Melody Villard, Chuck Grobe vie for Moffat County Commissioner seat in primary election
The primary election for the Moffat County Commissioner’s District 2 seat is coming up on June 30. With Craig facing the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the future closure of Craig Station, the candidates, if elected, will assume responsibility at a critical point in Moffat County history.
Melody Villard and Chuck Grobe are competing for the role in District 2 while Tony Bohrer runs unopposed for the District 1 seat. Bohrer is currently a Craig City Council member, pastor in Craig, and owner of a local fencing business and hunting outfitters company. The District 3 seat is not up for reelection, as Commissioner Broom was elected in 2018.
Villard is known for her role on the organizing committee to save the Luttrell Barn (which was then turned into the Luttrell Barn Cultural Center in 2018), as a board member of Moffat County United Way, and as a chairperson of the Museum of Northwest Colorado advisory board.
She was also the recipient of the 2019 Bill and Nancy Muldoon Humanitarian Award from Craig Rotary Club.
The County Commissioner election will be Villard’s first time seeking a public office role. Speaking on her leadership experiences and her vision for Craig, she said that “the biggest part for (her) is some of the challenges that Craig is facing and the opportunity for a strong board to form.”
“Prior to all of this situation with the pandemic… we had the (announced) shutdown of our energy industry. I intend to live in Moffat County for a very long time, and the best way to keep moving forward is to participate in actively moving us forward, she said. “I have participated in founding and organizing events for years; I was the tourism director for five years, I participated as a volunteer in agro-tourism and heritage-tourism prior to that, and this is an umbrella to all those arenas.”
Villard has already been attending County Commissioner meetings regularly. She also stays up to date on City Council meetings through reading the posted agendas, and attends Board of Public Health meetings.
“The Public Health Meetings as of late have been (about) what to put in the variance request that they’re sending the state for dealing with the COVID-19 closures, and how they’re handling those things locally.”
She explained that the state mandate is being interpreted. A focus of the discussion is “what we need to do locally to make some changes to that and ask for variance requests,” she said.
For instance, state restrictions shut down the Grand Old West Days Memorial Day event, and Villard was trying to host the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association Finals. All portions of the event were being shut down prior to the variance request, and Villard represented the event by asking for some leeway to still be able to hold it. Due the governor’s orders, the event had to be canceled because the Moffat County Public Board of Health could not offer enough leeway to host that large of an event.
Beyond that, Villard has been part of the discussion on the reopening of restaurants, gyms, churches, and more.
She says that she doesn’t think her election campaign has been impacted much by the shutdown.
“We were able to change the way that the County Convention went this year, but it was after the caucus process, so, other than the ability to gather…. And, typically at the county assembly we’d have the opportunity to stand in front of the entire delegate assembly and do our speech introductions or answer questions to those people individually, and that was not the case—they did a drive through assembly this year,” Villard said.
Villard has still been getting her message out through signage, and there will be a candidate forum this week through local radio station KRAI Radio as well as a presentation to the Republican Central Committee June 1. Each candidate had five minutes to give a statement, and the meeting was held on Zoom.
Villard is a Craig native. It would be tough to find someone more rooted to the community than her; she is raising four children there, who, she noted, have been involved “from the ground up” with a few of her community projects in Craig including the Moffat County Hot Air Balloon Festival and Luttrell Barn restoration. She is a sheep rancher with her husband on Villard Ranch, and has family ties to Craig. Her mother-in-law had a huge role on the local cemetery board and museum board. Villard inherited that role on the Museum of Northwest Colorado board. She says it is a “world class museum,” and that it is a huge attraction for tourism.
Some of Villard’s plans for Craig involve more agro-tourism on the public lands of Moffat County. She has detailed plans already, and says she is comfortable representing Moffat County’s economic plans to reflect their needs on a state level.
Chuck Grobe, also a candidate for County Commissioner office in District 2, has a different story, but his record of involvement certainly rivals Villard’s.
