Businesses and government bodies are facing uncertain and turbulent times, but the Cortez municipal election in April is moving forward.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted pre-election proceedings, including the candidates forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Montezuma County. Originally modeled after a “speed dating” session, the event was then rescheduled as a virtual forum scheduled for March 19. After Gov. Jared Polis banned gatherings of 10 or more people, the League canceled this event also, since having the 14 candidates together in the City Council chambers would violate the order.
So instead, candidates were given the League’s questions in advance, and have submitted their responses to The Journal for publication.
The 14 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. Geof Byerly and Joe Farley did not submit answers.
A condensed version of this Q&A is in the March 24 Journal newspaper.
The responses below appear in the same order:
How long have you lived in the city?
Stephanie Carver: 50 years.
Jason Witt: July 2009.
Arlina Yazzie: I have lived in Cortez for the last seven years, however I have lived in Montezuma County for the last 18 years and spent a majority of that time in the city while growing up, going through our school system and attending activities.
Raymond Ralph Goodall: I retired from work Oct. 29, 1998. And came home, to Cortez to care for my mom. I’ve been here at this address 405 N. Henry St. for the last 20 years. And was born here at Arriola on the front porch of our ranch house the 27th of August 1935.
Rafe O’Brien: Born and raised, 30 years. Moved away for college but came back.
Sue Betts: 37 years.
David Rainey: My wife and I moved to Cortez from the Dallas area in November of 2009, after visiting here annually since the early 2000s, and buying property in the county in 2002.
Rachel Medina: I have lived in Cortez for 4 years, and in the Southwest for almost 10 years. I am an Alumnus from Fort Lewis College in the Geology Dept. I currently work as a GIS/Mapping Specialist in Montezuma County. I am a first-time homebuyer and have owned my house for over two years.
Amy Huckins: I have been in Montezuma County for four winters with the last two as a proud homeowner and small business owner in Cortez.
Bill Banks: 44 years.
Leroy Roberts: I’ve lived here a little over 5 years.
What work and volunteer experience do you have that will prepare you to serve on City Council?Carver: I have volunteered at the Shelter and Community Dinners.
Witt: I have served or am currently serving on several community and associations boards as the chair, president, or president-elect of the organization. I have served in several church associated leadership positions. Through my past job experiences as a General Manager in two different fields, I have a working knowledge of a P&L as well as a general ledger.
2020 Colorado Association of Realtors Western District Chair.2019-2020 President-Elect for the 4 Corner Board of Realtors.2019 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.2019 San Juan Mountains District of the Boy Scouts of America District Chair.2018 San Juan Mountains District of the Boy Scouts of America Vice District Chair.2017 San Juan Mountains District of the Boy Scouts of America Assistant District Commissioner.2016-2017 President/Director of Concert Operations SouthWest Colorado Concert Inc.Yazzie: My more recent work and volunteer experience has allowed me to have a more rounded perspective of our constituency and have prepared me for City Council work. I worked at The Piñon Project with at-risk youth and families in our community by helping to facilitate educational, prosocial and skill building opportunities. I currently work as an Outreach Specialist at Cortez Integrated Healthcare helping to connect individuals experiencing homelessness and other risk factors get connected to healthcare services. I served on The Piñon Project board before working there and currently serve on the High Desert DEVO board, which is a youth mountain biking skills development program serving Montezuma County. I have also been an active member of the Communities That Care Coalition, whose ultimate goal is to create safe spaces for our community’s youth.
Goodall: Over the years I’ve sat on different boards for cities, counties, and states. My main job at these different jobs was to check the contractors out, finding if what they claimed was true – that they were qualified to perform the work required by the city, county or state. I was working for companies in San Diego, Calif.
The work I did also was final inspection for final payment to the contractor performing their work (I also was the person that investigated the contractor’s background, if they could rent the equipment if need be to complete their required work. Most of my work was $50,000,000 or more, the work I signed off on was to last at least 12 years!)
O’Brien: Graduated culinary school with an associate degree in science. I have managed a variety of restaurants and retail stores around the Cortez and Mancos area. Restaurant management has taught me, “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Retail management instilled money management and honesty qualities that everyone should have, which some people are missing.
Betts: I worked for the Cortez Police Dept. as an officer for 29 years, 21 of those as a supervisor. During my employment I was an active volunteer in the DARE Program. I taught Red Cross CPR and first aid for 25 years. These past 2 years I have been a member of the City Council. I am a board member of both the Historic Preservation and Mesa Verde Country.
