Name: Jill Carlson
Party Affiliation: Unaffiliated
1. How do you define freedom of information, and what three action items would you introduce to guarantee the peoples’ right to know?
I believe that freedom of information grants individuals the right to review documents produced and records made by public agencies. The Colorado Open Records Act governs how records requests may be made (C.R.S. §24-72-201- C.R.S. §24-72-309). I believe that the Colorado Open Records Act provides citizens adequate measures to request these records, as it provides that a citizen may request records and have them produced by the agency in a timely manner (subject to limited exceptions). The City does not currently have a public information officer and that may be beneficial as there would be one person whom all requests and releases may go through. I would also advocate the use of local media sources to convey factually accurate information regarding City matters to citizens. Finally, the City of Cortez website contains a great deal of city documents but there is not a central search source through the website. Working with the tech department to determine if an easy search feature could be implemented could make government documents more easily accessible to the public.
2. Describe the biggest mistake of your professional career. What lessons did you learn?
In the past, I had a tendency to take career matters too personally. When I was just starting out in my career, I was dealing with those who had been in the profession longer than me. Routine “attorney moves” sometimes felt like personal attacks and I let it bother me far more than it should have. I had to change my perception of these “moves” and realize that these actions were simply my opposition doing their jobs by advocating for their clients and that, at the end of the day, the case would be over and we would be moving onto something new. I have learned to address conflict with opposition by being direct, attempting to correct the problem, and if, ultimately, the problem was not capable of resolution, continuing to do my job to benefit my client and answering for myself and my actions. It has made me be conscious of how I want the public and my clients to perceive me while in the face of adversity.
3. Describe the greatest accomplishment of your professional career. Who is your mentor and why?
I have been fortunate to establish and run my own business at a time when the legal market was waning and the economy was faltering. While my business has only been operational since 2012, I believe I have had success as the only female solo law practitioner in Cortez for the last three and a half years. I believe that getting to this point is my greatest accomplishment thus far that I hope to surpass in the near future. I have had a combination of mentors, including my parents, former professors and classmates, local attorneys, clients, etc. It is impossible for me to cite one person as having been my mentor as I learn something from nearly every person I encounter.
4. What are your top priorities as a councilmember? Please explain your vision for the city’s future.
I have a lot of priorities as a councilmember. My personal priority is to ensure that those of my generation begin taking an active role in our local government. Eventually, the torch will pass and we need to have a group of committed, conscientious, community-minded individuals ready to lead the city. I believe in supporting and listening to local businesses. I am also interested in continuing to support and develop tourism initiatives that can bring extra revenue into the area.
5. What is the best thing about Cortez, and what is the worst thing about Cortez?
Cortez has a good sense of community. We have some excellent facilities and events. Those who support Cortez are the most voracious advocates of the many wonderful attributes of this town. Many of us have been here forever and we love our community. With that being said, while it’s not the worst thing of a town, some of have complained about an elitist mentality or a cliquish atmosphere amongst those of us locals. Sometimes we are not always welcoming of newcomers or new business owners and I think we need to work to change that. These individuals can benefit the community and we should welcome that!
6. The city recently partnered with Osprey Packs to create jobs. Describe your blueprint to spur additional economic development?
It’s important for Cortez to attract new businesses to this area. Those businesses will bring jobs and tax revenue to the area and benefit the community. If we promote our City to potential new businesses, we will all benefit. We should use outreach programs to attract new businesses, while continuing to support locally-owned established businesses.
7. In recent months, there’s been a debate about over the former Montezuma-Cortez High School building on 7th Street. What would you suggest to remedy the issue? And what would you do to bridge efforts with other government/agencies to reduce blight and beautify city corridors?
