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La Veta candidates talk at forum

by Carol Dunn

LA VETA- Voters packed the La Veta Community Center on March 25 for the candidate forum sponsored by the La Veta-Cuchara Chamber of Commerce.  The forum was designed to get each candidate’s perspective on how they feel about the Town of La Veta and their personal priorities for the Town should they get elected.

    Mac McAnally, a retired businessman from Dallas who has lived in Town 12 years, said, “Divisiveness consumes us today.”  In his introductory statement, he said he favors controlled growth and that there should be a master plan for the Town.  McAnally’s top three priorities for the Town are economic development, street maintenance and the golf course.  He pointed out, “Our direction now will have a lot to do with how things look in 2012.”  McAnally said the current Town administration has “an appalling indifference to business,” and “the infrastructure is in dire need of attention.  We have the machinery and personnel to address those problems.”  His concern with the Grandote situation is, “The tax base will continue to deteriorate.”  He added that he thought the $5,000 subdivision application deposit was put into effect out of spite. 

    Laurie Irwin, originally from California, is a dental office manager in Walsenburg and has lived in La Veta 20 years.  In the past she served as La Veta Town Clerk for 9 years.  She said Grandote is a big issue, and “one way or another it needs to be resolved.”  Irwin said she would like to see a resurgence of pride in the Town.  She cited roads and drainage as priorities and suggested the need for the Town Board to backup citizens and businesses.  “It is the Board’s responsibility to promote business,” she said.  “We need to come together as one.  Let’s have a strong Board.”  She also said that youth need to become involved in the community.  Her top priorities for the Town are street improvements, economic development/golf course, and water supplies.

    Mayoral candidate Don Keairns has been co-owner of Charlie’s Market for 11 years, after 20 years with Lockheed Martin as a system engineer.  Keairns said he sees disturbing trends, particularly working families moving away from La Veta.  He said the school system could eventually be in danger.  Keairns said he is tired of seeing businesses opened and closed shortly thereafter.  Keairns told the crowd he has been researching 0% interest loans for businesses that want to move to our area, and he has been in touch with one business that may relocate here and bring 30 jobs.  He said, “The Mayor and Board need to be more proactive with business.”  He said he would like to have seen some resolution on the Grandote situation and also has “win/win ideas” for that.  Keairns is concerned about the roads and also suggested the Town should have an additional water reservoir.  In response to a question about juggling the Mayor position, a job and the responsibilities of the San Isabel Electric Board, he vowed to make the time and said he has “a tremendous work ethic.  Besides,” he said, “there will be 6 other trustees helping out.”  He added, “Let’s make a change for the positive.”  He described his vision for 2012 as lots of people in and out of shops, the train operating, Grandote open, tourists, the hotel open, and a lot of traffic on the street.  His top priorities are sustainable economic development/

golf course, the streets, and water.

    Don Lowell moved to La Veta 15 years ago from a small town in Kansas where he was an industrial engineering estimator turned executive administrator.  Lowell said he was disappointed that the Town did not use mediation in the Grandote situation.  “The Town gave nothing,” he said.  He suggested the Town’s trustees be available twice a month to meet informally with the Town’s citizens.  If elected, Lowell said two actions he would take would be to solve the snow removal problem and reconstruct the 1984 agreement with Grandote.  He said losing Grandote means losing sales taxes and tourist dollars.  He suggested that federal and state agencies could help attract business to this area.  His top priorities would be economic development/golf course, streets and water supplies. 

    Mayor Mickey Schmidt told the crowd he has lived in La Veta most all of his life.  He has served as Mayor previously, plus about 30 years on the Board of Trustees, and 3 years in his current term as Mayor.  “I’m proud of my Town and proud of all the people in it,” he said.  Schmidt explained, “The Mayor has to juggle all the different responsibilities of the position: water supplies, water treatment, sewage treatment, finance, police, personnel, museum, tree issues and historical preservation, not just what goes on at Grandote.”  He said the Mayor must take all these different balls, juggle them, and keep them in the air.  “People watching this with either see a clown,” he said, “or they’ll see a person of unique talent and uncommon dedication.  I’m here to convince you I’m the latter.”  He added, “The job is not just to take short term gains and leave the mess for someone down the road to clean up.”  Schmidt said the Town should not use public funds to infuse into private business.  In response to a question about La Veta’s financial stability, Schmidt said the Town is secure because it “lives within its means.”  The utility infrastructure supports the debt service, rates have been raised, and there are set asides and a cash cushion.  Schmidt said he is encouraged by the new enthusiasm on the Chamber of Commerce and upcoming activities like the concerts planned for the park this summer and new works by the Fort Francisco Players.  Schmidt said his top priorities are fiscal responsibility, streets, and water.  “If we have all three, we can attract economic development, take care of historical preservation and address infrastructure.”

