Name: Karen Sheek
Occupation:Co-owner, Seas’nings Catering / Retired Educator
1. How do you define freedom of information, and what three action items will you introduce to guarantee the peoples’ right to know?
Freedom of Information legislation provides a process by which every person may request access to governmental records or information. The purpose is to make our government more transparent and therefore more accountable to the people. The Colorado Open Records Act, passed in 1969, applies to all levels of state government, including cities, counties, school districts, and special districts, and requires that all public records must be available to any person at any reasonable time. In addition, since public business should not be conducted in secret, the Colorado Sunshine Law (1973) legislates how public meetings are conducted. Our city government follows these laws and already has procedures in place to ensure that our citizens can have easy access to information. Council and standing boards hold their meetings at specified times and places and these meetings are open to the public. The agendas and minutes can be downloaded from the city’s user-friendly website, or a citizen may request a copy for a nominal fee. Since guarantees are already in place to assure that the peoples’ right to know is upheld, there aren’t any action items that I would introduce. The city staff and city manager are knowledgeable and welcome citizen questions. As a member of city council, I am always happy to visit with citizens about their concerns or vision for our community, and if I can’t answer a question, I will find out and share that information.
2. Describe the biggest mistake of your professional career. What lessons did you learn?
I don’t know that it was necessarily “the biggest mistake of my professional career,” but I do regret not pursuing an advanced degree sooner than I did. Although as an educator, I was continually taking coursework, the degree opened up new career options and opportunities, and I found the pursuit of my Master’s Degree personally rewarding. What I learned was that pursuing education to open more doors should be a priority.
3. Describe the greatest accomplishment of your professional career. Who is your mentor and why?
I am proud of the information literacy program that I worked on district-wide during my tenure with the RE-1 school district. I strongly believe that if our young people are to become life-long learners, we must teach them information literacy skills and provide opportunities at school to use those skills in real-world scenarios. I am also very proud to be a partner in a catering business that has been successful for 18 years. My parents were my first mentors, and to this day — though both are gone — I ask myself what they would think about something I have done. I’ve been blessed with many mentors, and with each new opportunity or challenge, new ones have emerged who have helped me to become a better, more thoughtful person.
4. What are your top priorities as a council member? Please explain your vision for the city’s future.
I believe that Cortez is on the precipice of great things. Our geography, blue skies, mild weather, and quality of life make us an increasingly attractive location for folks who are tired of the rat race of big city life and appreciate what we have to offer. Upgrading our infrastructure so that it is sound and more cost efficient, continuing to find and implement creative ways to attract new businesses and grow existing businesses, and moving forward with plans to increase the “curb appeal” of our community while ensuring that Cortez is a safe place in which to live are part of my vision. I’m very proud of the positive working relationship we currently have on Council and that Council has with city staff. Much has been accomplished during my tenure, and I would love to continue to work toward moving the city forward.
5. What is the best thing about Cortez, and what is the worst thing about Cortez?
I love the fact that every time I am in town, I see someone I know. The connectedness that one has in a small town is a real plus. I feel safe in Cortez and have always felt this was a great place to raise children, and the older I get, the more I appreciate that this is the place I call home. The economy continues to be an issue. Attracting businesses that can pay a living wage is a priority and implementing effective ways to provide job training and help our citizens understand the importance of furthering their education is critical if we are to have a workforce that is prepared to take advantage of employment opportunities as they present themselves.
6. The city recently partnered with Osprey Packs to create jobs. Describe your blueprint to spur additional economic development?
I believe the city has been creative and forward thinking in planning for future economic development. We increased the size of our industrial park to plan for the future and developed the Geer Natural Park to utilize land that was not suitable for building — making a wonderful addition to our walking and biking trails for residents and a great attraction for those considering moving to or vacationing in Cortez. We must continue to examine other amenities and infrastructure to make Cortez attractive to new businesses. Marketing is important in spurring economic development. The city’s marketing department, Mesa Verde Country, and Cortez Retail Enhancement are headed by creative people. Though they target different markets, they co-ordinate well, and I want to see them continue to develop creative ways to market Cortez and our area.
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?
