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Meet the City Council candidates, Part 1

A Q&A with the 14 council hopefuls

The second part of this Q&A will appear Tuesday.By Erika Alvero

Journal Staff Writer

The Cortez City Council election is fast-approaching, and this spring, 14 candidates will vie for five seats.

The municipal election will happen April 7, and residents will be able to vote for as many as five candidates. The top three vote-getters will be elected for four-year terms, and fourth- and fifth-place candidates will serve two-year terms.

The candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot, are: Stephanie Carver, Jason A. Witt, Arlina Yazzie, Raymond Ralph Goodall, Rafe M. O’Brien, Sue Betts, Justin Vasterling, David N. Rainey, Rachel Medina, Amy Huckins, Geof Byerly, Joe Farley, Bill Banks, and Leroy A. Roberts.

To help readers get to know the candidates, The Journal asked them questions about themselves and their perspectives on various issues for a two-part article series. This is the first set of questions and answers, with the second to be in Tuesday’s Journal.

Responses have been edited for clarity, brevity and style. The candidates’ answers are placed in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

CARVER (email): I have lived in Cortez the majority of my life. Fifty years. My professional background includes property casualty commercial insurance producer, city of Cortez code enforcement, and 35 years in the food service industry. I have two grown sons who live and work in Cortez.

WITT (email): Growing up in the small communities of Summit County, I have a deep love and respect for the rural areas. As a resident of Cortez since 2009, I am an enthusiastic member of this community.

I have spent much of my working career in the hospitality industry, building successful restaurants throughout the United States. I’ve worked as a general manager for Jiffy Lube in Cortez and Durango before making an industry leap to join RE/MAX Mesa Verde Realty in January 2014.

I am currently the 2020 Colorado Association of Realtor Western District chairman as well as 2019-2020 president-elect for the 4 Corners Board of Realtors.

In the past, I have been a volunteer for the Southwest Colorado Concert, Inc. I continue to volunteer with the San Juan Mountains District of the Boy Scouts of America as a scout leader. I enjoy golfing, hiking and camping.

YAZZIE (email): I am 26 and the youngest candidate running for City Council. I have lived in Montezuma County for 18 years and spent the last seven years in Cortez. I am proud to say that I just purchased my first home. I work as an outreach specialist at Cortez Integrated Healthcare, assisting community members navigate health insurance and enroll in care.

Before my outreach role, I served as a youth activities coordinator and mentoring case manager at The Piñon Project.

I have a Bachelor of Science in business marketing management from Western Governors University and plan to become a certified project management professional. I served on The Piñon Project Board of Directors in 2017-2018. Since 2016, I have been involved with the board supporting High Desert DEVO, a mountain biking development program for youth in Montezuma County. I have also been an active member of the Communities That Care Coalition, which aims to create greater opportunities for Montezuma County youth.

I have a huge heart for my community – especially the youth.

GOODALL (phone): I was born on the front porch of a ranch house out in Arriola in 1935. I’ve been here all my life and went to all the schools here. In January of 1955, I quit high school and joined the Navy. I really graduated from high school in 2004 with a couple of my thesises. They used my resumé and everything for qualifications for it.

I’ve got a wall of certificates here. I have a certification to carry concealed weapons, I’ve got my discharge on the wall, I’ve got my safety applications on the wall here from the Navy, and I also set 12 of the unloading cranes at Long Beach that unloads ships. Being born here and having to work all my life. I was here when they tore the wooden sidewalks off the streets of Cortez.

My son is your new water foreman.

O’BRIEN (email): I was born and raised right here in Cortez. I ran track for M-CHS, raced BMX through the city and was a member of the FCCLA in high school. After graduating high school, I was able to attend Johnson & Wales University and graduated with an associate’s degree in culinary arts.

I have worked in the restaurant industry, construction industry, retail store manager, plus a variety of other sales and labor positions. I love our town and community. I could not see myself living anywhere else. Family is everything to me; we have a close relationship where we work together and have fun together.

I am a Republican at heart but truly understand the value of other people’s lifestyles and their opinions. I want to help mold Cortez into a town my children would love to stay and thrive in, or move back to and enjoy. I have a 6-year-old daughter who attends Manaugh Elementary and ATC gymnastics downtown. I currently work part time at Napa Cortez and part time at Southwest Repair and Welding.

BETTS (email): I am a retired Cortez police officer. During my years with the police department, I volunteered to be part of the DARE program. I also taught first aid and CPR for more than 25 years.

