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Ahead of Tuesday’s election, Cortez City Council candidates share their passion

City Council candidates pose together at an event. Left to Right: Rachel Medina, Tai Rogers, Carly Wolf, Robert Dobry, April Randle and Bill Lewis. (Carly Wolf for Cortez City Council Facebook page)
Two candidates, Rachel Medina and Robert Dobry, are running for re-election

On Tuesday, April 2, six candidates will vie for four open seats on the Cortez City Council. Three members will be elected for a four-year term, and one will be elected for a two-year term. Those elected will join the council on April 23.

New council members will join Matthew Keefauver, Lydia DeHaven and Dennis Spruell. Cortez Mayor Rachel Medina and Councilmember Robert Dobry are seeking re-election, while Mayor Pro-tem Arlina Yazzie and Councilmember David Rainey will not seek re-election.

The top four vote winners win the four seats.

The week before the election, candidates spoke with The Journal about their candicacy.

Editor’s Note: Candidate responses have been shortened for brevity.

Rachel Medina
Rachel Medina is mayor of Cortez. (Courtesy photo)

Rachel Medina has been a Cortez resident since 2016 and has been mayor for the past four years.

Before moving to Cortez, she lived in Durango for five years while attending Fort Lewis College. In addition to being mayor, Medina is a remote worker.

“My full-time job is in GIS, which is geographic information systems,” Medina said. “So, I'm a GIS analyst for a private company out of D,C. I was the GIS specialist for Montezuma County for six years, and then in 2022, I took this job.”

What made you want to run for City Council originally, and to re-run this election cycle?

“I've always loved volunteering and giving back to my community and public service,” Medina shared. “So, I had joined the city board when I moved here, and then there was an opening on planning and zoning, and I joined that because I had experience through my job as a specialist at the county.”

After serving on those two city boards for three years, Medina decided to run for City Council, as the city was going through a rough patch.

“The city was going through some hard times, so I just wanted to see if I could contribute in a meaningful way,” Medina shared. “I mean, the last four years have been very difficult, but so rewarding. And I feel like the city is in such a good place and we are going in such a good direction. I want to keep being part of it and see a lot of the things we've started through.”

What are some things you’ve been working on as mayor?

“We're updating the land-use code, and that’s going to come to council to be voted on sometime this summer, I think June or July,” Media said.

Medina also noted that aging infrastructure in some areas of the city are a priority, including one of the parks on the south side, as well as exploring raising wages for city workers.

“We really transformed our planning to permit into economic and community development, and we've completed the audits the debt and are being more financially responsible,” she said.

What are some things you’d like to see improved in the city/what would you like to do first, if re-elected?

“I would say definitely a good, comprehensive, updated land-use code that meets the needs of our community that helps foster a better, planned future as we grow and change. Housing is an issue, so hopefully this new land-use code allows us to preserve the character of our community while also allowing more housing to happen. It makes it more streamlined to apply for development or whatever you want to do with your property,” Medina said.

Thoughts on affordable housing in Montezuma County?

Medina said that while the City Council doesn’t have much control or influence over the cost of housing, she said the city could figure out ways to lower the cost of things such as water taps and other ways to reduce the cost of development.

”I feel like we’re really gonna have to find out and try every solution that's out there to see what really works and what fits for our community,” Medina said.

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

“We want a bunch of different businesses and different industries that have big employee bases to come in that are offering more than just entry-level jobs,” Medina said. “I would love to see is a full downtown, all commercial spaces being used with thriving businesses. But how do we get there? You know, I think it's really partnering with our chamber and all those other organizations that are kind of business focused or support businesses.”

Medina also mentioned creating support for entrepreneurs, those who want to move into the city, and those who are already here, to help them build up their business idea and hire individuals in the community.

How would you continue to work to uphold transparency and compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws?

“We’ve had CORA requests for our emails, and I think citizens have every right to request that,” Medina said. “I do think, though, we need to figure out a better way to streamline getting those emails to people, because we had someone request emails and their search is too broad. That is a lot of emails to go through, and our attorney and his assistant have to go through every single one they pull out of their current attorney-client privilege ones. The amount of hours that it takes it ends up making the cost for the citizen requesting them pretty high.”