Rainey: After graduating from college I served in the Naval Air Reserve for six years and gained my first experience leading crews of diverse people to work together for a common goal.
In my career 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 successful way forward. I continued to use these skills as a Starbucks store manager, transforming a small neighborhood coffee shop into a million-dollar-a-year store, and cultivating leadership skills in my employees.
I’ve learned how to motivate, engage, and build confidence in diverse students through teaching community college courses in Texas and at Pueblo Southwest. And of course, ten years of substitute teaching here has given me insights into the hopes, dreams, and challenges families face. These skills enable me to engage with people of all ages and from all walks of life, and backgrounds.
I’ve volunteered for Habitat for Humanity; staffing a suicide and crisis prevention hotline; and working as a Spanish translator for a free children’s medical clinic.
Medina: I am currently in my third year as a commissioner for the City of Cortez Planning and Zoning Board. I also served a three-year term on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and was chair for almost two of those years. I am also very involved in the community by sitting on the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde Mtn Bike Race board and being a volunteer on our local Montezuma County Search and Rescue team.
Huckins: What the new council will be met with has changed during this campaign process, so I’ll speak towards my qualifications to deal with trauma-based scenarios, interpersonal connections, and mediation tactics. I have spent many years working as a first responder in situations where I’ve had to address a problem, find a solution, and act decisively. Picking up our economy, whether it’s in the next month or 18 months, will need a response team that is prepared, knowledgeable, and has the energy to implement a plan of action. Through years of managing teams, I know how to identify and utilize an individual’s skill set and support their tasks through empowerment. Additionally, I’m an adept mediator and feel confident working with people with many different options. Cortez will need a strong council team, and I have the experience and leadership skills needed to form that team.
Banks: 24 years as a supervisor in the energy industry, 5 years on local church board working on church budget.
Roberts: I am currently on the Sanitation Board. I belong to the Knights of Columbus and we do a lot of charity work in the community. I also help take food from the grocery stores to the Good Samaritan Center every month. I volunteer for the rodeo each year.
How much time do you have for City Council committee work?Carver: I can make as much time as it takes. However I have significant time.
Witt: I have a flexible work schedule and will dedicate as much time as needed to achieve my fiduciary duties as City Council Person and to the citizens of Cortez.
Yazzie: The only obligations I would have outside of City Council committee work is the commitment to my 8-5 p.m., Monday-Friday job, my commitment to the bimonthly High Desert DEVO board meeting that happens on a different day of the week than City Council, and my commitment to volunteer coaching the Middle/High School girls during their regular season, which is July to mid-October on Tuesday and Thursday. I would not attend practices on days that City Council work occurs. Other than these commitments I am available.
Goodall: To answer that you need to look at the American Legion building. I was the one that did the painting on the outside and also work on the inside as well. Not only veterans gave me many thanks for the work but so have so many of the businesses of Cortez have paid me many, many compliments on my work! And I am grateful for it, so to answer your question I would say whatever it takes.
O’Brien: I have lots of time to work for the City Council, and I will make the time to make it work. If I am not elected, I will still be paying close attention and attending meetings so that I will be informed to run again in 2 years and again in 4 years. I have always wanted to serve and help our community, now is that time.
Betts: I am retired so I am usually available.
Rainey: As a substitute teacher I’m able to accept or refuse a teaching job on a daily basis, and of course, I don’t sub during the summer months. Unfortunately, now we have a new normal because of Covid-19 and we are all finding more time on our hands as we protect our community by practicing social distancing. I am using this time to research and learn as much as I can about the budget, LUCs in preparation for future deliberation, etc., and thinking outside the box about creative ways to engage our citizens in conversations about this place we all love. Once elected I will continue to devote whatever time is necessary to ensure that our city meets the needs of its residents.
Medina: I have spent the last year working on stepping away from my duties on the boards and organizations I have been involved with, so that all of my time can go to being a dedicated Councilmember. I have already been attending City Council meetings for almost a year now. My partner at home and my work are very supportive of the time commitment that City Council will be.
Huckins: With my time-management skills and experience prioritizing tasks, I am confident that I will be able to balance the commitments I’ve made and will make if elected as a council member.
Banks: I am semiretired, and work only 15-20 hours per week, so I will have ample time to serve on committees.
Roberts: I will spend as much time as needed to help the community. I will spend as much time as it takes.
