Chad Wheelus is a longtime local who teaches at Southwest Open High School. Gerald “Jerry” Whited has also lived in Dolores for many years and is an EMT and firefighter for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in Towaoc.
The candidates answered questions from The Journal, and will also be at a candidates forum on March 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Dolores Community Center. In addition to the mayor candidates, there are also 11 candidates running for four open seats on the town council, and they are also invited to the candidates forum.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
WHEELUS: The primary reason my name is on the ballot is because I was asked by a number of friends and community members. Secondly, as an educator who teaches civics, I encourage my students to practice civic engagement or get involved. So running for mayor is also a matter of “practice what you preach”.
WHITED: I was motivated to run for mayor because I knew I could make a positive change in my community. The thing is that when I moved here I knew my son was going to grow up here, and teaching him to be a responsible citizen, where your handshake is your word and you look out for your neighbors is huge for me. In larger cities we see those values going away. So balancing that with larger cities we see those values going away. So balancing that with economic growth will be my focus. Being a firefighter/EMT-I, also know how to handle emergency situations, and how other government entities can work with us to achieve our goals.
Do you have any specific goals or projects you would work toward if elected?
WHEELUS: I have no personal agenda in being a public servant. I would only say that my goal is to serve with dignity and respect and to do the best I can for my community.
WHITED: First I would like to work on being transparent, putting meeting agendas and minutes on our website, including key citizens in discussions, information gathered, and letting the public know our future goals and projects. I am already meeting with local leaders and businesses to find out their passions and their struggles, so that I can have a clearer picture about our town needs, where we stand, and where we can go from here.
Where does Dolores need improvement, and how would you help accomplish that as a board member?
WHEELUS: As a public servant it would be my job to listen to perspectives from all parties on what needs improvement and then work to the best my ability to prioritize and make those improvements happen. I will say this, rural towns everywhere face an imposing issue in today’s society and that is how to stay viable? This would always be a guiding question, in my mind, as I serve the town of Dolores.
WHITED: Our biggest challenge will be finding ways to increase revenue for the town and its businesses. How do we get more traffic coming in? Are there untapped opportunities we need to pursue? How can we make Dolores a place to visit and return to again and again, and not just during the summer tourist season? I would work with the board, town staff and our businesses to find ways to increase people visiting and spending their money in our town.
What skills do you have that would make you a good town board member?
WHEELUS: In serving as mayor of Dolores I think I have two thinking skills that would be of value. One is the fact that I am an independent thinker and not easily swayed by misleading argument or information, no matter the source. Secondly, I am a systems thinker. I work hard to see the connections between things and understand how a decision may influence other parts of the system.
WHITED: My biggest asset is I listen and can talk to anyone easily. I also believe that when someone takes time out of their busy schedule to ask a question or voice a concern, they should get a timely response and not just be brushed off. I like to focus on solutions, and not spend time pointing fingers. In my line of work, I have always been able to perform under pressure and come up with effective solutions that work for everyone.
What is your professional and educational background?
WHEELUS: I have been a teacher, in public education, for 20 years. I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado.
WHITED: I currently work as a Firefighter, EMT-I, in Towaoc, Colorado. I have several certificates from the state of Colorado for firefighting and emergency medicine. I have certificates from FEMA for Incident command 100 through 800. I also have Incident command experience. I have helped start up, run, and grow a small business, Tailwind Nutrition, for three years in Dolores before it outgrew the building we were housed in, and it was forced to move to a different location. While working there I developed operating procedures, managed and hired staff. I was involved in setting up international shipping of orders and meeting deadlines. I also have taught community education classes to the public.
Do you have any ideas for improving economic development in town?WHEELUS: There are far more qualified persons to speak to specific economic development goals than me but what I would say, again, is that staying viable and relevant in an ever growing metropolitan world is vital to our small community. I come from a family of small business owners and have seen their successes and struggles over the years. We are a town of small businesses and I certainly think doing everything we can in local government to foster that entrepreneurial spirit throughout the community is important.
WHITED: Better signage is an easy first step to get more people to explore our town. The Chamber of Commerce is working on some sign projects right now and I plan on working with them on this. The other is to showcase all the things we have to offer. For example, McPhee Lake is the second largest lake in the state, and we have the third best mountain biking. We’re rated number two to four, depending on where you look, for ATV trails. We are number three for hunting and number two for fishing in the whole state of Colorado, and all this is right here in the area we live in. The only problem is that no one really knows. Another way to increase economic development is to encourage new business to open up, by offering them guidance and possibly other incentives to help them establish themselves.
Do you support the town’s plan to build a new playground at Joe Rowell park?
WHEELUS: Yes. I feel a town is not a community without lots of public space for kids and adults to gather, play and interact. I was involved, with students, in building the original playground and thought it was a fantastic community effort. But, having worked in the public sector, I also understand risk management and therefore understand the town’s responsibility for safety and the unfortunate decision to remove the old playground.
WHITED: Yes, but I would like to see it expanded to included activities for teens and other age groups. Teens need to have a place to socialize, otherwise they wander around town aimlessly looking for things to do, constructive or not. Some ideas that I have heard from others would be a skate park, or a game area for teens and adults. I’d like to see what other ideas the community has that we could implement. The other part is funding the project and working on grants, fundraising, and budgeting for the build, along with a plan for the continual maintenance of the new playground. After going over the current budget, the current board has in place funds set aside for grant purposes to help build a new beautiful playground.
What do you love about Dolores?
WHEELUS: In a word, “livability.” I appreciate the small-town feel but also the connection to other towns in our region that provide resources and opportunities. I appreciate the phenomenal access to public land and natural resources. Lastly, I appreciate that Dolores is the type of town where a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, professions and interests can live.
WHITED: I love all the recreational activities and natural beauty this town has to offer. I am an avid outdoors guy, and am grateful for the opportunities that my family and I have to get out there and fish, hunt, mountain bike, ATV, and explore the rivers and lakes. I also love the sense of community and small town feel, where I know my neighbors and my neighbors know me.