think he presents the best chance to actually get things accomplished and lead a diverse group of people sitting at the table with various opinions. While Kent prides himself on attending meetings across the valley, Billick understands that much of the real work to get projects completed happens through relationships and conversations outside the council chambers. Ian has the regional relationships to bring about productive collaboration and I see how much time he invests in conversations and contacts. His admitted “impatience” can sometimes come across as being brusque but in these changing times, Billick has the abilities to strategize solutions to the problems being faced in the valley.

I appreciated Kent’s time as a councilmember and tried to talk him out of resigning when he saw a perceived conflict of interest with his architectural work and BOZAR. While he made clear Sunday that he would turn down in-town work as mayor, we are in a period when he can afford to do that. Given the ups and down of resort economies (believe it or not) that could change quickly and he might again face his dilemma.

Frankly, I also have an issue with some deliberate action taken in this election by Kent. The town has an ordinance I’ve never liked where every candidate has a chance to sign a “Voluntary Campaign Spending Limit” pledge to not spend more than a certain amount of money on the election. This year that limit is $338. Kent signed the pledge and Ian didn’t. In this week’s campaign finance reporting Kent has indicated he’s spent $994.

When I asked about that discrepancy Kent reponded that, ”I wanted to not have to spend more than $338.00, but given the fact that my opponent was spending a great deal of money and has a campaign committee with donors, I felt that I was required to match his financial effort, however I am only spending my money.”

There’s certainly nothing illegal here but as mayor you sign a lot of stuff…and a pledge is a pledge.

Despite what I consider to be a lapse in judgment with that, I think Kent was a pretty good councilman. But being mayor requires a different skill set. Given the rapidly shifting dynamics of the valley it seems clear to me that Ian has the tools to be able to herd the cats and get things done to address the challenges.

Ballot issues
As for the local ballot issues I am against both the community housing tax and the Crested Butte Fire Protection District mill levy request as proposed. I would vote for an increase in the vacation rental (STR) excise tax from 5 percent to 7.5 percent. I disagree with Billick that before making that STR fee increase a specific plan is needed. I think given the amount of money it would generate there are ample places to spend the money on affordable housing and the InDeed program that will purchase deed restrictions on existing housing units is a perfect place to earmark those funds.

As for the so-called community housing tax, I appreciated the extensive debate and evolution that took place last summer. Donations are not a real answer for a sustainable revenue source. I like that it is tied to a sales tax increase so that everyone participates if approved. But I don’t like that the council and staff rejected as superfluous the idea that the messaging would be harmful to the general community and the second homeowner part of the community specifically.

While definitely changing, one of the unique qualities of Crested Butte is that there are so many second homeowners who for years and decades have considered this place a part of their home. My adult children today remain friends with some of the second homeowner kids that would come in the summer. There are second homeowners that I consider friends. Granted, there are so many new people buying in here that the energy is changing. But if we ourselves push that negative change and move to an “us versus them” mentality instead of trying to incorporate new second homeowners into the overall community culture, it is one more thing we become that we say we are trying not to emulate. We lose that part of our Crested Butte uniqueness.

I had suggested to some council members and staff early in the discussions to follow the suggestion of a second homeowner and configure the tax as one that included a “homestead exemption.” The reaction was basically that the end result was the same and the train had left the station. I disagree. I would suggest a county or upper valley regional property tax be considered next year on all property owners — but one that includes a 90 or 95-percent homestead exemption. That would touch the second homeowners for $2,500 and the local homeowners for $125 or $250. This puts everyone in the game, gives second homeowners something they can relate to and would be less divisive than the current proposal that allows people who won’t pay the tax to impose a tax on other people. That feels inherently unfair. A more comprehensive funding mechanism that touches all property owners who benefit from workforce housing (all of us) is more appropriate than this measure that separates rather than divides elements of the community. Plus it would raise real money.

As for the CBFPD and by extension CB Mountain Rescue Team mill levy request, I agree with the audience members at the forum that expressed great appreciation for both organizations but felt the plan was too much. I have seen the cramped quarters and as the community grows, they will grow as well. They no doubt need more space. They both do phenomenal work and I appreciate their presence and support their needs for the next decade. They have stated they are looking 50 years into the future.

A plan that doubled or even tripled the current fire district space (and more for S-and-R) would be an easy yes vote. But the fire district is asking for six times the space. I’m afraid the current outlying stations will really become storage when a deeper plan could include renovating those facilities for housing for example but that hasn’t been discussed. Mountain Rescue is much too squeezed but as I walked around a 2,800 square foot house that included a two-car garage recently it occurred to me that by adding two more vehicle bays there would be a ton of useable space for their needs in a building less than 5,000 square feet. No one should build for 50 years in the future.

Kemble Widmer of Mountain Rescue made a point Sunday that both groups didn’t want to come back and ask the citizens for more money in 10 or 15 years. I would argue that is exactly what should happen. Build for the present and the next decade with an idea of how to expand if the community continues on its current trajectory. Then if and when that additional space and money is needed, check back in with the citizens.

It is understandable that no matter what, people will be inclined to support emergency services and that’s a good thing because we will all need them at some point, but I’d recommend a revamped, more reasonably sized plan for 2022.
You should have your ballot (make sure you have the correct ballot for your residence) so turn it in before November 2.

—Mark Reaman

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