The Crestone Eagle, November 2002:

Candidates court Crestone vote at local forum
by Matie Belle Lakish

The Crestone-Moffat Business Association once again brought the candidates face-to-face with their potential constituency on October 20. The Desert Sage donated space, and area residents responded by filling the hall and asking thoughtful questions that gave candidates an opportunity to “show their stuff”. Hotly contested state races for House District 60 and State Senate District 5, as well as lively County Commissioner, County Clerk, and Sheriff contests make this an important election. Candidates for all of these seats presented summaries of their positions and answered tough questions, giving residents a better-than-average opportunity to assess the candidates. Dennis Neuhaus skillfully moderated.

Connie Trujillo, County Treasurer, and Jacqueline Stephens, County Assessor, are running unopposed, but both thanked Crestonians for their support, and for participating so enthusiastically in the recent auction of tax delinquent properties that netted around $335,000, some of which will provide courthouse access for elderly and handicapped patrons.

County Clerk and Recorder, Marlene Pruitt, is retiring this year, and her position is being sought by Republican Audrey Conley and Democrat Melinda Myers. Audrey has worked in the Clerk's office for six years and states that she is experienced in all aspects of the job. She has two years of college in Business Administration from Adams State. Melinda, Moffat resident and former school board member, states that she has 20 years of business and management experience, including running her own Nature's Sundance floral and gift shop next to the credit union. Melinda has a B.S. in Agriculture.

Sheriff’s candidate Mike Norris is a Democrat and is opposed by independent candidate Gregg Lewis. Mike, a Saguache resident, has been in law enforcement for 14 years, all of which is in this county. He helped build the capacity of the local Search and Rescue and applauds their skill and training. He supports open communication with citizens, strong officer accountability, and budgetary and fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. Gregg Lewis has been a Valley rancher for 35 years and has worked in law enforcement for 5 1/2 years. He stated that he wants to give something back to the people of the Valley.

Tom Perrin, the only candidate for County Coroner, explained that coroners work independently of law enforcement to investigate and determine the cause of death and are the only ones authorized to remove a body from the scene of death. He urged passage of Referendum C, which would provide for minimum qualifications and training for Colorado coroners.

County Commissioner candidates, Republican Joseph Alexander and Democrat Peter Peterson, both agree that major issues for the County are growth, water, and money. Joe, the current commissioner, wants to keep the County essentially rural by keeping parcel size at a minimum of 35 to 40 acres. He also wants to keep water here in the Valley and to work with the limited revenue to keep taxes low. He said it is important to him to treat everyone equally. Peter called for greater community involvement in County decision making. He favors protecting the rural qualities of the County, but he would support more sustainable family farms and businesses, to build an economic base that will encourage youth to return here to live, and would look at innovative ways of clustering homes to provide a sense of community while protecting open space.

Crestone has been included in the new Colorado House District 60, and both Lola Spradley, Republican incumbent, and Emily Tracy, Democratic candidate, spoke about the unorthodox redistricting process that created the district.

Lola has served as representative for five years and is currently house majority leader. She has been working on rural health care issues of availability and affordability. She also cited her work on open space and conservation easements and her passion for preserving the agricultural lifestyle of Colorado, as well as attempting to keep more water in Colorado.

Emily described the new house district, which is essentially rural. Protection of rural water is a high priority, and she is involved in a coalition of 58 rural counties working to preserve local water and mitigate the consequences on communities when water is moved. She believes the state could provide more technical support to rural communities to speed economic development, and she stated her strong support for public and charter schools. She would examine state finances and seek some changes to the TABOR amendment before entire programs are eliminated.

Rafael Lorenzo Gallegos is the Democratic candidate for Colorado Senate District 5. Lewis Entz, Republican incumbent, was not present. Mr. Gallegos, a meteorologist from Conejos County, mentioned that current weather patterns are expected to last for another 12 to 15 months, making local control of water vital to rural areas.

Bill McClure, current commissioner, campaigned to extend term limits for County Commissioners from 8 years to 12 years. Generally, the argument used for extending term limits is a difficulty in recruiting candidates. That is rarely the case for commissioner, however. Mr. McClure wants to continue working on issues that he anticipates will be unfinished in two years when his second term expires.

A tax levy for a Northern Saguache County Ambulance District to serve rural areas and the town of Crestone is on the ballot. POA members would not pay the tax, because they currently fund the Baca Ambulance through POA dues. The Baca ambulance would continue to serve areas outside the Baca, but would be able to recoup some expenses, which is not now the case.

A lively discussion followed, with questions regarding redistricting, social services, and the use of excessive force by Sheriff’s Deputies. But, by far, the overriding concern for all was—water.

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