Currently, I am on the Historic Preservation Board and the Board for Mesa Verde Country. I have been a member of the City Council for the past two years.

VASTERLING (email): I have lived in Montezuma County for more than 20 years. I am the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express here in Cortez. I oversee operations at the Retro Inn as well as Destination Grill.

I am on the board of directors for Mesa Verde Country, our local tourism organization that is funded by city lodgers tax, the city of Cortez, the county and the state. I am also a homeowner.

RAINEY (email): My current occupation in retirement is as a substitute teacher in all three county school districts, which I’ve done for 10 years. Previously, I was an art director for 25 years, then went back to school to get my Master of Fine Arts. While in school, I managed a small neighborhood Starbucks store which I grew into a million-dollar-a-year store with very low staff turnover. I’ve also taught community college courses in Texas and here at Pueblo Southwest.

My volunteer activities included construction of houses for Habitat for Humanity (with a team of volunteers), staffing a suicide and crisis prevention hotline, and working as a translator for a free children’s medical clinic.

MEDINA (email): I am 30 years old. I was born and raised in Longmont and I am a third-generation Coloradan. I moved to Cortez in 2016. I am currently a GIS specialist for Montezuma County (June 2016-present). Before this I was a GIS technician for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

I have a Bachelor of Science in geology from Fort Lewis College and a GIS Certificate from Front Range Community College. I am currently serving on the city of Cortez Planning and Zoning Commission. I was on the city of Cortez Parks and Recreation board from November 2016 to November 2019.

I am a volunteer for the Montezuma County Search and Rescue team (June 2017-present). I am also on the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde Mountain Bike Race board. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, mountain biking and hiking with my partner, Sean, and my dog, Murphy.

HUCKINS (email): I split my professional time owning and operating Pinnacle Fitness, LLC, a small business for personal training, and managing WildEdge Brewing Collective.

I am passionate about spending time outdoors, as I have seen firsthand with my past occupation of leading at-risk youth in the Alaskan Wilderness that mental well-being and belief in your abilities can be strengthened through outdoor adventures.

BYERLY (phone): I’m the father of two boys, working at the Piñon Project Family Resource Center supporting parenthood education. I have been involved in education since first coming to Montezuma County in 1996. I want to support youth and I feel like healthy youth will be the best metric for a healthy community. I’m excited to be able to take my experiences of the last 25 years into a position of leadership.

FARLEY (email): My wife, Monique, and I have been married for 28 years. We have two married adult daughters and five grandchildren.

I am retired from the Air Force. During my 20-year military career, I served as an electrical power generations craftsman, heavy equipment operator, combat/survival school instructor, USAF technical school instructor and quality assurance inspector.

After the Air Force, I worked as a manufacturing plant manager, consultant for oil and petrochemical companies, corporate trainer, industrial safety instructor, motorcycle consultant, industrial electrical worker for the Department of the Army, behavioral specialist, substitute teacher and special investigator retained by the National Background Investigations Bureau.

I have served on corporate advisory boards and community advisory committees. My wife and I own and operate MoJoe’s Shaved Ice here in Cortez.

BANKS (email): I have worked in the energy industry for the past 44 years and worked in a sawmill before that. I have been a board member of my church for several years.

ROBERTS (email): I am on the board of directors of the Sanitation Department and have been there for close to one year and I will be running again. I was a construction superintendent for more than 20 years. I started my own trucking business for five years.

As of now, I am semi-retired. I am active in other volunteer areas.

Why did you decide to run for Cortez City Council?

CARVER: I decided to run for City Council because I am familiar with many of the people and the challenges in our community and I feel I will be able to be of service in this position.

WITT: When I first moved to this beautiful city in 2009, I knew this would be “my forever home.” It was at that time I began to serve this community first through church volunteering opportunities and soon volunteering in many other ways and organizations.

This year, with the controversy over the proposed land-use code, I felt it was time to step up and make a difference. I felt the residents of Cortez deserved to be listened to and have a champion in their corner. I felt that the communication lines between residents and the elected leadership, and from the elected leadership to the city management team needs to be strengthened.

As a member of the City Council, I will bring a new vision and energy to foster a better relationship between the council and the community, utilizing the strength Cortez residents have to offer.

YAZZIE: I believe it is important to see yourself represented in all decisions in which you are a stakeholder. When you don’t have a voice, then take the leap and step up to the plate. I want to be a part of the conversation that shapes the future of Cortez and also be able to enjoy it as I grow my family here.