Medina pointed out that citizens can help by narrowing down their requested searches with keywords, date ranges, the person they are seeking emails for and more to help quicken the process and ensure they aren’t stuck with a high price tag on the request once it’s completed.

Another facet of transparency Medina spoke of is ensuring that council members only have conversations in meeting where it recorded and people have access to know what is going on and being discussed in the community.

“And I think being responsive is another way of being transparent, and not ignoring citizens who reach out to us,” Medina added. “Then also just taking ownership and being held accountable for the things we do, admitting when we've messed up or admitting when we're struggling… just kind of being honest when we're having hard time about things.”

Is there anything specific about you that you’d like voters to know about why they should vote for you again?

“My approach to City Council is that I want to be known for being a good listener, because I think listening is one of the most important things we can do,” Medina said. “Listening to our citizens, listening to our staff, listening to our city manager and listening to each other. I think that's the best way to really understand and be informed because we're making lasting decisions.”

Tai Rogers
Tai Rogers. (Tai Rogers for Cortez City Council Facebook page)

Tai Rogers and his wife have lived in Cortez since 2018, and he has been working at Montezuma-Cortez High School for the past five years.

“My day job is actually in the world of economic development and workforce, with connecting high school students with career exploration. I'm trying to help them specifically in those sectors,” Rogers said about his job at the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative.

He shared that he’s been working on a grant to help first-generation and low-income students access college.

What made you want to run for City Council?

“I want to be an active part of our community's collective growth, and I'm currently in the Leadership Montezuma. So, each month we've been getting to meet key members of the community, public servants as well as private sector, and all these fantastic people have been really inspiring to be part of the solution to the problems in our community,” Rogers said.

Rogers shared that he has also been the Chairperson of the Cortez Hearts Committee for three years.

Rogers also mentioned helping with the work on the development of a Creative Arts District in Cortez, which he said has the potential “to be a huge boost for the downtown economy.”

What are some things you’d like to see improved in the city/what would you like to do first, if elected?

“I think the biggest things that the community faces is the workforce pipeline challenge, and in particular, the housing needs assessment that was done over the last year. That intertwines and braids together with the need for educators, nurses and doctors in our community,” Rogers said.

Rogers explained that there are more people in the community who are retirement age and in the youth sector than middle-aged working adults. Rogers said he would like to see more opportunities for housing and work for people in this age bracket, to attract more people in this age group to the city.

Thoughts on affordable housing in Montezuma County?

“I think part of the problem with the housing market currently is the stock of middle tier, affordable entry-level homes, and that's just a matter of inventory within the housing market. That would affect a lot of the ability for a young, 20-something to be able to find their first place to rent/young 30-something to be able to start looking to purchase,” Rogers said.

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

“I don't want to jump say that I have a full grasp of that, but I have confidence that personnel who are working in the City Economic Development Department with Rachael Marchbanks are doing good work and due diligence to make it appropriate and then that process has been vetted by a council…I know that previously some of the issues with the zoning in the town has been that it's really just a bit antiquated and not adapted to contemporary modern usage. So, I think that's just a necessary step in updating the codes to account for contemporary usages,” Rogers said.

How would you uphold transparency and compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws?

“I think I would need to be trained more, to make sure that I'm compliant with those things,” Rogers said. “I know that there's a bit of concern recently with making sure that council members are not speaking about issues that they might be voting on outside of the council meeting times by making sure it is transparent to the public.”

Rogers reiterated that he hoped there would be training on these laws to ensure full compliance and that constituents know that the council members are being honest with them.

“I wouldn't want to lead my constituents to believe that I was trying to hold anything back from them because I would endeavor to to be as transparent and accountable as possible,” Rogers said.

Is there anything specific about you that you’d like voters to know?

“I think part of my background really speaks to my desire to make a positive impact in the community I live in. I've been a public servant for most of my adult life, from Peace Corps service to working in disaster relief with AmeriCorps service,” Rogers said. “I've done a lot of service work, and so the idea of giving to the community is the most rewarding work I can think of.”

