Commissioner finalists take community, committee questions | CraigDailyPress.com

Commissioner finalists take community, committee questions

Vacancy Committee has until Tuesday to make decision

Bridget Manley

Finalists in the selection process for a new District 2 Moffat County commissioner took questions from the community Sunday night ranging from energy development and land use to county operations and area values.

The forum, moderated by KRAI and Craig Daily Press, was held on behalf of the Moffat County Republican Party Vacancy Committee. The forum followed the Nov. 29 death of former District 2 Commissioner Saed Tayyara.

The committee selected John Wellman, Jean Stetson, Audrey Danner and Byron Willems as its four finalists for the vacant position.

All four finalists boasted experience working on local boards or organizations.

Wellman, current Moffat County Fair Board president, formerly served on the County Land Use Board and the Moffat County School Board.

Willems, a first-term city councilor, has experience with the Colorado State Firefighting Association and the Craig Rural Fire Protection District board.

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Danner is executive director of Yampa Valley Partners, while Stetson has been a member of the Northwest Colorado Greater Sage-Grouse Working Group from 1996 to 2008.

Energy development and land use

The energy industry’s future in Moffat County surface repeatedly in questions gathered by local media, committee members and the public.

Willems and Wellman said that the energy industry makes up a significant part of the county’s financial system.

However, Stetson pointed out possible changes in the coal industry as having an impact on the county’s revenue. She suggested Moffat County brace itself for future changes in energy operations, including Colowyo Coal Co. The coal mining company is currently based in Moffat County but is scheduled to follow a local coal seam south to Rio Blanco County by 2011.

“All these thing have an impact on the tax base of Moffat County,” she said, adding that these changes require the county to expand its economy.

Danner agreed.

“Natural resources are very important and we can’t lose sight of that at any point,” she said.

Energy development is a topic her organization has taken pains to investigate. (Yampa Valley Partners hosts an annual energy summit designed to shed light on the industry’s local operations.

She also suggested the county look at other sources of revenue, including tourism, that could make the area economy less dependent on oil, gas and coal companies.

Questions regarding government land use elicited similar responses.

The Moffat County Commission should work with federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, Stetson said, to ensure responsible land development.

Wellman suggested the Moffat County Commission rely on input from the County Land Use Board and community members, as well as communicating with federal government agencies.

From there, a commissioner must “make the best decision you with the most information you can get,” he said.

County operations

When asked whether they were in favor of hiring a county manager, Stetson, Wellman and Danner said the position could prove useful to the county.

However, they added, the decision depended largely on whether the county could afford one.

Willems, however, stood in favor of the move whole-heartedly, referencing to his experience on the city council.

“I can’t imagine the city working without a city manager,” he said.

In his estimation, having a county manager would place the county commission in charge of one individual rather than the whole county, thereby simplifying the commissioners’ duties.

When it came to supporting city and county collaboration, all finalists agreed they would support such a move, albeit at different levels.

“I think it’s a very important thing,” Willems said. “I think it needs to be worked on.”

Wellman also stood behind the measure, pointing out that a closer working relationship between the entities would help them address their responsibilities that overlap.

Danner agreed that a working partnership between city and county is necessary,

“I’d say it’s certainly a lofty goal,” she said, adding that communication between the two entities is vital.

“I don’t think it will be my top priority, but I do think it’s important,” Stetson said.

County support for economic groups, hospital

Finalists were also asked if the county should support the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership and the Moffat County Tourism Association.

If asked that question two years ago, Willems said he would have opposed aiding the former.

Since then, however, he’s changed his mind.

“EDP has changed a lot in the last year,” he said, adding that the group seems to be more successful now that in previous years.

Wellman favored supporting organizations that bolster local tourism trades.

“I think most of our local businesses and most of our revenue is dependent on tourism,” he said.

Stetson said the county should support both entities, but wasn’t sure to what degree.

Danner, however, stood in support of the groups’ efforts to bring tourism dollars into the area.

In regards to supporting The Memorial Hospital, however, all four finalists pointed to a bond issue passed in November 2007 designed to pay about half of the construction costs for a new hospital building. County support to the hospital, the said, should focus on health services required in the area.

Differences of opinion

Finalists were also asked to describe how their stances might differ from those of other commissioners and with the voting public, which 2008 general election results revealed is mostly conservative.

Danner said she knows issues in which she might disagree with the commission but declined to specify, saying “some of that is past history.”

She and other finalists questioned whether Moffat County could still be considered a fiscally-conservative area.

Danner pointed the November 2007 election, in which voters passed bond issues for the construction of a new hospital and capital upgrades across the school district, including new middle school construction.

“That is very commendable,” she said.

Willems also said that he would differ with the commission on some areas, but added that an occasional split vote isn’t a bad thing.

“Any board that votes all the same together : is not a healthy board,” he said.

The vacancy committee has until Tuesday to appoint the next district 2 commissioner. If a decision is not reached by then, the task of finding Tayyara’s replacement will fall to Gov. Bill Ritter.

However, committee members said they plan to appoint a new commissioner at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com