I have been in the community for a long time, and I have always seen it survive but not so much thrive. I would like to be part of that positive change, encouraging growth and development. I do not have children myself, but I would also like to make positive changes for my young nephews as they grow up here.

GOODALL: I’m always doing things to help people, it seems like. I help people before I help myself. Maybe that’s my downfall, I don’t know. I like to get my nose in things. Not that I’m bossy or anything. I want to help people do the right thing.

O’BRIEN: There was a personal push to become more involved in the community because of the restrictions we are facing throughout the area. Being active on the lakes/trails, competing at the race track, camping, working on owning a home, working in the area, and helping my family with their business, have also played factors into running and being a voice for the community and people.

I have always wanted to step up and help this community. Now is the chance for a younger generation to help make the changes needed to be a thriving, successful, safe community.

BETTS: I decided to run for City Council because I feel I can make a difference. Cortez is my home and my community. I am proud to be a part of it, and I would like to see it stay a place for future generations to call home.

VASTERLING: After speaking with my peers and some community leaders and watching every City Council episode online back to 2017, I believe I can help us, and that our city and county will benefit with me on the council. However, I may be one of only a few candidates who is not running because they are angry about the land-use code; that is a horrible reason to try to get into government. That is a hammer mentality, not a handshake mentality.

RAINEY: I decided to run for Cortez City Council because I value community involvement and want to contribute to Cortez’s continued success. I believe I have the aptitude, skills and optimism necessary to work with other councilors and community members on challenging issues.

MEDINA: I believe our City Council members should be knowledgeable about city services, forward-thinking, and help plan for the long term. They should also be prepared for every meeting and be accountable to their constituents. This is the type of council member I aspire to be, and this would be a great opportunity for me to give back. I am deeply committed to the community and want to see Cortez continue to improve with positive growth and development that supports our diverse community interests while protecting our existing neighborhood character.

HUCKINS: One of the main attributes I see that Cortez holds is the community its residents have created. We have the ability to enact any change we wish because we have a strong community of diverse voices. I believe in Cortez and want to help keep a voice from the people heard so our next generations can experience support in their own voices.

BYERLY (email): In our current polarized political climate, I am seeing more than ever a need for leaders to practice more effective communication in the hopes of representing the community. I am excited to bring positive energy, the ability to listen and an open mind to engage in the important issues.

FARLEY: My desire to serve and a love of people steered me to make the decision to run for Cortez City Council. Helping others and being a good neighbor are important to me.

BANKS: I love my city but have been disappointed in the direction the most recent City Council has taken with some of its policy decisions; namely the medians on Main Street and changes being suggested to the land-use ordinance.

ROBERTS: I’ve been in Cortez for five years and have seen several things that the previous board has passed. I would like to see some issues change and possibly have some input on improving our town overall.

What experiences have you had that have prepared you for a council seat?

CARVER: Living and working in Cortez as a single mother, I have had the opportunity to develop many professional and personal relationships. We have a pretty nice community. My diverse work history I would say is my greatest strength.

WITT: In 2019, I was chosen to participate in the Colorado Association of Realtors Leadership Training program. In this extensive training program, I learned many things that have prepared me to be an effective volunteer, a productive board member, a knowledgeable leader, and I feel an effective city councilor. I have served in several church-associated leadership positions along with many work and community positions.

Through my past job experiences as a general manager in two different fields, I have a working knowledge of a (profit-and-loss statement) as well as a general ledger. I consider myself a “servant leader.” I focus on listening to understand as well as uplifting to empower those I work for and with. My ability as a “servant leader” enables me to build strong, reliable and loyal teams of employees.

YAZZIE: Growing up, I saw firsthand how tough it can be for families to establish roots here. When my family moved here, we had to live with another family. We were lucky that we had a support system, but it still took my parents a while to get on their feet. Finding affordable housing and steady jobs were always an issue, despite my parents’ incredible work ethic. After 16 years, they had to move away to be able to provide for themselves. I know that many other families have had similar experiences and understand what it feels like to have to make tough decisions. I want to be a part of a council that works to reduce barriers for families in Cortez.

I have previously and currently serve on a board. I understand the processes involved in decision-making. Most of all, I know that transparency, collaboration and communication will lead to the greatest change and will help create trust between elected officials and community members.

GOODALL: Organizing: getting things in the proper place that have had an outcome, that is appealing to everyone. Everyone. Not just City Council.

