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Mancos trustee candidates talk staff, transparency in forum

Five trustee hopefuls answer questions from public
Mancos trustee candidates Fred Brooks, Betsy Harrison, Steve Kennedy, Brent McWhirter and Cindy Simpson chat before the Montezuma County League of Women Voters begins a public forum on Friday.

The five Mancos town trustee candidates answered some tough questions from the public at a forum on Friday.

A moderate crowd gathered at the Mancos Community Center for the event, which was moderated by Connie Fox of the Montezuma County League of Women Voters. Audience members submitted questions in writing, and each candidate had one minute to answer each one. Fred Brooks, Betsy Harrison, Steve Kennedy, Cindy Simpson and Brent McWhirter fielded questions about topics ranging from the economy to the resignation of Town Administrator Andrea Phillips.

All the candidates agreed Mancos’ strong community and small-town atmosphere are among its greatest strengths. When they were asked to respond to questions about how the town could improve, upgrading the infrastructure was a common theme. All candidates said they believed enforcing the town’s municipal code should be a high priority for the board.

Other questions dealt with more specific issues facing the town. One question asked what kinds of economic development each candidate would like to see in town, and how they thought the government could stay solvent. Kennedy said he believes the town should look into grants and other sources of revenue besides taxpayer dollars to boost its budget.

“There are many sources of funds that the town can tap into,” he said. “We don’t need to go to the taxpayers, property taxes especially, for everything we need.”

Incumbents Brooks and Simpson said they believe the town is already moving in a good economic direction, with sales tax revenue on the rise since last year, although Brooks said he wants to install more affordable housing to attract business owners. McWhirter suggested the town work with organizations like the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Creative District to encourage business diversification. Harrison said she agreed with the other candidates, although she also said opening “more pot stores” could be a good way to bring in more sales tax revenue.

One question brought up former town administrator Phillips’ departure almost a year ago, saying she was “let go with no explanation given,” and asking whether the trustee candidates would commit to transparency in future controversial decisions. Another asked whether the town needs an administrator. In answer to the first question, Brooks pointed out that Phillips resigned, and said trustees could not comment on personnel matters.

“I think that we have been pretty transparent,” he said. “Our new town administrator just had her six-month evaluation, and that was open and during business.”

The board discussed Town Administrator Heather Alvarez’s performance evaluation behind locked doors during an executive session at its March 14 meeting. Alvarez was hired in November after serving as the interim administrator for several months. She is also the town clerk and treasurer.

Simpson agreed with Brooks, saying the town needs to respect its employees’ privacy.

“I wouldn’t want, necessarily, my job performance discussed in the newspapers,” she said. “I think we have to respect staff.”

Harrison and McWhirter didn’t address Phillips’ departure specifically, but they both said the board should be as transparent as possible about its decisions.

In answer to the second question, all the candidates said they believe Alvarez is doing well as administrator, but Kennedy said he believes the town needs more than one person for the three positions she currently holds. Harrison agreed, saying she would like the town to employ one person to handle everyday details and another person for long-term planning.

“At some point, you can’t do the amount of day-to-day details that (Alvarez) has and have a big picture,” Harrison said.

Another question asked the candidates how many planning and zoning commission meetings they had attended in the past year. Brooks was the only one who said he had attended a regular meeting in that time, although Harrison had attended the commission’s joint workshop with the town board in February. Simpson said she hadn’t attended a meeting this year, but she had served on the commission for several years before being appointed to the town board.

At a meeting earlier in the week, the town board had voted to shrink the commission’s membership and establish disciplinary measures for commissioners who don’t attend, in response to more than a year of poor meeting attendance. The town is now seeking applications for the remaining three commissioner seats and two alternate positions.

The final question of the night asked each candidate to say why Mancos residents should vote for him or her.

Simpson cited some of her accomplishments as a trustee, such as pushing for the town to fund public art. Brooks also mentioned his years of experience on the board, and added that since he’s retired, he has plenty of time to commit to public service. Harrison and Kennedy also said they felt their retired status would leave them more time to devote to the town board. McWhirter, the youngest candidate in the election, said he felt he could bring a new perspective to the board.

“I own a business, and I like being involved in many different things,” he said. “My wife and I really enjoy being a part of this town, and we want to be able to shape the future of this town.”

Mancos’s mail-in municipal election will be held April 3.

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