I believe the City needs to draw the line and rely on the promises of demolition of the old building made by the former superintendent (representing the Re-1 School District) while pushing the school bond issue. The City should take steps to enforce those promises and compel the District to commence the demolition, even if that requires judicial action. While I would love for the building to rehabilitated and repurposed, it sounds as if the health hazards posed by the facility are so great that the building has been rendered unusable by anyone. Until there is evidence that asbestos and mercury abatement are feasible and affordable strategies, we need to continue to advocate for safe and expeditious demolition and clean up. We cannot ignore the building in hopes that the issue will go away and I believe the City needs to continue to remind the school district of their obligations regarding the facility.
8. Many in the community have been upset with the city’s response in clearing snow from the roadways. What updates to the city code, if any, should be made to alleviate future grumblings?
The current city code only mentions snow removal in two locations. In both instances, the onus is on the owners or developers of property within the city to remove snow. There is no section mandating the City to remove snow. However, the Colorado Revised Statutes state that the city has the power to lay out, establish, open, alter, widen, extend, grade, pave, or otherwise improve streets . . . to regulate the use of the streets; to prevent and remove encroachments or obstructions upon the same . . . and to provide for the cleansing of the same. C.R.S. §31-15-702(1)(a)(I). The City Code should be updated to require the Council to establish a routine plowing schedule that will be implemented in times of excessive snow or extreme hazard and will cover all paved roads within the Cortez City Limits. This should be the City’s duty, as clean roads are beneficial for public safety.
9. The city appears likely to approve outdoor dining and alcohol sales. What additional measures should the city examine to boost and support downtown business owners?
A strong local economy helps to support the city. The measures for outdoor dining and sales lead to our Main Street having more of a culture than it currently has. We need to make Main Street a destination spot for locals and visitors alike. If business is thriving downtown, that may lead to the creation of new businesses and empty storefronts would hopefully be eliminated. The City can aid in supporting this initiative by working with the Cortez Retail Enhancement Association, the local public radio station, local business owners, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. to make the outdoor dining a success. Perhaps the City may look at doing a Main Street gathering event (i.e. the 1st and 3rd Fridays of June, July, August at night) where there could be bands, street vendors, etc. This will drive people towards Main Street and hopefully lead to all business owners having increased business and there being a visual presence that the town is thriving to those driving down Main Street.
10. The governor recently declared the Paths to Mesa Verde project a top priority for 2016. What would you do to ensure that trail way becomes a reality this year?
I strongly support this initiative. No citizen could deny that mountain biking and trail riding have led to an increase in tourism to our area. The City has already pledged support to this project and I believe that we should follow through with that support. While this is not to be solely a City project, it will inevitably benefit our city and local businesses financially and we should do whatever is fiscally and feasibly necessary to ensure that this project can be completed.
11. The Paradise Village infrastructure improvement project is behind schedule. How would you ease tensions among the frustrated residents that live in that area, and what financial steps should be taken now to ensure future infrastructure improvements?
After reviewing the issues with the Paradise Village, it appears that there were a culmination of factors that led to the delay of the project, including the weather. The residents were promised completion by November 3, 2015 and as we all know, that date has come and gone. While it’s a small consolation, perhaps an apology to the residents for the unrealistic expectations and a promise of timely completion once the weather cooperates would go far. The problem here is that these repairs had to be done. The concrete sewer pipes had been eroding and it was better to get them fixed, rather than wait for them to break and then address the problem. I don’t think that it’s a matter of taking financial steps to ensure improvements but perhaps a scheduled rollout of continuing infrastructure improvements (street by street, block by block) so that an entire subdivision is not torn up at once. This is just a planning issue and I believe that the Public Works and the Planning Department will take steps in the future to ensure that similar projects do not suffer from the same problems.
