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Meet the Mancos trustee candidates, part 2

A Q&A on the 2018 municipal election

In this year’s municipal election, five candidates are running for four open trustee positions on the Mancos town board. It is Mancos’s first contested election in several years, after five candidates were elected to five open seats in 2016. Two trustees whose terms are ending, Lorraine Becker and Michele Black, have chosen not to run again.

The candidates are: Steve Kennedy, 66, retired; Betsy Harrison, 76, retired; Brent McWhirter, 33, owner of the Moose and More ice cream shop in Cortez; Mayor Pro Tem Fred Brooks, 64, retired and running for his second term; and Trustee Cindy Simpson, 55, an occupational safety specialist for the Colorado Department of Transportation who is running for her second term.

The candidates answered the following questions in interviews and by email. Their answers have been edited for grammar, style and length where necessary.

What is the best thing about Mancos?

Brooks (Email): Undoubtedly the people. I spent a couple of years traveling around the Four Corners area looking for a place to retire, and I always came back here. The people here are welcoming and inclusive. Many divergent beliefs and opinions are present in Mancos and yet people seem to get along very well.

Harrison (Interview): It’s a small town, so you can get to know everybody. I would say one of the big things that I love about it is that there are so many young people. A lot of small towns are basically dying. There’s a bunch of older people, and all the young folks have moved away. And that’s not true here. There’s a tremendous number of young people who are here specifically to raise their kids and have their kids go to school. And for me it’s been very easy to get involved and to meet people and to know people, and if I feel I need anything, people are there to help me. My philosophy is, you build some of your best relationships working with people to make something happen, and a lot of that goes on in Mancos, whether it’s reviving the Grange, or the Common Press, or whatever.

Kennedy (Interview): My wife and I moved to Mancos because we really like it here. It’s really convenient to everything, but it’s not a destination like Telluride, at least not yet. It’s a true community, not a resort town, not a company town.

McWhirter (Interview): I love the smalltown feel of Mancos. I love that, walking down the street, I see people I know every day. I feel like I’ve made good relationships with people in the town. I know that eventually the small town feel can go away because of more people moving into the area. There’s less people that we know, necessarily, because there’s new people moving in all the time, but I just love that I can go to any place in Mancos and at least see one or two people that I know.

Simpson (Email): I enjoy the wide variety of people in town and how we all love Mancos.

What is the biggest problem currently facing the town?

Brooks: We have a serious lack of affordable housing in Mancos. This is compounded by the fact that we have become a bedroom community for Durango, which drives prices up and effectively keeps local citizens from owning property here. Mancos tends to depend on the tourist dollar for sales tax revenue, and while we need to work on new tourist attractions to bring people here, we also need jobs here. If our workforce has to commute from Durango or Cortez, or even from out of state, why would you bring a business to Mancos? We should take a hard look at annexing more land into town, as presently we have a shortage of buildable land in town limits. If we could acquire enough land, the free market should be able to satisfy the demand for housing for the commuters. A partnership between the town and the state of Colorado and/or private business could begin to address the problem of lack of affordable housing. The models are out there to explore. Breckenridge and Summit County have had great success with partnering and providing more housing to attract a stable workforce.

Harrison: I’m not sure I can answer that without being on the board. The trustees are responsible for the town, and there’s a lot of business of the town that I’m unfamiliar with. I know the town has a limited budget, that’s number one. Personally, one of the reasons I’m running is that I think it could be a little more progressive and proactive. But again, I’m not privy to a lot of details. If you see something from a distance, you say, “Oh, well, I would do this.” And then you get in the middle of it and find out you can’t do that. But I would definitely be open to learning what the issues are with the town. The trustees are really responsible to the people who live in town, and it’s a hard thing, but there’s the wide range of those who live in the valley. Most of the people who are involved, who do things in town, are really valley residents, not town residents. So I’d like to see more interaction, more finding out more of what people want and thinking broader than the town.

Kennedy: There’s no permanent building plan or infrastructure installed. It’s all a little haphazard. We don’t have a plan to deal with expansion in economic development, with growing businesses.

