The race for Montezuma County Commissioner District 3 just got competitive.
Unaffiliated candidate Rebecca Samulski has obtained enough signatures to make the November ballot for the position, said Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell.
Samulski will run against Republican candidate Joel Stevenson, who won the primary over Monty Guiles. Republican Kent Lindsay won the primary for the District 2 seat over candidate Danny Wilkin. Lindsay is unchallenged in the November election.
The Journal submitted questions to all the candidates. Here are Samulski’s answers.
Promoting agriculture and economic development are often touted as candidate priorities. What examples or ideas do you have on how to accomplish these goals?We need economic development that supports our community, not big box stores with absentee owners. Economic development must support existing local businesses and industries and build new ones that bring money into the community from outside.
I have been engaged in economic development efforts since 2006, when I attended a meeting with county, Ute tribal, city and town leaders that led to the development of the Montezuma Community Economic Development Council. Over a decade of collaborative effort with community leaders and business owners, who had supported local business growth and broadband expansion, was torn down by county commissioners. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Some of our biggest opportunities are in sustainable agricultural products, including wood processing and manufacturing businesses and value-added agricultural products such as canned beans, apple juice, and beef jerky.
Renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, and micro-hydro) is another industry where Montezuma County could easily be an exporter.
What government or life experience qualifies you to be a county commissioner?I have a masters degree in “New Directions in Politics and Public Policy.” I was immersed in land use planning for three years, serving Montezuma County, the town of Mancos, and the city of Cortez. I’m most proud of my facilitation and writing of the Cortez Comprehensive Plan and the graphic 2020 vision for the City of Cortez.
I work hard and listen deeply to understand diverse perspectives, which will help me serve the whole community.
In the past nine years, I have focused on community wildfire preparedness. I expanded the scope of this work to include Weber Fire recovery, and convening the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative.
Since 2018, I’ve served as the executive director, of Fire Adapted Colorado.
What do you see as the role of a county commissioner, and what are some of your priorities? How would you describe your governance style?As a commissioner, I will work with local governments and community organizations to understand the collective will of the people. With a shared vision, we can better align policies, programs and the county budget to support our future needs and desires.
I’m an ideas person who inherently sees opportunities to address underlying problems. I am not afraid to suggest or try a new approach, but I generally test a new strategy at a trial scale. I look to others who have handled similar situations to inform our own local solutions. I encourage residents to get engaged on the issues most important to them.
What are the pros and cons of the current commissioners’ leadership style and actions?For pros, I appreciate Commissioner (Larry Don) Suckla raising issues to higher levels of government and elevating our county’s voice around issues he believes in. I also admire his desire for more action and less talk, though sometimes you have to “go slow to go fast.” Commissioner (Jim) Candelaria has been a voice of reason.
For cons, there is no vision or effort at long-range planning from our commissioners. Outgoing commissioners have participated in efforts as a token representative, nodding agreement, remaining silent, or not showing up, then tearing down what has often been built through years of hard work and collaboration, such as the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association and the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group.
Governance can be a rocky road when there is disagreement. How would you deal with a controversial topic or tough decision where there is strong debate and emotion on all sides about the best approach?I start by looking for common ground and work within the rules and regulations to make a decision that supports the long-term best interest of the most citizens. I would listen to different viewpoints to try to understand the specific issues and base my decisions off of the best available information.
The county commissioners make final decisions on land use applications based on the county land use code. Have you read the land use code?
I have read the current code, which provides very little direction for how we want the county to develop.
I worked in the planning departments for Montezuma County, Mancos and Cortez from 2006-2009, initiating a regional planning group to support our professional development.
If there were a Heavy Industrial application request in an agricultural area with substantial agricultural and residential opposition, how would you handle the situation? Property rights are paramount, but should not infringe on the rights of your neighbors. If a property is already zoned for the proposed industrial use and the development standards can be met, it is ultimately the neighbors’ responsibility to know the allowable development pattern where they live. If the property is not zoned for the industrial use, I would prefer to see a rezoning request.
If there is reason to believe the new use will impose on the rights of the neighboring landowners in ways that cannot be reasonably mitigated and there are other more suitable locations for the industrial development, I would guide the industry to a different location if possible.
If there were an application for a new oil or gas well near a residential subdivision whose residents have concerns regarding the construction process and hazards, how would you handle the situation?Our policies have room to consider all impacts of a proposed land use, and there are often reasonable ways to mitigate neighboring concerns. As commissioner, I will advocate for a process that engages neighboring residents earlier through more robust public notice, and recommending that land use applicants talk with their neighbors about their proposal. There is also a need to ensure our county land use decisions align with policies adopted by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
The current county commission supports completion of the 17-mile Paths to Mesa Verde trail connecting Mancos and Cortez, and has obtained grant funding for final planning. Would you support moving forward on this project?New trails should be for the local community first. We need local control over how we design, build, use and maintain a new trail. I support a trail linkage between Mancos, Mesa Verde, the fairgrounds and Cortez. Trails increase surrounding property values. They can also connect visitors with local products and services if trailheads give ample information and encouragement to spend money in the community.
The county commission has banned retail and commercial marijuana operations in the unincorporated county. Do you support this ban, why or why not?I was surprised at the ban on commercial growing in a community that prides itself on agricultural production, though I agree with the initial reaction to wait to see how industry challenges get worked out. I support the ban on retail sales as there are a plethora of shops in the local city and towns and the county would receive very limited revenues from state sales tax. I wouldn’t consider changing these bans unless a proposal came forward that was able to address all of the concerns of law enforcement and neighboring landowners.
What should the county commission do to help to protect the community from the COVID-19 virus?The County Commissioners should show leadership in establishing new norms and should not promote dichotomous tensions or pretend to be health experts. Montezuma County is a statutory county and must follow and support the policies of the state. Commissioners are statutorily responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.
The county commission should listen to and support the recommendations of experts and health officials and make informed decisions. We have some excellent public health staff that have been doing a tremendous job trying to protect our community.
Kinder Morgan’s CO2 production provides more than 50% of the county tax base. What suggestions do you have to replace that tax revenue and job base when the CO2 resources begin to decline?CO2 extraction is a boom-bust industry founded on nonrenewable resources, but it will be an important part of our landscape for a long time to come. We are likely looking at a drop in tax revenues in 2022 from the current production downturn. This will affect all county and special district services. We are going to have to tighten our belts and focus on maintaining services rather than carrying out long-range projects.
There has been discussion in recent years to ask the voters for a 1% sales tax. Do you support this idea, why or why not? Would you support putting this tax question on the ballot?I support a county visioning process to map out our community values and what we want to maintain and improve in our county as a basis for any ballot proposal to adopt a countywide sales tax. If voters were to consider a sales tax, it could be structured so it doesn’t add tax to essential goods such as food.
Colorado open meeting laws require adequate public notice be given any time two or more commissioners meet to discuss county government business, including through email and phone communication. Will you comply with this law?Of course. I can say hello to a fellow commissioner at an event of mutual interest, but we cannot discuss county business together without public notice since two of us would make a quorum. I will abstain from phone calls with other commissioners. I will be diligent to make sure we don’t discuss items during an executive session that should be part of the public record.
Will you be transparent about potential conflicts of interest and abstain from voting on decisions where you have a conflict of interest?Yes, county commissioners should avoid a conflict of interest when there is a financial, personal or private interest in a matter. If there is a perceived conflict of interest, I will recuse myself and leave the room.