Election Forum Part 1: Mayoral candidates address economy, recreation, leadership
In a modified debate format, Mayor John Ponikvar and Craig City Councilman Jarrod Ogden voiced their views about the city’s future during the Craig Press and Craig Association of Realtors candidate forum, held Monday, March 18, at Moffat County High School in advance of the April 2 municipal election.
The forum was organized into two parts — a modified debate between mayoral candidates and a question-and-answer style forum for council candidates. Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman moderated the forum in place of Craig Press Editor Jim Patterson, who was unable to attend. Each candidate was given two minutes to open with a statement about his vision for the city.
“We will not live in the past …” Ponikvar said, as he outlined his vision to “engage our youth, value our seniors, support and promote our lifestyle to the world.” He said he believes this is “the most exciting time I’ve ever seen …” in the history of Craig.
Craig has “a window of opportunity for the next two years” to attract and retain new businesses, Ponikvar said, pointing to his education, experience, time, and energy as strengths he would bring to a second term as Craig’s mayor.
Ogden said his vision is to “invest back into our community …” He emphasized the importance of small businesses, partnerships, and fostering great relationships, adding that he wants to initiate a review of the city charter to change “things that don’t make sense, things that might be hindering things in the community..”
The Craig Press solicited questions from readers and selected three issue areas around which to quiz mayoral candidates.
Ogden who currently works as both transportation and facilities and maintenance director for the Moffat County School District said, “I’m a spaz; I like to be busy. The challenge is the thing I accept the most …” He added that serving as mayor “is not a lot different from what I’m currently doing at city council and at work.”
In contrast, Ponikvar said, “It takes time to do this job. I have the time …”
He described the “great” staff at his business — NAPA T & H Auto Parts — which affords him the opportunity to attend meetings throughout the day and take trips across the state to represent the city. He cited one such as a trip he made last week to Golden to lobby for a $1 million grant to support planned changes to Craig’s water system.
Readers wanted to know how Ponikvar planned to address the perception of business conflicts of interest and whether the mayor — as a business owner — profited from normal city business.
“… What I offer to the city is no more than I did before I got onto council. …,” he said. “You will not see me soliciting business from any city entity. I stay out of it.”
Ogden, who formerly owned Three Sons Construction in Craig, said that, when he owned his business, he abstained from voting “if something came up.” In his new role with the school district, Ogden said he represents the district. but added “there is no personal gain. … It has been helpful to foster the strong relationship between school district and city.”
The candidates also articulated different approaches to their involvement in the day-to-day oversight of city business.
Ponikvar described attending regular staff meetings. Ogden, on the other hand, said he intends to “allow department heads to do their jobs unencumbered. … They have done a wonderful job over the decades.”
Ogden added that he felt it was important to “continue the city of Craig’s transparency with community and constituents.”
The candidates were given an opportunity to describe what City Council is currently doing to attract and retain new businesses and young professionals, as well as specific actions they would take to attract both. Both Ponikvar and Ogden emphasized the need for additional amenities to help make the community both appealing and retain young professionals.
Both spoke about recent efforts to revitalize downtown businesses with a matching grant program, new investments in Breeze Park, and trail improvements under the Master Parks and Recreation plan, finalized late last year.
About the grant program, which will see the city give a dollar for dollar match up to $10,000, Ponikvar said, “If you have a $20,000 project that will upgrade your business, we will become your partner.”
Ponikvar also spoke of his work to support growth at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
Ogden noted his recent work in bringing the city, school district, and Humane Society together in the creation of the town’s first dog park. He also said he would continue to encourage city staff to maintain the downtown snow removal program instituted this year.
The two men expressed different views on the role of community development versus economic development.
Ponikvar spoke of his disappointment that council didn’t fund the Moffat County Economic Development Partnership.
“They had a long-term vision for economic development …,” Ponikvar said, noting that Yampa Valley Electric Association was preparing to launch residential broadband services, something he said “would not have come here without what Michelle Perry did. … We still need a vision for the future and that your mayor will offer that vision and lead it for the future.”
In contrast, Ogden said he believes economic development begins with developing the community. He also expressed a willingness to fund some community development projects by spending down reserves.
“The first step is, we start by cleaning up our own streets, our own backyards … then move forward with these programs and attract out of town businesses,” Ogden said in rebuttal.
The two men also disagreed on the proposal to create an economic development department within the city to work on a long-term vision. Ponikvar supported the idea, while Ogden did not, though Ogden did concede it might be something the city might need to consider in the future.
All candidates, including both men running for mayor, expressed support for a recreational center in Craig.
“I would love to see one in Craig,” Ponikvar said. “When you want to attract people to Craig. you have to provide recreation.”
Ogden agreed adding, “It’s something we’ve been missing.”
Both spoke of the need for the creation of a special recreation taxing district to help pay initial construction costs, as well as fund ongoing maintenance.
“If a rec center were to happen, it will happen because of you, the voters,” Ponikvar said.
Candidates ended with brief closing statements. The forum was streamed live and can be viewed on the Craig Press Facebook page.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story about the Craig Press/Craig Association of Realtors candidate forum held Monday, March 18, in advance of the April 2 municipal election. Part two, featuring candidates for Craig City Council, will be published Friday. Clay Thorp and Andy Bockelman contributed to this report.
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