McWhirter: One thing that Mancos needs to work on is diversifying its economy. The pot shops that are there now are a big chunk of the revenue that they get from sales tax, and I think that, for Mancos to grow in the future, we need to diversify and get more businesses opening up in town and helping the economy grow and prosper.

Simpson: Lack of code enforcement. If we don’t enforce the codes we have, it’s pointless to have them. Lack of code enforcement causes stress and anxiety for our residents when they have neighbors who are out of compliance. Code enforcement is extremely time-consuming, which is difficult for a small staff to handle. Our code has been amended so many times over the past six years that it’s become confusing to understand. Many of our enforcement issues are due to lack of knowing, rather than a specific desire to violate the code. We are embarking on a zoning code review to ensure we are in compliance with standard zoning practices and legally vetted wording. Of course, the parts of the code that help protect our unique identity as a town will be an integral part of the new code. I intend that the code revision will make it easier for residents, staff, P&Z and trustees to read and understand. This will be a huge benefit for sensible development and will improve enforcement.

Some town boards, like the planning and zoning commission, have struggled recently with poor attendance. How do you think the town board can improve participation in government?

Brooks: The state of Colorado, by statute, requires the town to have a planning and zoning committee. Land use code requests have been seriously delayed throughout 2017, which tends to stifle growth. As a result of the repeated absence of committee members, there is not a way to ensure that town business is being attended to. When the P&Z committee does have a quorum, the meetings tend to be long and contentious, which only makes it more difficult to retain and motivate members. The town board has in its power the ability to remove committee members for cause, but that may be a harsh way to approach this problem. What we have suggested is a combined workshop with the P&Z committee members and the town board in February. Hopefully this is a reasonable first step to address this problem.

Harrison: That’s one of the reasons I would like to learn a little bit more, because the way the town is structured, if you have to pull from the town, and you have a small population, and of course Mancos is a bedroom community, so people go somewhere to go to work and then come home, so they don’t have a lot of time, and a lot of the people who live in town are young people with kids, so all those things shrink the pool of people you could pull from for something like planning and zoning. I don’t know, legally, if the town could allow people from the valley. If, say, planning and zoning is supposed to be five people, if three people were from the town, could they have two people from the valley? That’s a question I have, but I haven’t answered it yet.

Kennedy: I hope to bring my expertise to make sure the board of representatives communicates well and that people know what’s happening and what’s expected. There’s a bit of nuance there, though, because on the agenda for the last planning and zoning meeting, there were no action items. When you have a volunteer board, you can’t have meetings just to have meetings. The board has to do the work. I hope we can make things more efficient and communicate better.

McWhirter: It’s an interesting question, because I just read the article the other day about how it’s the fourth quorum that they haven’t had in this year, and I do think that’s something the town board needs to look at. I think they’re going to address that at, I think the March meeting or something. I do think that people that are on the board should be held accountable to make sure they’re participating as much as possible. I know life happens, and things come up that make it impossible to attend every meeting, but I do think that they should have some sort of rule in place. If a member cannot make consecutive meetings, then I think that it should be up to the board to be able to replace that member. Unless they have some sort of valid reason–illness, death, things like that in the family–I think that they should be held accountable. If they’re going to sign up to be on a board for an extended period of time, I think they should have some form of accountability on their end to make sure they can make as many meetings as possible. It is important for them to be in as many meetings as possible, especially on something as important as planning and zoning. It has a pretty big agenda that they have to oversee.

Simpson: We need to find out why people aren’t involved, before we try to “fix” the issue. The board is meeting in February with the current members of P&Z to see why they haven’t had a quorum four times in the past year. Canceling the monthly meetings slows down our development process, which is a disservice to our business community and residents. We also need to find out why people aren’t coming forward to volunteer for these types of committees. Sometimes it means people have given up, but it can also mean that most residents are content with the way things are going. Also, being on a committee or commission puts the members in a position of sometimes having to say “no” to their neighbors, which can be stressful and uncomfortable. The (town) board recognized this past year that we had too many committees for duties staff should really be handling, and we took steps to have staff take on those tasks. I’m hopeful this move allows residents to focus on Planning and Zoning, which is statutorily required.

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