12. The city has passed marijuana legislation. Should those laws be rescinded or expanded? Please explain.
I do not think the laws should be rescinded. In reviewing the laws of the City of Cortez, the only law that I feel should be expanded is the hours of operation of the local facilities. Under the current City Code, the local marijuana establishments are entitled to operate between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. The State allows retail marijuana establishments to operate between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. A number of studies pertaining to the after-effects of retail legalization show that the tax revenue is a boon to local economies within the State which have recreational facilities. While it may seem that the rationale behind the 7:00 p.m. close time was to prevent criminal activity or driving under the influence, a fact sheet from DrugPolicy.org shows that marijuana-related criminal activity and marijuana-related impaired driving within the State of Colorado decreased after January 1, 2014, when recreational sales were legalized. The rationale behind expanding hours of operation is that there will be greater sales tax revenue for the city, which will go to support projects within the city. All study data obtained from The Drug Policy Alliance at www.drugpolicy.org (Marijuana Arrests in Colorado After the Passage of Amendment 64; March 25, 2015); (Marijuana Legalization in Colorado- One Year Status Report; January 5, 2015)
13. Recent studies have indicated that affordable housing coupled with a living wage are needed in Cortez. Would you support a city ordinance setting a $15/hour minimum wage? If not, list other proposals to address the issue.
I would not support any city ordinance mandating local employers to meet any minimum wage that exceeds the state minimum, which is higher than the federal rate. The local study that I believe is being referred to is the Southwest Colorado Index Livable Wages Report produced by Region 9 Economic District of Southwest Colorado which was recently detailed in an article in The Journal (January 4, 2016). These problems are not unique to Cortez, Montezuma County or even the State of Colorado; however, there is a reason why there has been consistent failure across the United States to establish a $15 minimum wage. It is not sustainable for the long term. Mandated increase in pay to private employers will lead to employers terminating employees. As Colorado is and remains a Right to Work State, an employee can be terminated at any point in time without cause and I believe that requiring employers to pay inflated wages will lead to a worse economic scenario, as those making lower wages with little skills or training may find themselves without any employment, as employers seek to justify a $15/hour rate with a more qualified candidate. I have no specific proposal on this issue; however, I believe that our local agencies, including the Montezuma County Housing Authority, the Montezuma County Department of Social Services, and the Pinon Project among others are doing their best to support the lower earning citizens and that if there are areas that the City is empowered to assist with, that assistance be offered.
14. Water rights are king in the west. Should the city council take an active role to promote conservation, and what proposals would you submit to help promote water conservation?
The City Code already establishes a plan for Water Conservation (See Cortez Municipal Code, Chapter 27, Article VI- Water Conservation Plan). The City has adopted the City of Cortez Water Conservation Plan and according to that document (found at www.cityofcortez.com), there are a number of goals that the city set in 2010, including: 1. Reducing the gallons per capita per day need of the local area, 2. fully metering and monitoring water consumption and usage, 3. Improving quantification of water loss, and 4. Instituting an automatic metering read system. The City Council should ensure that these goals are being met and modified to achieve new goals as the previous goals are being achieved. The City also should take an active role towards ensuring the quality and cleanliness of the potable water to ensure that the citizens are receiving healthy drinking water and can do so by monitoring the actions of the Sanitation Department and holding them accountable to clean water benchmark standards.
15. Law enforcement and mental health advocates argue that a detox center is needed. Do you support that initiative? What would you do to make it a reality?
I support this initiative. It is no secret that substance abuse and mental health complications are problematic. The local courts have attempted to address the problem with the institution of special courts (DUI court and Drug court); however, as funding is slim for these courts, there is an underserved section of the population struggling with substance abuse/mental health that often find themselves in and out of jail and court. Picking these people up, throwing them in jail, and, after a court hearing, releasing them on the condition that they remain sober and/or seek treatment and pay a fine is not solving the problem. Many of these individuals cannot maintain a job and do not have the ability to seek treatment to remain sober. Thus, after being released, it is often a short time before they are back in front of the judge again and the cycle is a drain on the individual, the courts, and tax payers. If we can implement a detox center as an early intervention strategy prior to judicial action, it could serve to lessen the cycle and improve the health of citizens of Montezuma County who suffer from substance abuse and/or mental health issues. I would question whether a detox center would be the responsibility of the City or the County; however, the City should assist in any way that it is empowered to assist in implementing this facility.