Carly Wolf
Carly Wolf. (Carly Wolf for Cortez City Council Facebook page)

Carly Wolf grew up in Cortez, and is now a business owner, as she owns the marijuana dispensary Doobie Sisters Recreational Dispensary on North Broadway.

“I have owned that business for eight years now,” she said.

What made you want to run for City Council?

“What made me want to run for City Council, or feel like I even could run for City Council was I'm going through Leadership Montezuma right now. We went through government day, and we learned a lot about what it takes to be on City Council and what City Council does, and it definitely gave me the kind of green light like I could actually do this,” Wolf said.

What are some things you’d like to see improved in the city/what would you like to do first, if elected?

“One of the main things is obviously infrastructure, seeing how we can at least start saving or figuring out how to start financially preparing ourselves for the replacement of the water lines that are super old in our community,” Wolf shared.

Wolf said she would like to see jobs within the city’s police department and fire department filled, as well as sustaining their budgets to “save and financially plan for what could come.”

Thoughts on affordable housing in Montezuma County?

“I think that we're already heading in the right direction with re-establishing our zoning in Cortez and in Montezuma County. So, with that rezoning, that will allow people to come and build homes that more people will be able to afford,” Wolf said.

Wolf emphasized the importance of affordable housing, saying that many people who grew up in Cortez can’t afford to live here anymore.

“So, this will allow people to not have to leave our community and be able to stay here,” Wolf said.

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

I would like to see as far as zoning as it changes, to just make sure that we're maintaining Cortez’s charm and why we all choose to live here. I think that's a big thing with the re-zoning. As Cortez grows, keeping in mind that there is a reason that people move to our community. There's a reason why we continue to live here and we need to make sure that we protect that and have that on our mind as well when making decisions,” Wolf said.

How would you continue to work to uphold transparency and compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws?

“I definitely think now that all the audits have been completed, finally, we are in a better position to be more transparent, because we can be really proud about where we stand,” Wolf said. “So, I think now that we have something to actually show that we can be proud of, it's going to be a lot easier to be more transparent with people here. We're completely clean, we can explain everything.”

“For me, transparency is huge as a business owner, and I like to know exactly what's going on. So being transparent and having everybody understand exactly the same way that I understand is very important to me,” Wolf continued.

Is there anything specific about you that you’d like to say to voters?

“I am really hoping that everybody shows up to vote whether they vote for me or not,” Wolf said. “It’s important to show up and be a voice for our community. I am very honored to be on this journey, and I’m excited for the outcome.”

Robert Dobry
Robert Dobry. (Robert Dobry Facebook page)

What do you do for a living, and how long have you lived in Cortez?

“I’ve lived in the community for about 10 years, and I am the grant administrator for the county,” Dobry said.

What made you want to run for City Council originally, and then for re-election?

“Originally, I asked to be appointed to council and then ran for council because I didn't think the city was headed in a good financial direction with the audits being uncompleted for a number of years,” Dobry said. “This time, I'm running because in the time that I've been on council, we have completed the audits. We've paid off our long-term debt, and I think that the city is in a much better place than it is than it was then. I think that I've shown that I have a good strategic vision for the for Cortez.”

What are some things you’d like to see improved in the city/what would you like to do first, if re-elected?

“If re-elected, my main goals are to support continued strong fiscal management, make sure that we're doing all the things that we need to be doing, continue to complete the land use updates that we have been working on over the last year or so and also just look to the future of revenue for the city of Cortez,” Dobry said.

Dobry added that he would like to make sure that the city can afford the infrastructure needs already acquired by the city, and that the city does infrastructure upgrades at a sustainable pace, rather than moving either too quickly or too slowly.

Thoughts on affordable housing in Montezuma County?

“Affordable housing is definitely an issue in our community. I think we see that for our businesses. We see that with the availability of staffing, the availability of housing for people to work in this community,” Dobry said.

According to Dobry, the role of the City Council in affordable housing would be to update the land-use code, which the city is working on now. Dobry added that the outdated codes are causing “unnecessary impediments for development.”

