by Brian Orr
WALSENBURG- The Huerfano County Chamber of Commerce sponsored a candidate’s forum last Friday evening, with hopefuls showing up for Mayor, Walsenburg City Council and the Re-1 School District. The event was moderated by Bill Moran of Moran Construction.
The candidates, seated facing the audience (see photo above) are, from left to right; Elisha Meadows, running for Re-1 School Board District F, Sandi Dotter, running for Re-1 School Board District D, James England, running for City Council Ward 2, Susan Blake, running for City Council Ward 4, Larry Patrick, running for Mayor, Edie Flanagin, running for City Council Ward 4, Nick Vigil, running for City Council Ward 4, Bruce Quintana, running for Mayor, Craig Lessar, running for City Council Ward 4, and Jim Moore, running for City Council Ward 1.
Although they were invited, the incumbents running for re-election to the School Board- Jesse Jackson and Robert Duran did not show up. Board member Bill Downey, who is not running for re-election, was sitting in the audience.
Several of the candidates who did show up, such as Jim Moore and James England, are running unopposed for their seats on City Council, but still took the time to participate and answer questions.
Moderator Moran was the only one to ask questions, though audience members could write questions down and hand them to him. There was no debating between candidates, just answering what was asked.
For all the large issues looming before the respective bodies, it was a surprisingly harmonious evening, with a great deal of agreement on issues and actions. Mostly.
By far the biggest difference between the mayoral candidates was how to address the approximate $100,000 shortfall in managing the City’s water park, Walsenburg Wild Waters.
Larry Patrick, who was the Parks and Recreation chairman three years ago when the park was launched, noted that was its most successful year. He would like to run the park more like a business, and concentrate on the seven profit centers where the park can potentially make enough money to break even or even make a profit. Patrick feels the park is a tourist attraction and should be marketed as such. “This park can make money; it can be profitable,” Patrick said. “If you lose $100,000; who makes that up? You the taxpayers do.”
Bruce Quintana, who currently heads the Parks and Rec committee, disagrees that the park’s first year was its most profitable; just its first year, but now, reality is setting in. Quintana does not think the park as a tourism attraction but simply a community pool- “It’s a two-slide park, not a tourist attraction. It’s an average little park.” Quintana feels that prices set for the park and its concessions are fair; “There is no way I’m gonna price people out of their own park. As long as I’m Chairman of the committee, that’s not gonna happen.”
Quintana stated he had always met Patrick halfway on pricing and management questions on the park, to which Patrick disagreed. Patrick said, “The biggest difference between Bruce and I is this; if you want to lose $100,000 follow through with Bruce’s idea to keep it a community pool.” This was followed by claps from the audience.
Quintana rejoined by saying, “I want the park to succeed like everybody else, but I have to put the constituents first. Maybe we need to sell it, and build another community pool.”
Re-1 Homework policy
The other big contentious question of the evening was addressed to the two School Board candidates, Sandi Dotter and Elisha Meadows: what was their stance on the new ‘No Homework policy’?
Dotter said she did not believe in an across the board policy eliminating homework, and thinks that should be decided by individual teachers, who know each student’s needs.
Meadows agreed wholeheartedly, saying it should not be across the board. Currently, she said, any homework a student DOES do at home does not get any credit.
When asked how they would remedy Re-1’s declining test scores, they said they would work with teachers, and stop having them teach to the CSAP test. “There’s too much emphasis on teaching to the CSAP,” Dotter said. “The ACT test takes in a much broader spectrum of knowledge.”
Both ladies felt academic funding needed to be increased, noting there are not enough books in some classes, and students either have to share, or the teacher photocopies out sections of their book as they go along. They both felt having an educated workforce in Walsenburg was critical to the area’s future growth, something echoed by City candidates.
A touchy subject that everyone had a comment on was perceived nepotism at City Hall. Jim Moore said that when he first came on to the Council and found three Sheldons in City Hall, he asked himself, “What are the odds of that happening?” Moore however, set the tone for all the other answers when he said, in a small town, you don’t have a large labor pool. If it is documented that these are the best candidates for a job, then hire that person. He noted everyone at City Hall is doing a professional job to the best of their abilities.
Patrick noted that hiring decisions are made by the City Administrator and not the Mayor or Council.
Both mayoral candidates were asked how they would deal with the $133,000 financial shortfall that Walsenburg currently finds itself in.
Quintana said that budget cuts across the board from all City departments was the fairest way to deal with the problem. He noted he warned against the budget shortfall when he was on the Finance Committee, felt the Board wasn’t acting proactively, so he left it.
Patrick agreed with across the board cuts, and that City Administrator Alan Hein was talking with department supervisors now. He noted the 2010 budget is being prepared now by the City Administrator and Finance Director, Krystal Vigil.
Both said salary cuts are not off the table including City Council’s and the Mayor’s. Currently, each council member receives $150 a month, and the Mayor gets $250 a month. Asked if personnel layoffs were possible, Patrick said he would see what the City Administrator recommended to the Council.
Why are you running?
Each candidate was asked why he or she was running for office.
Larry Patrick said the City needs good strong leadership, and he wants to keep positive aspects of Walsenburg moving forward.
Bruce Quintana noted his time on Council had been productive, pointing to the Gateway project on the north end of town. He wants to create positive opportunities.
Craig Lessar is running “because this is my home.” He wants to see younger people like himself ( he is 26) doing more in town, and to show you can make a career here.
Nick Vigil thinks economic development could be stronger, and the city’s infrastructure needs to be updated. He has years of experience serving on various boards, and wants to be involved.
Edie Flanagin has really enjoyed her previous two years on City Council, and wants to see the big projects the City is involved in to their completion.
Susan Blake, as the only incumbent for Ward 4, also wants to see City projects to their fruition, and to work closer with the school system.
Jim Moore has years of experience in municipal administration and city legalities, and brings a great breadth and depth of knowledge to the Council.
James England wants to give back to the community he lives in. He also wants to work more closely with the school district to prepare future citizens to live and work here.
Sandi Dotter is running for School Board because she sees talent leaving the community with every graduating class, and wants to figure out how to keep kids here, and work at creating jobs.
Elisha Meadows also wants to see an emphasis on job creation and economic development for people to find work and be able to stay here once they graduate. She feels there are lots of talented people who would move back if there were jobs in Walsenburg.