Cyber Ninjas and farewell to a public servant

Was it voter fatigue or just public participation fatigue? This was certainly no Trumpian election that triggered emotions that then led to a massive turnout as 6,061 ballots, or less than half of those eligible, were cast this fall throughout the county compared to more than 11,000 during last year’s presidential election. Granted, the races on this year’s ballot were a lot more tame and the debate over the issues were actually a lot more civilized but the relatively low voter turnout was a bit of a surprise.

I say it’s time for incoming CB mayor Ian Billick (congrats) to get on the horn and call in the Cyber Ninjas and see where all those votes disappeared to. Nine of them might have gone to the Gunnison Fire District race where its property tax proposal failed by just those nine votes. Talk about close.

In the end a bunch of Crested Butte citizens braved the Tuesday snow and sleet to cast their ballots in person. Poll workers at the Parish Hall said a steady stream of people rolled into the space to mark their ballots throughout the day. Some people still consider Election Day in CB to be a holiday.

Congratulations to Jason MacMillan, Anna Fenerty, Beth Goldstone and Chris Haver, who Crested Butte citizens chose to join Billick and lead the community into the immediate future. All eight people who threw their hat into the ring to run for a seat on council and serve the community did so with good hearts and sincere intentions. All have a love of the community and those who fell short this week will hopefully stay involved in some fashion as there is no shortage of opportunities to help influence this small but powerful community. Having a deep bench is just another attribute for this community.

Despite hours and hours and hours of debate over the summer and fall, the controversial Crested Butte Community Housing Tax went down as voters did not support an annual fee on second homes in town. Many of those opposed to the tax cried foul and suggested a broader, more North Valley inclusive tax be put in front of the electorate and that could happen in 2022. I too think there are more equitable and politically palatable pathways to raise good money to address workforce housing. The need remains and now it’s time to find a more thoughtful approach to planning and funding for affordable housing projects at this end of the valley.

In another close race the Crested Butte Fire Protection District saw 53 percent of the voters approve a property tax to pay for a new fire station to be located along Gothic Road. People here rightfully step up when asked to support our first responders and this was a big step toward a bigger (31,000 square feet) and better facility for firefighters, EMTs and the Mountain Rescue team. I personally think it wasn’t fully baked and it still has to go through the town’s BOZAR review and council annexation process so the concerns raised can still be addressed. But a win is a win and this election result is a big step forward for the CBFPD.

And that leaves us with a farewell to longtime public servant and CB mayor for a few more days, Jim Schmidt. Known around town as Deli, Jim has spent 10 years as the Crested Butte mayor presiding over the town council in the middle seat. Emerging from the working man roots of the Crested Butte tourism base, Deli has sat as mayor while working as a bartender and bus driver.

He embraced the political role and was not shy about letting his passengers know the mayor was their driver. I’d guess the mayor makes 23 percent in tips compared to a councilperson that might pull in 20 percent. But it also led to deep relationships that gave him a broad perspective of how Crested Butte worked beyond people coming to meetings.

Deli treasured interactions with old and young, residents and second homeowners, struggling workers, tourists and trust funders. He has sat through literally thousands and thousands of hours of meetings. He has served as mayor or on town council with scores of individuals (myself included) in the 1980s, 1990s into the 2000s and up until this month.

As a guy in his 70s, he was not afraid to grasp the technology of Zoom meetings that kept citizens involved during a once in a hundred year pandemic (something Mt. Crested Butte might watch and learn from) and embraced the role of mayor in a small town. He listened to others and while not always agreeing with their position, he tried to understand where a differing view was coming from.

You can’t be in the position Deli was, for as long as he was, without ruffling a few feathers. And he did. But he spoke his truth, pissed some people off, made others happy and made decisions while listening to both his head and his heart. When he knew a council debate was going to be contentious, he as mayor always started the discussion by reminding the crowd to be respectful, not use personal insults and to speak to the council, not another audience member. He wanted respectful debate, not insane argument and while not always achieving that goal, he always made it clear that was his expectation. It mostly worked and he set the proper tone for what I saw many times could have turned into ugly arguments.

My friend Deli prided himself for being able to ride meetings well into the wee hours as he was a night owl. Not everyone shared that pride or ability. His natural inclination was to let every person who wanted to speak, to speak…as long as they wanted…to a fault. He would pretty much cut someone off only at the prodding from fellow councilmembers — otherwise we might still be listening to an argument from 2014 about why bike racks should stay out until November 1 instead of October 31. But hey, he presided over perhaps the shortest council meeting in a decade last Monday as the meat of the meeting lasted just over an hour. Thanks for saving that gem to the very end, Deli. Now, hopefully his replacement Ian Billick can carry that final example forward.

Jim Schmidt has helped guide this place in some “interesting times.” The town remains a special place thanks in large part to his leadership. Last Monday, he mentioned that he would have a few parting words as he handed over the gavel at the November 15 meeting. He then smiled as he announced he would be heading into the sunset…starting with the sunset in Maui. Not a bad plan for a down-to-earth guy who loves this community and leaves a pretty sweet legacy.

—Mark Reaman

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