What is your vision for the city in the next five to 10 years?Carver: Music, events, mass participation in bike ride events and more for downtown and city functions. More for kids to participate in at the parks in the summer, better collaboration from Council for Chamber events, and collaboration with Montezuma County Leaders for growth.
Witt: A community that has embraced a vision to grow while retaining all that makes Cortez great.
Yazzie: My Vision for the City in the next five to 10 years is for our constituency to grow deeper roots. In the 18 years I have been in Montezuma County, I have seen many people leave because of a lack of housing and viable jobs. Even though they wished they could have stayed, they had to leave to take care of themselves and their families. I would like to build greater supports for our community members to feel that they can truly belong, that they can advance, and that they can thrive.
Goodall: My vision for Cortez, and remember I do not know it all, but what I’ve seen of our streets even with the time already spent on them, is I would hope we could replace all raised concrete sidewalks, missing cracked or not in compliance curb and gutter with new and presentable replacements and bring back some of the beauty Cortez had back when I went to school here – from what I’ve seen a lot of the ugliness of our curb and gutter could be corrected with patching and painting.
O’Brien: I would like to see land use and building freedoms to attract more people to want to open and operate businesses in Cortez, even live. I would love to see an attractive downtown area with open roads and open space concepts put into place. Connect with communities around Cortez, not just in Colorado to help with the expansion of tourism and other forms of revenue for our community.
We are neighbors with other states and we should work with them to get people to come to Cortez when they are in the area. We could look at other activities or festivals, outside of the same ol’ events, to bring in other people who might want to visit here or possibly move here. We have a lot of outdoor resources that have been cut back, that we need to fight for to get back and use again.
Betts: I believe that growth is something that is inevitable and is coming, if we are ready for it or not. I would like to see Cortez grow with an increase of well-paying jobs and businesses. I feel this is the key to both growth and keeping our city moving ahead in the right direction. I would like to see Cortez keep the friendly downhome attitude and not have our children be afraid to go outside to play; a place that once they grow up they will want to remain here and not have to work two jobs to support their family.
Rainey: I hope that we’ll find the right balance between economic growth and development, and preservation of our smalltown lifestyle. I’d like us to promote and celebrate our diversity.
Medina: I am in support of our town being water-conscious and drought-resistant. I will support policies and plans that align with that goal.
I want our city and land use code to be more business friendly. I also want to see us work together with the County for economic development. We need to better understand the roadblocks that business owners face, and whether there are things we can mitigate or incentivize to cultivate a diverse and stable economic base.
Our community also lacks an extensive housing inventory for low-income homebuyers and renters. We need to work with developers and nonprofits to see how we can address this.
I would love to see our city get dark sky designation eventually and have our land use code compliant to meet this designation. We are surrounded by national parks with this designation and I don’t want to see our city compromise that in the future with growth.
Huckins: I had prepared something quite different in response to this question a month ago. My new vision for Cortez has adapted to our new prospective needs. It’s difficult, at this point, to postulate the reach of economic hardship we are going to experience. My goal as council member is to meet the needs of our citizens with open minds and decisive action. There will be steps towards regrowth that we will need to implement. Additionally, I believe in taking steps to continue to make our community a welcoming place for all. By prioritizing education, agriculture, recreational tourism, and economic development, I hope to continue to honor our small town and all that it has to offer.
Banks: Responsible, sustainable growth, achieving balance in whither to gear up, as far as infrastructure is concerned, to meet possible growth, or work on growth before infrastructure.
Roberts: I would like to get the infrastructure rebuilt which could create more jobs. (More street lights, sidewalks, school crossing zones with signage at all schools, alleys, speed limits on Main Street reduced, snow removal on the south side of the Main Street.)
Why are you running for City Council?Carver: To be of service.
Witt: I feel I have the skill set and leadership knowledge to give back to the community that I love and has given me so much. I cannot sit on the side lines hoping for change, I must help be a catalyst of that change.
Yazzie: My run for City Council is not fueled by a single issue. It is fueled by lived experiences of the problems that our community still faces ever since I came into the county 18 years ago. I am 26 years old and the youngest individual running for council. I do not want to wait until I am 30, 40, 50, or 60 years old and regret not having tried to do more for my community. I am motivated and committed to put the time in to help create positive change in the city of Cortez.
Goodall: Just being where I was and working with the people I worked with I think I would work well with all the people I would meet here. I’m slow to anger and have a full understanding of plans and the importance of specifications and why they must work together to have a pleasing, clean and desirable finished job!