Grobe is not a stranger to anyone in Craig, as he already held office as County Commissioner from 2013-2017.
Why is he running for office again?
“Because of the situation we’re in,” he said. “I care so deeply for Moffat County; this is our home. We’ve been in the area for 40 years. With my past public service in so many different forms over the past 40 years, I’m retired now, also, and that gives me the freedom to do it full time; I’m not worrying about anything else.
“So if things come up, I’m there and able to do it. There are so many issues coming before us, we have to have good leadership in place moving into this stuff,” he added.
Grobe clarified what he means by “this stuff”: “Within the next ten years or less all three power plants and both coal mines will close, so that’s going to take away a lot of our tax base. To me, that’s the main thing: how are we going to make it through losing over four million dollars of our county budget?… It seems like we’re just the bullseye of the target of everything that’s going on in the state. They want to reintroduce wolves, and that’s going to adversely affect ranching. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to these issues. That’s where the planning has to come in. All the different groups in our community and county have to come together and see how we want to move forward. Tourism isn’t going to take care of all of our needs. We’re losing property tax, we need people to move here and create businesses and jobs.”
As far as qualifications, the list for Grobe is long. He hasn’t lived in Moffat County his whole life; he lived in Hayden, of Routt County, for 30. He moved to Craig in 2010.
Grobe was on the Town of Hayden Planning Commission for 20 years, the Hayden School District School Board for four years, the West Routt Fire Department board for five years, and was Hayden Mayor for six years. He was also on the Hayden town board for four years, and the Hayden Cemetery Board for 2 years.
He says that from his prior four years in office, he simply learned the nuances of being a county commissioner, and that because he had so much experience in leadership roles, he came in “more equipped than probably most of the county commissioners in Moffat County.”
“The budget for the county is fairly complicated so it takes a bit to know where the money comes from and where we can spend it,” he said.
During his time in office, Moffat County was not facing challenges as large as it is today.
“We dealt with endangered species, developing oil and gas, smaller issues. We saw a decrease in revenue coming in, we dealt with that. We knew one plant was going to close by 2025, and in my mind we needed to think about that, but we stalled in that discussion. We were getting involved with a lot of different things at the state level. I was making connections, learning the budget, representing the county at the different meetings. The interaction is important because it helps to keep our county on the forefront of what’s going on. It takes a little effort to get out and talk to these different committees and legislatures and make sure they hear what you’re saying.”
“When I got elected, I saw the needs in Moffat County, like the state water plan the governor had put together,” he said. “I saw how important water was up here, so I got on the Yampa-White-Green Basin roundtable, which makes recommendations for the watershed of the Yampa White Green Rivers in Northwest Colorado. Each roundtable has its areas of concern moving forward in their watershed. At the state level also, a commission opened up for me for the air quality control commission, and I’ve been on that for six years now. That’s a state-appointed job by the governor.”
Grobe said that he is not bothered by the competition he faces in Melody Villard. In fact, he said, they’re friends.
“It’s always good to have competition because it lets the people know exactly where each one of us stand. There’s no animosity.”
In contrast to Villard’s observation that her campaign did not seem affected by the pandemic, Grobe said it has posed a challenge.
“It’s been interesting with the pandemic, trying to campaign. We can’t go door to door, we can’t talk to people one-on-one. They definitely know who I am and I feel they’ve got a good handle on my beliefs. And I’m going to put an ad out on Wednesday,” Grobe said.
He did refer to the talk on KRAI Radio as well, saying that it will be a good chance to hear from Villard too.
“I don’t even know what Melody Villard’s stance is and she doesn’t know what mine is. We haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and say what our main points are.”
So far, the debate on KRAI Radio has not been announced, but according to Villard, it should be out by the weekend.
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Sean Hovorka may not have been born in Moffat County, but an understanding and appreciation for the area’s unique personality have made it a home to which he is truly dedicated.