    Tracy Webb has been co-owner of the Inn at Spanish Peaks for 14 years.  “I’m very proud of this Town,” she said.  Webb serves several civic Boards and has been on the Chamber of Commerce for 10 years.  Webb said she is in favor of “legal, sustainable growth.”  She said, “I have never asked the Town to help me run my business.”  Webb pointed out, “The Town is obligated to operate within State statutes.  There are always more underlying facts and issues than become public.”  Later she added, “We cannot make Grandote a successful business.”  Webb said La Veta is fiscally strong, there have been no layoffs, and cash reserves are good because, over the years, the Boards have taken a long range view so the Town will have the needed funds.  Webb said she would like to see the Town have annual goals and a 5- and 10-year plan.  Her top priorities are fiscal responsibility, water supplies and streets. 

    Larry Klinke has lived in La Veta 8 years after working in management for a national company for 22 years and owning his own business.  He said he loves the community and its great people.  Klinke asked the crowd to “keep an open mind.  See which candidates can represent you better, not our own personal interests.”  Klinke said he wants to build and develop a better town for everyone, and that he is also concerned with people moving out.  He said he would like to make it economically good to do business here, but that some businesses will fail just because some people are not good businesspeople.  “We’ve all said the Board and Mayor are anti-business,” he said, then gave his personal account of getting a variance for his B&B.  Klinke said he would like to see the downtown area revitalized and a “Welcome to La Veta” sign.  He recommended beautification, not at Town expense, but by having businesses pay for improvements to their own establishments.  His top priorities are economic development/golf course, streets and fiscal sustainability.

    Roger Brunelli served as La Veta school Superintendent for 20 years.  He said the roads are a big problem, especially with more and more traffic.  Brunelli is also concerned with the wildlife situation in Town, specifically the increasing population of deer, which people are feeding.  He offered assistance to businesses in “anyway I can possibly help.”  Brunelli said if the railroad needs water, the Town should “give them the water.”  He also said that Grandote needs negotiation, but “Let’s look at other things besides that.”  Brunelli said annual goals for the Town would be good.  He said, “We will always have small businesses in Town.  If we can find ways to have winter events, then our businesses will stay with us.”  Brunelli’s top priorities are streets, economic development and water.

    Jesse Yarbrough has lived in La Veta for 10 years and has 30 years experience in finance and managerial jobs.  She said she is positive and optimistic about the Town.  Yarbrough said, “Despite the difficulty and polarization of the community, the Board is taking the community in the right direction.”  She elaborated, “We plan to begin work on roads and the museum.”  But, she cautioned, “We cannot be reckless and overbuild and pray.”  Yarbrough said she supports community clean up and that the Town brings in dumpsters twice a year for this purpose.  She encouraged the public to buy locally when possible, and said she is encouraged by the opening of two new businesses in La Veta, including a microbrewery.  Her top priorities are fiscal responsibility, streets and water. 

    Dale Davis has lived in La Veta for 44 years.  Of the vital issues facing La Veta, he said, “It all takes money, time and effort.”  Davis said the Town Board has been looking to the future and cited the new water system and the water plant building as examples.  He told the crowd the Board is guided by regulations, and, “I think if we start taking codes out of the book we’re in trouble.  I’m not in favor of changing ordinances.”  He added, “Private enterprise needs to do its own business.”  Regarding public suggestions for annual goals for the Town, Davis said, “If it’s for the betterment of the Town, the Board would consider it.”  Davis encouraged the public, “Make sure your vote goes to people who are looking out for the good of the Town.  La Veta will survive.”  His top priorities are streets, fiscal sustainability and water.

    All the speakers said they feel Fort Francisco is an important asset to the community, and most of the candidates said they favor passage of the ballot question regarding allocation of existing tax revenues that are set aside for museum improvements.  Street maintenance issues, rather than Grandote Golf Club, seemed to be at the forefront of discussions and were in every candidate’s future priorities.

In the open mic portion of the forum, the spouse of one candidate found fault with the incumbents for leaving “Vote For” flyers on car windshields while the forum was being held.  However, the incumbents may not have had a direct part in the activity, since Jesse Yarbrough’s name was spelled wrong on the flyer.