Long history of service to Craig couldn’t stop incumbent John Ponikvar’s defeat | CraigDailyPress.com

Long history of service to Craig couldn’t stop incumbent John Ponikvar’s defeat

Former Craig Mayor John Ponikvar addresses the crowd during the 2019 election forum.
Andy Bockelman

John Ponikvar may have lost his bid for reelection as Craig’s mayor, but one of Craig’s most active community servants isn’t letting a municipal election defeat stop him.

Having served the Craig community on various boards for the past three decades, Ponikvar said he plans to put more time into his NAPA Auto Parts business and to serve on the local corrections board on which he’s served for some 20 years before he was mayor. Moffat County’s commissioners gave Ponikvar the thumbs-up to do just that April 16.

“I’ll still be involved in the community,” Ponikvar said.

That community involvement has yielded real results over the decades — keeping the streets of Craig safe as a former reserve lieutenant for Craig Police Department, protecting the Yampa River as chairman of the Yampa River Legacy Project, giving to the next generation as a former Board of Education member of Moffat County School District, and a participant in the district’s ACE program.

Ponikvar has been active in the local Republican Party. Under Ponikvar’s leadership, Craig may have been the first municipality in Colorado to declare itself a sanctuary city for the purposes of protecting the Second Amendment.

Ponikvar’s service to various boards in Craig and Moffat County is extensive: Moffat County United Way, Moffat County Library, Moffat County Tourism Association, and Moffat County’s Airport Commission, among many others.

Ponikvar is also a former deputy coroner certified as a death investigator with the Colorado Coroners Association. 

An incumbent defeated

But all that experience couldn’t keep Ponikvar from losing to Mayor Jarrod Ogden, formerly a city councilman who works for Moffat County School District.

Ogden, who was sworn in Tuesday, April 23, declined to comment on the mayoral race, though other newly-elected and current city officials spoke to the Craig Press about Ponikvar’s loss to Ogden.

“I don’t think you can point to any one issue that influenced the election results,” said new Councilman Brian MacKenzie. “However, I do believe that Kelly Hatten’s write-in campaign may have impacted this election.  Would all those who voted for Mr. Hatten had voted for Mayor Ponikvar?  Maybe, but it further demonstrates that everyone’s vote matters, especially in local elections.”

Hatten’s last-minute write-in candidacy pulled more than 100 votes in a mayoral election Ogden won by less than 30 votes.

In an April 3 interview conceding defeat to Ogden without asking for a recount, Ponikvar seemed to offer at least one reason he lost. He said Paul James’ election to council with more votes than any other council candidate is a telling sign, as James’ candidacy was based almost entirely on legalizing recreational marijuana sales in the conservative community of Craig.

“I think that’s a telling sign of how our community is changing,” Ponikvar said.

What happened?

Ponikvar was not present for Tuesday’s council meeting.

James noted he believes Ponikvar ran on letting voters decide the recreational marijuana question inside city limits, but then never followed through.

“When he first won, he ran on the right to vote and used our committee to push that,” James said of his Committee to Grow Craig, which pushed hard for recreational legalization in Craig. “But then he didn’t give us the vote.”

In an open January council meeting, Ponikvar bluntly brandished one of James’ social media posts wherein James said he would no longer ask City Council to place the question before voters.

Though he, himself, personally signed James’ petition, Ponikvar also questioned whether those who signed the petition were correctly educated about James’ ordinance — an ordinance Ponikvar said could be tainted with self-interest as James still works at the Craig Apothecary, Craig’s only marijuana dispensary.

“I think that (Ponikvar) never actually acting on that and definitely the way he treated us that last time we went up there…” James said. “He could have just said no… But I think his attitude and the way he went about that entire conversation — I don’t think people liked that.”

James thinks the city’s consolidation agenda also contributed to Ponikvar’s loss.

“I think the talks of consolidating the sheriff’s department and the police department — that definitely hurt him,” James said. “I don’t think there’s any question.”

Current Councilman Chris Nichols, who has led much of the consolidation talk between the county and city, admitted many in Craig were angered by the possibility of dissolving Craig Police Department into Moffat County Sheriff’s Office and allowing the sheriff to police the city.

“I think it upset a group of people as we got into the process of talking about it,” Nichols said Thursday. “We only asked two questions — is it feasible for the sheriff to do it, and what would it cost?”

Nichols said that anger could have affected the mayoral election.

“It could have,” Nichols said. “I think there were a lot of people misinformed on the process — how far along in the process we were, and the misinformation about the process.”

Nichols said Ponikvar and the last council accomplished a lot during Ponikvar’s time as mayor, namely a large budget surplus.

“Now we’re sitting on a hefty reserve,” Nichols said.

Ponikvar served Craig effectively, according to Nichols, who added he’s looking toward the future with a new city council.

“John served the community well,” Nichols said. “Obviously we’re moving on and we’ll see where it takes us.”

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