It will be critical in the weeks ahead that members of our community gather additional information about all of our options and not allow ourselves to simply accept the “first opinion.” I don’t believe a short-term fix is the answer — looking toward the future will be critical in making a good decision that works not just for now but a decade down the road. Blight is an issue, and while difficult to address, I believe we are making progress in working with other governmental entities and agencies to address it. It is also imperative that individual members and business owners in our community embrace the fact that each of us has an obligation to maintain our property and enhance curb appeal as every property contributes to or detracts from the appearance of our city.
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?
Our unusually large snowfall this year has taxed city resources in being able to deal with it. Snow-packed streets, curbs, and sidewalks have been a challenge not only for citizens but also for staff trying to clear them. Although this might be an anomaly, there is the very real possibility that we could experience similar conditions in the future so we should examine our snow policy. We might consider implementing a regulation that no cars may park on Main Street between certain hours after any snowfall and that in neighborhoods where citizens do not have the option to park off of the street, cars may be parked on only one side of the city street — the side determined by the calendar date; i.e. north/south or east/west on odd/even days. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel so researching how this is successfully done in other cities would give us options that we might then tweak to use here.
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.
The city commissioned an access study last fall to evaluate traffic flow in three separate sections of the highway corridor. At the conclusion of that study, recommendations will be made for ways that we can improve safety as well as the appearance of our downtown. I believe it will be critical for the Council and City to examine these recommendations, prioritize them and then quickly work toward implementation. Beautification of the downtown has been discussed for years. We must be creative and open-minded in how this might be accomplished. We will continue to look at grant options, and developing partnerships with downtown business owners might be another way to more quickly move forward in this area. Recognizing businesses that have great curb appeal might also be a consideration for promoting downtown beautification.
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.
Although the governor has declared this project a top priority, the reality is that the wheels of government turn slowly, and realistically, this project will not be completed this year. The city set up community meetings to gather input from citizens and has already contributed $40,000 towards hiring a consulting firm to provide design options. As mayor, I signed a letter in support. While we will continue to be pro-active in our support of this important project, patience is the word of day regarding the Paths to Mesa Verde project.
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?
Prior to this project, the city held informational meetings to visit with residents and answer questions, worked hard to keep residents updated on progress and issues, and used their leverage to move the project forward and address issues when they could. Unfortunately even with the best laid plans, problems did arise. The contractor has been held accountable, and we are hopeful that the project can be quickly completed this spring. I know that none of this diminishes the inconvenience that residents in Paradise Village have experienced, but the truth is that the city has worked hard to make a difficult upgrade as painless as possible. Citizens have done their part as well, and hopefully, once the project is done, they will feel that the upgrade in city infrastructure was worth the inconvenience.
12. The city has passed marijuana legislation. Should those laws be rescinded or expanded? Please explain.
Every decision has an upside and a downside. I do not advocate the use of marijuana personally; however, the people of Colorado spoke when they approved Amendment 64. Long before marijuana was legal, it was a presence in our community, and it is my belief that because it is now legal and is here, we are better off regulating it than prohibiting it and making it an underground activity. Retail and medical marijuana are available 10 miles down the road so thinking that prohibition in Cortez would keep it out of our community is not realistic.
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.
The need for real wages to go up everywhere is an important issue. Current political campaigns, as well as recent studies in our own community, have brought this issue to the forefront of public awareness and discussion. As with most issues, this one has an upside and a downside and to make a hasty decision without considering all of the ramifications would be imprudent. As mentioned earlier, I believe that job training is critical. There are jobs available right now that pay a livable wage in Cortez, as well as throughout the country, that currently cannot be filled because we do not have people with the necessary skills/education to fill them.
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?
Yes! Water conservation presentations have been made at Council workshop sessions, and Council has discussed possible conservation measures. The city actively works to conserve water on city properties and considers xeriscaping principles with any city landscaping project. I would suggest that we research how other communities are conserving water and implement some of their policies that have been effective — from incentives to education.
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?
Alcohol and drug abuse are problems in this community, and we continue to wrestle with ways to deal with it. I do not currently have enough information to speak with any expertise, but this might be an area where a private/public partnership could address a problem that affects us all.