In this year’s municipal election, eight people are running for five open Cortez City Council positions in the April 3 election.
Incumbents Jill Carlson and Orly Lucero are both running for their second terms. The other candidates are: 74-year-old Mike Lavey, retired; Sue Betts, 65, retired police officer; Gary Noyes, 40, Shamrock Foods delivery driver; Geof Byerly, 53, a fatherhood program coordinator at The Piñon Project; Jonathan Walker, 47, maintenance worker at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; and 61-year-old Lance McDaniel, retired from a career in transportation and management.
The candidates answered the following questions by email and in interviews. Their responses have been edited for grammar, style and length where necessary.
In light of the U.S. Attorney General’s recent decision to revoke the Cole Memorandum, the federal government’s non-interference policy on marijuana businesses in states where the drug is legal, do you think the city of Cortez should change its policy on weed? If so, how?
Betts: I have some mixed feelings with the marijuana issues. At this time I believe we need to see what the federal government plans to do with the non-interference policy before Cortez looks at changing policies they already have in place.
Byerly: It is my feeling that the state has voted on this issue and to my understanding, local officials are effectively managing issues related to legalization. As the industry is established and the community adapts to the responsibility that comes with these changes, I see little reason to alter the current course.
Carlson: No change. We need to strengthen our state’s autonomy and lessen the federal stranglehold on local economies.
Lavey: I don’t think we should change our policy on marijuana dispensaries or growing facilities. The people of Colorado have voted in favor of both medical and recreational cannabis and their opinions should be honored. However, we should continue to warn the public of the dangers of marijuana usage by children and while driving, and the penalties for unlawful consumption.
Lucero: I don’t see any changes needing to be made. The city abides by state rules and regulations and we have not had any problems.
McDaniel: In my opinion, Cortez has a responsible recreational and medical marijuana policy. The policy was implemented with public input, good research and in a responsible way.
Noyes: I don’t know what all of the city’s policies are. I do know it has to be regulated, and every business has to do their part. It’s a pretty gray area. If I was elected, I would definitely have to educate myself more on it.
Walker: I know it will take some time to get used to, but if we see this as the opportunity that it is for our town, then we can mitigate any potential negative effects. There are also opportunities for the agricultural community in industrial hemp production. If we explore innovative ways to use marijuana and hemp — beyond recreational use — we could then benefit in growing an actual cash crop. I would look at improving safety measures for the dispensaries, growers, consumers, and the public at large.
Although it has improved since the recession, Montezuma County still has the highest unemployment rate in the region, according to data from Region 9. How can the city council continue to foster economic development and the creation of jobs in town?
Betts: Looking at employment, I believe the city should continue to encourage new business and industry in this area.
Byerly: City council can continue to respond sensitively to the needs of the small businesses that are experiencing success in the community. Supporting existing businesses will mean the creation of a climate that is attractive to new business. We get to be creative in how we lure and keep all business thriving in a community that cannot depend forever on oil and gas.
Carlson: Partnering with employers and agencies to identify vacancies and provide and support opportunities to put job seekers in touch with jobs, i.e. job fairs, resume workshops, etc.
Lavey: The city should continue to work on partnering with Montezuma County Economic Development Association, Region 9, Small Business Development Center and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade and have an advisory board to focus on this mission of economic development. We should encourage and support the businesses that are established and attract new business by being more open to new organizations and eliminating barriers that would hinder them.
Lucero: Continue a search for businesses that want to move into our area, then perhaps offer tax breaks and be supportive and helpful getting them to move to Cortez. It is also important that we continue to support our local businesses as well.
McDaniel: Laying fiber optic line for reliable broadband service is a large step in that direction. I don’t believe Osprey (Packs) would have stayed local without it. We need to work and expand tourism. We need downtown parking for tour buses and RVs. We should do what we can to make Cortez a stop-and-stay area instead of a pass-through area.
Noyes: There are jobs here. If you go to the workforce center, they’ve got plenty of jobs here. It’s just a matter of getting people to want to work. I think first, we start with letting people know that there are jobs out there. Then we’ve got to make it more appealing for people who want to bring a business here.
Walker: I have experienced unemployment when the bottom dropped out of the oil market and Kinder Morgan delayed plans they had for expansion in our area. The impact this had in the region proves how reliant we are on the oil and gas industry, which will always boom and bust. We need to encourage the development of new, diverse and innovative industries in the area so that we do not have all our eggs in one basket. We need to ensure that we retain resources like the Cortez Municipal Airport, and develop other resources like telecommunications. We need to recognize the importance of our schools in providing a well-trained and skilled workforce for potential employers. We need to acknowledge that businesses are not going to move their families into an area with a struggling school district that cannot retain teachers or provide safe and reliable school buses. We also need to acknowledge the importance of the outdoor recreation industry and tourism, and the roles they play in bringing cash flow to local businesses.