I drive the streets, I worked for Caltrans for 14 years as an inspector for bridges, highways, freeways, toll roads. That’s just my background. I’m 84 years old and everybody thinks I’m 50.

I like to have fun with everything I do.

O’BRIEN: I have not been on any boards or committees, but I have spoken on issues about medical marijuana, lake/land restrictions and the land-use code. In the past, I was in FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), which enforced the family and community values that I believe strongly about. The FCCLA was fundamental to me pursuing the food/service industry. Coming from the service industry, we pride ourselves on being hardworking, courteous and professional.

BETTS: My experience comes from being on the Cortez Police Department for 29 years. I was a supervisor for 21 years, and I gained the knowledge that helped me understand government regulations, budgets, codes, and most important, I learned how to listen to the people. Working as a council member the past two years, I have tried to learn everything I could.

VASTERLING: Today, I lead a team of more than 65 people in the restaurant and hotel industry here in our town. We have taken one of our properties, the Retro, from being a bank repo to the traveler ranked BEST place to stay in Cortez in less than two years. Our Holiday Inn Express has taken home the highest award Holiday Inn grants three years in a row. At the Destination Grill, we have almost tripled our annual gross revenue by thoroughly re-evaluating what our restaurant should be, what people want, what the community and the economy could support, and then rebranding it and making it happen.

You do not achieve those kinds of outcomes without knowing how to inspire people, hold them accountable, lead them, support them and knowing when to let them carry the load and when to carry them home, while also understanding the details; how to spot fraud, theft, identify and correct inefficiencies, how to evaluate and alleviate bottlenecks, and how to put the right people in the right positions, when to plant a flag, and when to donate time and money.

RAINEY: All of my previous and current experiences have helped me develop the skills necessary to be a successful city councilor. As an art director, I worked with people who had very different perspectives, ideas and goals, not all of which I shared. I learned to use common sense to find common ground and a path forward. As a teacher of people from kindergarten through adulthood and from all kinds of backgrounds, I’ve learned how to encourage, motivate and support people.

I have the ability to listen and learn from others, to keep an open mind, and to be optimistic that solutions to challenges can be found. I believe in finding common ground through listening, collaborating and using common sense. I work well with others and believe we can find compromises between personal self-interest and community well-being.

MEDINA: I have spent most of my career working as a public servant at the state and local level. I understand how municipalities are funded, what services they provide, and the roles and responsibilities of City Council. I have been actively participating in the city since 2016 by serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Board. I was one of the youngest to be appointed chair of a city board or commission in Cortez’s history. I believe that my public service experience, inquisitive nature and dedication will make me a good City Council member.

HUCKINS: Through the years, I have jumped at every opportunity to help expand my leadership capabilities. I continue my commitment to active listening and striving to find solutions. I have held many different leadership and managerial roles from within the schools, out in the great wilderness, to bars and restaurants, and plan on continuing the exhilarating trajectory in a positive and open mindset.

BYERLY: I have dedicated close to 25 years in the community working with families in Montezuma County. I feel I understand the community and its needs. Participating in Leadership Montezuma, Family Leadership Training Institute, and having a masters in administrative leadership and policy study from CU-Denver, I am practiced in critical thinking and resilient in the face of challenge.

FARLEY: Being a member of the armed forces gave me the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Working and living in communities with varying and diverse backgrounds has given me an accepting mindset. I believe we all have a voice and should be heard equally. I hope to bring my willingness to listen and desire to help people to the Cortez City Council.

BANKS: The board position at my church, working with budgets, as well as an interest in local politics and leadership.

ROBERTS: I have sat on the Sanitation Board here in Cortez for the last year. As a construction superintendent, I have worked on budgets for large projects with the amounts being $60 million and up.

What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing Cortez right now?

CARVER: We need industry. Teachers need students. When people look for a place to live and work, they want a good economy and stable jobs – industry and jobs. Some of the issues like homelessness and other trends I see as not unique to our community only, but they need to be open to dialogue. Networking resources is as important as networking in business.

WITT: I feel there needs to be an established smart growth plan. This would include balanced growth that continues to encourage agriculture as a livelihood, while protecting property interests and promoting a vibrant business environment. A smart growth plan requires community input and cooperation with Montezuma County leadership.

YAZZIE: I believe that the most pressing issue right now is a lack of affordable housing. The current waitlist for the Montezuma County Housing Authority is three years. Although it is exciting that the Calkins Commons project will provide 42 affordable one- and two-bedroom units in the fall of 2021, there will still be a demand for more units. I would love to see more focus on creating affordable housing and have more than one project in the works.

