More than 300 citizens filled the Sale Barn arena Tuesday to hear views from four candidates seeking election for Montezuma County commissioner seat representing District 1.
In a rural setting, Republican Jim Candelaria, unaffiliated Steve Chappell, Democrat MB McAfee, and unaffiliated Jessie James Sattley sat at a table in the hay-lined auction pit for the forum sponsored by the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association.
Moderator Pam Suckla presented a dozen questions on local topics, including some on the “rumor mill,” and pointed out candidate campaign funding. On the question of a proposed county sales tax, Candelaria, Chappell, and McAfee were supportive of the idea, and Sattley was opposed. The sales tax proposal is dead for now, as the county commission voted Monday to not put it on the November ballot.
The subject of whether the county should have residential building codes drew some debate, prompted by grilling from the moderator.
McAfee was the only one in support of the concept because it makes “common sense” and promotes public safety. Candelaria said building codes exist for commercial and industrial construction in the county, but they are not necessary for residential. “It’s a dead issue, and I do not want to create more regulations,” he said.
Moderator Suckla pressed the issue, asking follow-up questions of both candidates. What about additional costs for an inspector? she asked McAfee. McAfee said an inspector fee may be part of the equation. Suckla asked why are codes needed if people could sue if injured with or without the codes. McAfee responded it would be between the builder and the homeowner, and that practical building codes help people know what the common safety standards for construction are.
The exchange brought some chirping from audience members that McAfee was being singled out unfairly. Then Suckla turned to Candelaria, pointing out that he once supported residential building codes, but now doesn’t.
Candelaria said that as a previous president of the Home Builders Association, he did fight for residential building codes in the county, but he is not longer a member of that “special interest group,” and now doesn’t support the additional regulations.
“A homeowner still has the choice to build to whatever code they want. As a builder, we follow the 2015 International Residential Code,” Candelaria said, adding that homeowners can always hire an independent inspector if they choose.
Candidates were asked how they feel about a bold, but nonbinding resolution passed by the current county commission to assert jurisdiction over roads and trails on the San Juan National Forest under a RS2477 statute with roots from 19th-century mining days.
Chappell and Candelaria were in support of the move, and McAfee was critical of the decision, saying it was rushed and should have involved more public debate.
“Great job guys,” said Chappell, referring to the county commission passing the resolution. “According to early county maps before the (national) forest, those roads and trails were already established. I don’t think the decision was rushed, because it has been discussed for some time.”
McAfee noted that many of the trails listed in the resolutions were installed by the U.S. Forest Service and therefore don’t qualify for county historic claims, and she worried fighting for them would cost the county and taxpayer a lot in legal fees.
Candidates for the RS2477 resolution framed it as defending multiple use of public lands, viewing it as a tool to push back when roads and trails are closed or when motorized use is prohibited on federal public lands.
Sattley said there are “millions of acres of land” such as wilderness areas that are locked up that but could be opened up for more public uses. He supported all uses on the forest, but feels some uses don’t mix well on the same route, such as cyclists and horses and motorcycles and hunters, so separating uses on some trails even seasonally should be looked at.
“We need to use this land, and if there are ruts created, God made graders to fix them,” he said.
All the candidates said industrial hemp as an alternate crop had merit and emphasized they understood it is not the same as marijuana.
Chappell was not convinced hemp could effectively replace the anchor crops of alfalfa, wheat, and beans of large farms, but could be good for smaller tracts. McAfee said more research was needed on hemp varieties that use less water, and that for farmers to make a profit, a local processing plant would be needed.
Candelaria is growing successful experimental hemp crops for fiber and medicinal oils and says there is an economic opportunity in hemp the county should get on board with. Thinking large, Sattley said to get serious about economic growth, the county should look into bringing in a railroad spur to ship and receive agricultural and commercial goods more profitably.
McAfee and Chappell said they will support the county ban on retail marijuana operations in the county. Regarding marijuana sales in the county, Sattley stated, “If I’m lying in bed with cancer, and marijuana can fix it, go for it.”
Campaign spendingAccording to finance reporting with the Secretary of State, Candelaria has $8,000 invested of his own funding.McAfee has raised $46,000 from individuals.Sattley said he has spent $1,500 out of pocket.Chappell said he is self-funded, he but did not give an amount.The rumor millMcAfee said she is no longer a member of Great Old Broads for Wilderness.Candelaria promised that he will not allow his construction business ventures to cause a conflict of interest if elected.Chappell said the demands of his outfitter’s business will not interfere with the duties of county commissioner.Upcoming commissioner forumsOn Sept. 6, the Four Corners Free Press and KRTZ radio will sponsor a forum providing voters the chance to “meet and question” the candidates. It is at 6 p.m. at the Dolores Community Center, 400 Riverside Ave. in Dolores.On Sept. 18, the League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum at the Montezuma County Combined Court, 865 N. Park St. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the forum begins at 6:30 p.m., according to a press release from Eleanor Kuhl.[email protected] the-journal.com