In 2008, the city put forward a comprehensive plan with several goals that summed up where Cortez should be in 2020, including diversity, a multimodal transportation network, outstanding education and other qualities. What goals do you think the city has achieved since then, and what still needs to be done by 2020?
Betts: We should hold citizen meetings and find out what they believe we are still needing. We have definitely made some improvements but are not close to having what the people requested, such as excellent education, which has improved.
Byerly: The addition of some wonderful restaurants downtown in close proximity to the Sunflower Theater and KSJD have invigorated Main Street. Osprey construction instills confidence in the relationship Cortez can maintain with business. The hospital expansion and new courthouse are benchmarks to measure the growth of Cortez. Having a new high school is a wonderful addition to the city, but until we can assure the continued availability of high quality teachers, we will fall short. Transporting children in unsafe school buses cannot continue. Cortez gets to recommit to the goal of outstanding education for our children by considering how additional funding, or incentives, will be garnered to adequately compensate and attract teachers.
Carlson: I believe Cortez is becoming much more diverse. I believe we still need to work on accessibility to businesses and local public transportation.
Lavey: The city is making progress on the Comprehensive Plan. Plans are being made for creating a multimodal transportation network of trails that would connect homes, parks, hiking trails, bicycle paths, shopping centers and restaurants. We are encouraging cultural diversity by implementing a new homeless shelter and living accommodations, a bustling downtown scene with outdoor dining and Sunflower Theatre. The city supports brilliant night skies by using lower wattage street lights with shades that direct the light downward. We have a state-of-the-art high school to foster outstanding education. We have numerous affordable quality neighborhoods with more in the future.
Lucero: Goals are usually ongoing in an effort to continually improve programs and follow through with policies put forth. Heart and Soul met ongoing objectives to increase opportunities for public participation in decision-making in city projects. The city continues to make changes that will benefit the majority of this community, and welcomes public input at any time.
McDaniel: I believe we have made advancements on several of the goals brought forth in the long-term plan. The city needs to continue to work on better communication with our community. Youth involvement is a key step for a great community. Council members should be meeting with youth groups of all interests. Taking advantage of our cultural and scenic diversity is also something we need to continue to develop. I believe we do need to make getting around downtown easier for all. If that includes bike taxis or a small bus or two to run at different times, it is certainly something we need to look into. The city also needs to look at making the entrances to town more attractive, and work with the owners of vacant buildings to make our town more inviting for visitors.
Noyes: With the recreational part, there’s a lot of things out there for people to do: softball, basketball, volleyball, or just go to the Rec Center. I think they’ve done a pretty good job on that. As far as “safe, affordable housing,” I think there is affordable housing. I don’t know that it’s safe, affordable housing. Some of it is probably pretty safe, but overall, it needs help. We also need to work on outstanding education. I know we tried to get teacher raises and it didn’t quite go through, but there’s still room for it. I would say we’re halfway done on the education part.
Walker: Finding a way to promote goals like infrastructure development, improvements in education and affordable housing will help the economy in Cortez to continue to improve and strengthen. Regarding increased diversity in Cortez, I think that things have improved in some ways, and that we are more inclusive than we were 10 years ago, but when I hear that friends have had to deal with racial slurs while grocery shopping, I see that we have work to do to promote diversity and civility.
If you are elected, what is the first thing you hope to do as a council member?
Betts: If elected to council the first thing I would do is look at the complete package and learn as much as possible about the position while talking to the citizens, and become a voice for them.
Byerly: If elected, my first order of business will be to become acquainted with the other board members. I will strive to create an effective group dynamic that will prove inviting to the community and support a level of engagement that has the Council making decisions that truly reflect constituents. There will be a steep learning curve that will find me reaching out to those whose opinions and experience I value. I am excited to establish myself as a contact for concerned citizens and becoming an advocate for positive growth in a community that I have come to love.
Carlson: Show up to the next meeting on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.
Lavey: As a senior citizen, I would like to request a more effective sound system for the city council chambers. While sitting in the citizen’s audience area, I overhear comments about not being able to hear speakers clearly. I believe that the city council should do everything to encourage attendance at meetings. We have a beautiful City Hall, good seating, superb recording equipment and with probably minor adjustments, a perfect atmosphere for public participation in local government.
Lucero: If I am elected, I will continue to listen to the public and bring their concerns to the city council meetings. The more involved the community is, the better our community can be.
McDaniel: I would make myself available to any citizen in town.
Noyes: I would want to, I guess, just absorb. There’s so much there behind the scenes that people never see, so I know it’ll take some time, but that’s the first thing I would do, is learn all I can.
Walker: I believe that one of the most pressing issues this year is going to be water conservation and fire preparedness. Of course it is too early to predict what the fire season is going to be like, but I think it is safe to assume that if we don’t see a dramatic improvement in the snowpack, we are in trouble. Water conservation is, and should continue to be, a priority in Cortez.