As a first-time home buyer, it was difficult to find a home within our budget. I know there are many other people in a similar income bracket who probably don’t know they can qualify to own a home. I would love to see more homes developed for a true “first-home” buyer. I know that we can come together to find ways to create affordable housing for different income levels and create stability and pride of homeownership.

GOODALL: Right now, it’s getting hold of the finances and finding out where the money is going. I think it would be a good idea to have someone go over the books every six months. They could do it probably in two days, three days at the most. Just check things out, just know where we are, what we’re doing and where everything’s going.

And the new (marijuana) business that’s moving into town – I think we should look more into the future about what it will do. I hate dope. What I’m concerned with is: What are we going to do when our children start turning up sick and ill and can’t function? What do we do then? And it’s going to happen. I don’t care how they cut it, how they make it or what story they tell us about it, it eventually gets there.

O’BRIEN: Land-use code revision, that is new and cohesive for our rural community; securing a checks and balance to assure residents, like myself, there will not be an embezzlement issue; business/landowners’ voters rights; panhandling issues; look into increasing tourism in our area; bringing business to Cortez; road improvements and repairs.

BETTS: I believe the biggest problem we have is the lack of employment and affordable housing.

VASTERLING: There is no single, pressing issue, and I am not a single-issue candidate. Our city and our county are facing numerous pressing issues; even our commissioners have a list of important, even critical, issues coming our way that impact the city. I am not a one-dimensional thinker, and I am not a reductionist. We have a lot of work to do to protect and revitalize our community, and I look forward to the time and the forum to discuss each of them.

RAINEY: It’s impossible to identify a single, pressing issue facing Cortez right now, but I do believe that an underlying cause of the many issues we face is the lack of good employment opportunities that pay fair wages. Un- and under-employment have many effects on the quality of life for our residents. Finding a balance between sustainable economic growth and the preservation of our current lifestyle is a related issue as are affordable housing and good transportation.

We are also a medically underserved community without enough health care and mental health providers to meet the needs of our residents – and this is also related to low pay.

MEDINA: I believe our most pressing issue is the lack of economic opportunity and affordable housing within our community. Many of our residents travel to surrounding communities for work because there are not enough stable, well-paying jobs here. Residents and families struggle to make ends meet, let alone have down payments for houses. I think there is a lack of affordable housing in our community to buy or rent.

I want to have discussions on what economic development would look like in our community. I would love to see a joint city-county economic development task force to address this issue. I also want to help make affordable housing options more accessible to our residents and developers.

HUCKINS: I have had the opportunity to spend time with our youth, from donating my time to get the middle-schoolers working out and attending youth-led events as well as talking with teachers. Through this, I have found that we need to support our schools with funding. I would also like to see the vacant storefronts in our downtown district filled with small businesses, adding to the opportunity to go out and spend cash and keep our money within our community, appeal of tourism and general confidence that our town is thriving and fun.

BYERLY: A continued effort to support education and our local school districts gets to be a communitywide focus. From early childhood through post-secondary education, our community is only as strong as the institutions responsible for our children. It will be in the interest of all residents to invest in our schools. Creative efforts will be necessary to find ways to retain educators. Investing early in the education and support of children and families will reduce other less-desirable features found in communities of similar socio-economics.

FARLEY: We need to continue to make law enforcement and EMS top priorities in our city. A strong law enforcement presence is crucial to the future of Cortez. Police officer retention and recruitment is a concern for me. Adding officers and increasing the pay for our law enforcement professionals is needed in order to attract and maintain the number of officers needed and to ensure the safety of our city.

Panhandling, loitering and public intoxication in our shared spaces are concerns I have for the health and safety of our community. I believe our city needs an increase in the number of year-round recreation and education programs for the youth of Cortez and the surrounding communities. The lack of programs to serve our youth is detrimental to the future of our community. Building on a strong sense of pride in our community will ensure the future success of Cortez. Fostering a climate that promotes business and employment growth is important to me.

BANKS: Fiscal responsibility. I believe we should keep tax rates low and eliminate burdensome regulations to invite more business investment into the local area.

ROBERTS: A plan to attract more businesses to want to come here and be able to stay. Work on getting our infrastructure around the town.

This article was updated Feb. 14 to clarify and accurately represent Joe Farley’s response to the question regarding the most pressing issue facing Cortez.


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