A change in the weather but not the local political climate

The wind kicking up and the feeling of a low-pressure system moving in on Tuesday were the latest signs of the coming change. Temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s look to be gone for a while—probably until 2024 — but the springlike temperatures were sure a nice experience last week and provided a pleasant start to November. Any mountain bike ride in November is a bonus and the gems of the Hartman Rocks and Signal Peak trails were wonderful last week. Those Gunnison treasures should not be taken for granted in the valley. For me, they pull on the strings of being truly a “one valley” connection.

The power of participation should also not be taken for granted. While the community started out slow in getting ballots back for this off-year election, the people revved up at the end and more than 6,800 people felt the call to participate in our local democracy. That was about 52% of the 13,151 active voters in the county. Not bad for an off-year election especially when compared to the state which saw an overall 36% participation rate. One poll watcher in Gunnison reported to us that people were still dropping off ballots at 6:59 Tuesday night. They really wanted that sticker!

With no major national race and not even an election for the Crested Butte town council, it would be understandable to see the lowest of participation rates. But a somewhat contentious Gunnison Watershed School District board election with six candidates vying for three seats motivated friends and neighbors on all sides to show up and vote.

Congratulations to Jody Coleman, Anne Brookhart and Mark VanderVeer. To me they represented the values and direction of the community at large. They represented the core of the local political climate and worked hard to get their message out. There was a sound rejection of the more right-wing system that tried to roll into the valley and for that I am grateful. But kudos to Greg Kruthaupt and Cori Dobson for stepping up to share an alternative vision of the school board with voters. While I am glad the overwhelming majority of voters chose Coleman, Brookhart and VanderVeer, and I believe they were the three best candidates for those seats, I also know how hard it is to put yourself and your beliefs out to the public in a small community. It takes guts to stand in the public square, so a tip of the hat to Greg and Cori for participating in the public process and engaging with voters. 

As predicted, the election pivoted on turnout. The “students success slate” garnered about 74% of the local votes and proposition HH went down in the county as well as the state. It seems clear that the political climate in Gunnison County remains strongly in the middle-left of the spectrum. There is no extreme right-wing hurricane blowing in and no extreme left-wing tornado swirling here. Despite the disbelief of the crazy local elephant in the room, that is a good thing. 

Citizens in Mt. CB agreed to let their politicians stay in office longer without automatically being deemed ineligible to run because of term limits. It seems to me term limits are always out there as the will of the voters at election time so I’m not too surprised there.

Speaking of…the next election on the horizon will apparently be a rare recall election. The target is Mt. Crested Butte town councilmember Roman Kolodziej. At least 40 Mt. CB citizens signed a recall petition to start the process to remove Kolodziej from his seat. Most of them have indicated they are upset with not just his vote on the Mountain Express board to eliminate a condo loop bus route this winter that uses Paradise Road but apparently also with his attitude about the decision and lack of respectful public engagement. 

It seems to me that there could have been much better communication between the Mountain Express and the public. Alternative plans could have been more thoroughly vetted and explained to the people impacted. Timely outreach was lacking as the idea evolved. Much better public engagement and participation could have been utilized. As a Mt. CB representative and chair of the Mountain express board, a chunk of that lies on Kolodziej’s shoulders.

Putting a recall election into motion is using a sledgehammer instead of a more appropriate flyswatter. If a councilmember gets caught doing something illegal or unethical, a recall seems appropriate. Not being completely thoughtful and making a decision you don’t agree with doesn’t seem to rise to that level. Decisions made by elected officials are public actions and those in the public seat deserve to be held accountable and reelected or dismissed from their seat based on their decisions. That’s fair. But so is letting them do their jobs without threats of being hammered every time they face a controversial decision. 

The more fitting approach might be to challenge those with whom you don’t agree at a regularly scheduled election. With a Mt. CB election a year from now, those who hate the decisions being made can find candidates that better align with their beliefs and make the case there is a better way. Take action to fill a seat, not just vacate a seat. Again, the implementation of a recall election seems overkill — and expensive. It will probably cost Mt. CB taxpayers real money to hold that recall election. But there it is. 

Whether Roman is ultimately recalled or not, I imagine the energy up in Mt. CB will be changed for a while. 

The temps may not be in the 50s much longer (a few more days next week in Gunni!) but I don’t see any -20 on the edge of the forecast window either. Even the lows in CB are all double digits. But make no mistake, change is on the way and the lifts will start spinning in just a matter of weeks. Heck, I took the bike rack off my car this week and am starting to think about skinning up the snow.

As for the school board, having the first election in decades was a big change and it added to a valuable process. It made all the candidates focus, define and clearly state their intentions as public officials. That’s how democracy works and just that act of challenge brought some good change to the way the community thinks about the school district…and that is a good thing.

 

—Mark Reaman

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