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

“In the way of economic development, I think it's important for the city to support its businesses and help them grow where they can. The city just received a grant from the state that will support, I believe, five local businesses to help them provide some upgrades,” Dobry said.

Dobry mentioned allowing food trucks in the central business district, where they haven’t been allowed to park before, to boost local business, while taking into account the concerns of the businesses in the area of the central business district.

How would you continue to work to uphold transparency and compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws?

“I think the biggest thing that we can do regarding open records laws is, first of all, we follow up. I think the most important thing is that when when there's any issue, we acknowledge it, we make sure that there's appropriate training and if there if there was any deficiency or fall down, we recognize that and explain to the community how we intend to move forward and do better,” Dobry said.

Is there anything specific about you that you’d like to say to voters?

“I want the community to know that my main interest is in responsible fiscal management for the city,” Dobry said. “That's what I've worked on since I was appointed, and I think that I've done, and our council has done, a good job regarding that. That's the kind of leadership that the community could continue to expect from me.”

Dr. April Randle
Dr. April Randle. (April Randle for Cortez City Council Facebook page)

April Randle has lived in the Cortez area for 17 years and is a native of the Colorado Plateau.

“I’ve lived in the Four Corners, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico area for almost all of my life,” Randle said.

Randle also shared that she is a physician who retired last week. She worked in Naturia, Colorado, during her time as a physician.

“I thrive on critical thinking, I thrive on problem solving, and I'm very people-oriented in a one-on-one setting,” Randle said. “I was recently awarded the Colorado Humanitarian Physician of the Year award, and that was quite an honor. I've worked in rural health clinics, been in private practice for under-served populations the majority of my life.”

What made you want to run for City Council?

“I think that here in Cortez, we are a pretty diverse population, and I thought that I would have some good and fresh, different ideas to put in the mix,” Randle said.

Randle shared that she’s always had an interest in politics, and now seemed like the perfect time to be part of the City Council, which Randle pointed out is unique because it is a nonpartisan position.

“It’s really important that people don't get stuck on labels and pigeonholing people without thinking about their ideas and who they are,” she said.

What are some things you’d like to see improved in the city/what would you like to do first, if elected?

“I have to say that our city has been pretty doggone well managed. We don't have any large debt, we have a reserve. We're in a pretty good place, and that's something that I'd really like to see preserved,” Randle said.

Randle pointed out some infrastructure issues, noting that, however, that is typical of a town this age. She mentioned the older water system, as well as road reconstruction and maintenance.

“I think our infrastructure is very important,” she said. “I also believe that our city ordinances are very important and that we should, perhaps, be sure that all of them are appropriate and timely at this point in time so that our enforcement personnel have good solid structure to work from.”

Thoughts on affordable housing in Montezuma County?

“I think the number one thing that is within the city's control is our planning and zoning regulations. I think it's time we start thinking outside of the traditional box,” Randle said. “I think we have to look at that and being sure that the regulations are encouraging to people who want to come in and develop. We have to as a city be sure that we don't make it too hard for people to come in with different ideas and make it work for them to make it work.”

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

“I'm all for anything that's clean anything that doesn't interfere with our environment or interrupt with the quality of life that we're experiencing right now,” Randle said.

Randle added that she’s also like to see something local that benefits local agriculture.

“If there’s anything we could do to make sure that people who are growing food can get it into the Cortez market easier,” she said.

How would you continue to work to uphold transparency and compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws?

“The Cortez charter is very clear about what we are allowed to do and what we're not supposed to be doing, and I'm all about transparency. I think the rules are in place, we just have to we just have to play by the rules, and that's pretty straightforward,” Randle said.

Is there anything specific about you that you’d like to say to voters?

“I am all about the citizens of Cortez. I look forward to looking at problems in a straightforward attitude. We have the possibility of having some very challenging times ahead of us, and I want to represent the people of Cortez for who they are, who I want them to be,” Randle finished.

Bill Lewis
Bill Lewis. (Bill Lewis for Cortez City Council Facebook page)

Bill Lewis has been retired for five years after being a high school agriculture teacher for 10 years and a college administrator for 27 years.