O’Brien: I have always wanted to run for City Council. In high school I was part of FCCLA and it instilled the community and leadership that is a natural part of who I am and who I want to be. I love Cortez and I want to help make an impact.
Betts: I would like to continue being a voice for the people. I feel that I have made a difference, and I would like to continue to serve the people.
Rainey: I love Cortez and its residents, but there’s more to it than that. I believe I have the leadership skills, business experiences, and future-thinking that will enable me to work successfully with other city councilors for the good of the city of Cortez.
As important as those attributes are, I also bring a sense of optimism which I believe we really need at this time of fractured public discourse, optimism that we can and will find a path forward.
Medina: I have an in-depth understanding of city functions, services, and funding mechanisms. I also understand the role that City Council has in this and would like to see a more proactive council. I want to serve my community and help guide us towards a more prosperous future.
Huckins: I believe in Cortez. As your elected council member, I will commit to the City of Cortez to keep my passion for listening to its citizens and to helping community connections. I will assist in long-range planning. I will communicate with the public. I will go into City Council meetings prepared. I will commit to hearing each voice. I have the time and energy to lean into this commitment.
Banks: To help make sure taxpayer funds are spent responsibly and with accountability.
Roberts: I’m running to see the future of Cortez that would bring growth and pride to our community. There’s a lot of work that hasn’t started yet and needs to get done. We need to think about all of the generations in this community and what we can do to encourage them to stay here.
What do you hope to accomplish if you are elected?Carver: Positive growth.
Witt: Cohesiveness and improved communication with the citizens of Cortez as well as the county leadership team. 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: If elected I hope to help bring in more housing and viable jobs. I would like to focus on affordable housing preferably, for those renting and those first-time homebuyers. I would like to build better supports for our workforce by encouraging new business which provide opportunities for career pathways. I would hope to create avenues for our constituency to progress.
Goodall: I would attempt to assist whoever is of the same mindset as I am – work with whoever it is that wants to bring back the quality of work required. To be within the standard specifications of Cortez!
O’Brien: There is so much that needs accomplished when you take on the city council member role, from the LUC, to the airport, and new businesses opening in Cortez. I want to be a voice for the people who want to have a say, but they are busy working and raising their kids and living life. People want someone looking out for them and their interests, I know this because I was recently in that position myself with the LUC.
Betts: I want to bring the community and the City Council to a place where they work together.
Rainey: I hope to work with other city councilors to create an atmosphere of mutual respect so we can focus on areas of agreement and move the city forward.
Medina: I want Cortez to be more walkable by building more continuous sidewalks on all of our major and intermediate thoroughfares at least. I want to see a trail that circles our whole city so that citizens who can’t or don’t drive, can still access all areas of our city.
I also want to see the city and county work together more on joint projects, and have better communication and relationships.
Huckins: Through listening to former council members and current city workers I have heard repeatedly that a person running with an agenda should not be running for a nonpartisan seat on City Council. I understand that the citizens would like to know how I’m going to vote. This is how: informed and unbiased. I hope to accomplish forming a team of 7 people who are diverse in backgrounds and experiences to come together and listen to the citizens of Cortez and make decisions that we will be proud of for years to come.
Banks: I want to make sure our needs are taken care of; i.e., police, fire and and public works departments, and having a sufficient rainy day fund for emergencies.
Roberts: As I’ve stated, completing projects from start to finish which will help our community to grow not so much in population but in economics.
What do you think the city does well?Carver: Many things. We have beautiful above-average parks. So far, we have done a decent job being proactive with our homeless shelter. I think our police department does a very good job.
Witt: The city departments have worked hard to develop a fabulous park and recreation system and strive to meet the needs of our diverse city. We have a unique and diverse community that cares about each other.
Yazzie: The city of Cortez does an amazing job supporting open spaces, parks, and trails in our community. As a cyclist, I love our local trails and am grateful to the city, as well the volunteers and other entities that are advocates for them. I am excited to see the South Park progression and that our community living on the south side of the city will now have an easier access to a dynamic park to adventure through.
Goodall: From my observations, I think the city is very proficient in paperwork.
O’Brien: When the city is set on an agenda/project, they move swiftly and efficiently to make sure the project is a success. City manager has stepped up to take responsibility, which means a lot to people still. We have some great parks and areas for gatherings in Cortez also.
Betts: The city does many things well. We have beautiful parks, a wonderful Rec Center, outdoor pool, tennis courts, baseball fields, great library programs, walking trails and a golf course. We have something for everyone from the young to the elderly. I have only touched on a few, as there are many more that the city takes excellent care of.
Rainey: I believe the city has encouraged the development of new and interesting businesses including breweries, restaurants, and other shops. Our Rec Center, library, and parks are excellent. City services are very good considering our budget. The city staff are respectful, pleasant, and eager to help – often under trying circumstances.
Medina: I think the city has many dedicated employees and knowledgeable department heads. I have enjoyed getting to know each one over the years and value their experience and perspective.
Huckins: The city does a great job at identifying and implementing changes to secure citizens’ safety and well-being. We have seen reposts on the city FB from the CPD in efforts to find wanted persons. This demonstrates a strength of collaboration. We have seen the city acknowledge dangerous high-traffic areas and work to improve them through new flow tactics. Additionally, we have seen the city identify unused spaces and work to turn them into something that benefits the community, like the newly created bandstand in Montezuma Park.
Banks: We have, and maintain, a magnificent parks system.
Roberts: The golf course is beautiful and so are the parks. Advertisements for Mesa Verde.
What could the city do better?Carver: We need to collaborate and be sure we are doing as much as possible to not enable homelessness to take over our city. Homelessness today is obviously not just a substance abuse issue, or mental health. Many families are one step away from homeless due to job loss, and there are some homeless who will take treatment and help from the systems to become self-sufficient. Many people are help-resistant. City Council can support programs with proven effectiveness, and work to assist programs that are most effective by staying current on any effective solutions. Graffiti, can it be stopped?
Witt: I feel that the communication lines between the citizens, and the elected leadership and from the elected leadership to city management team needs to be strengthened.
Yazzie: Considering more recent events, I believe the city can work on greater outreach to its constituency. I believe that being out in the community where the people are, and at times that are more convenient for them, is the best way to build relationships with our community members. It would also be good to generally assess other ways of communication, since the methods currently used may have not been the most effective for recent issues.
Goodall: I really haven’t been acquainted with the city to make a fair or accurate judgment yet. I do hope that I have an opportune time to work with the city.
O’Brien: They could take the public opinion and constituents’ opinions to heart and not deny/defy the vote of the people. Transparency with their agenda and transparency with projects that will affect the city as a whole would be greatly appreciated, maybe even letting the people vote on issues that will affect them and affect the town. The city needs to use their own studies, or do their own studies, to see what works for our community. We had a LUC that was foreign for our area and we used another city’s studies on medians to apply them here.
We need to look at what is best and equal for all of Cortez, not the minority voices and opinions. Roads and maintenance is another.
Betts: I think the city needs to continue working on the infrastructure, paving and repairing pot holes, and replacing old and broken water lines, as well as looking for ways to bring more jobs to the area.
Rainey: I believe the city should find creative and innovative ways to give neighborhoods and our citizenry a voice – and I’m encouraged that the current city councilors and candidates share this goal. I believe our citizens are passionate, imaginative, and resourceful and it’s our job to work with them to harness that energy to move Cortez in the direction that will benefit everyone.
Medina: I think our city has become stagnant. I want to see more leadership in our community, and I want to help with that by being an actively engaged council member.
Huckins: A common theme that I hear from citizens is that they wish the city would lead with more transparency. While the city has made efforts to gather opinions and inform the community of upcoming changes, there is a clear lack of success if so many people still feel that their opinion is not being heard. Utilizing a greater variety of outreach tactics would help to prevent the disconnect between the city and the community in the future. The city needs to increase efforts to build confidence in local government, and we need to do that now.
Banks: We could know the difference between wants, and needs, and make sure the needs get taken care of first.
Roberts: Promote the golf course such as more tournaments of different types, not just one a year. Involve the younger people. Team up with Mesa Verde so the tourists will want to stay in Cortez instead of Durango. Put effort into tourism so people will stay a day or two and spend their money here.
Justin Vasterling: Vasterling has asked to submit the following paragraph instead of responding to the questions posed by the League of Women Voters.
“Vote for me. I am Lucky No. 7 on the ballot. We need food, not landscaping requirements. We need jobs, not carbon reduction metrics. We need smart, dedicated operators on council, not drifting retirees and ne’er-do-wells. I will give the city every Tuesday of my term. Only city residents should vote on city matters. Rachel, Amy, Joe and I are Cortez’s best chance. Vote for Justin.”
Geof Byerly and Joe Farley: The two candidates did not submit answers.