He has lived in Cortez for eight years, and has been a resident of Montezuma County for 41 years.

What made you want to run for City Council?

“I decided to run for City Council because I have been approached by several community members who believe in my abilities and have encouraged me to take on this role,” Lewis said.

He added that his time working in college administration has provided him with the skills needed to serve the city of Cortez.

“Throughout my career, I have developed strong leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills, which I am eager to apply to address the issues facing our community and contribute positively to its development and well-being,” Lewis said.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected/what areas do you wish to see improved?

“If elected to the City Council, I have several goals and areas of improvement I hope to focus on. Primarily, I aim to address infrastructure deficiencies within our city. This includes upgrading roads, sidewalks as well as deferred maintenance issues. Improving infrastructure not only enhances the quality of life for our community but also stimulates economic growth and attracts investment,” Lewis said.

Lewis also listed affordable housing as one of the areas of need in the city.

“Many families in our city struggle to find housing that is within their means, leading to housing insecurity as well as hiring issues for businesses wanting to expand,” Lewis said. “Everyone deserves access to safe and stable housing, and I am committed to working towards achieving this goal if given the opportunity to serve on the City Council.”

What are your thoughts on affordable housing in the county?

“Affordable housing is a critical issue in many counties, including ours. It's essential for our council to prioritize this matter to ensure that all residents have access to safe and decent housing options, regardless of their income level,” Lewis said.

Some of the ways Lewis suggested the council could address housing affordability is through incentives for affordable housing development such as tax incentives, grants or subsidies, zoning and land use policies, preservation of existing affordable housing, collaboration with nonprofit organizations to “leverage their expertise and resources” and through education and outreach.

“By implementing a comprehensive approach that combines these strategies, the council can work towards improving housing affordability in the county, ensuring that all residents have access to housing that is safe, stable, and affordable,” Lewis said.

What would you like to see in the way of economic development and zoning in the city?

“Overall, a balanced approach to economic development and zoning that takes into account the unique characteristics and needs of Cortez can help promote sustainable growth and enhance quality of life for residents,“ Lewis said.

Lewis shared some of the things he’d like to see in Cortez, which include a diverse economic base, making the city more “resilient to economic fluctuations;” tourism enhancement, such as recreational facilities and cultural attractions;“ small business support; sustainable development; infrastructure investment; zoning for mixed-use development, which could include a ”blend of residential, commercial and recreational spaces;“ preservation of cultural heritage and community engagement.

What would you do in the interest of transparency and compliance with the state’s open meeting and open record laws?

To ensure transparency and compliance with the state's open meeting and open records laws, Lewis emphasized the importance of publicizing meetings, adhering to open records requests, keeping careful documentation, providing training and education, utilizing technology, encouraging public engagement and doing regular reviews and updates to policies and procedures.

“The majority of these items are already in place,” Lewis said. “By adhering to these our council can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and compliance with state laws, fostering trust and accountability within the community.”

What else would you like the voters to know about you?

“Firstly, I bring a long-standing commitment to our community, with a tenure that surpasses any other candidate,” Lewis said. “This longevity has afforded me deep insights into our community's needs, challenges and aspirations.”

Secondly, I pride myself on being open-minded and outspoken. I believe in fostering transparent dialogue and actively engaging with diverse perspectives to find innovative solutions to our community's issues,“ Lewis continued. ”My willingness to speak up ensures that all voices are heard and considered in the decision-making process.“

“Thirdly, my track record demonstrates a keen understanding of budget management. Having overseen budgets exceeding $10 million, I am well-versed in fiscal responsibility and strategic allocation of resources. This experience equips me to make informed financial decisions that prioritize the needs of our community while ensuring efficient and effective use of taxpayer funds,” Lewis said.

“In summary, my extensive community involvement, open-minded approach and financial expertise uniquely qualify me to serve as a dedicated advocate for our constituents. I am committed to leveraging these strengths to drive positive change and uphold the best interests of our community as your representative,” Lewis finished.

The election will take place on Tuesday, April 2.

Winners of the election will be posted as voting information comes available.