New councilor reflects on months in office
Since being elected as a Craig city councilor in April, Jennifer Riley has helped navigate what some city officials called the most controversial six months in recent memory.
A list of issues from the last 26 weeks:
• An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the city for its campaign finance ordinance.
• The investigation, arrest and prosecution of a Craig Police officer on felony charges.
• Debate about the city’s land use code, which also brought forth allegations from residents that city officials have lied to citizens in the past.
• Ongoing discussions about a new noise ordinance, off-road vehicle ordinance, city livestock ordinance, social host ordinance and medical marijuana regulations.
The work, however, has not been an encumbrance, said Riley, who at 38 is no stranger to contentious issues. She has worked for the Moffat County Assessor’s Office for several years, calculating what residents must pay in taxes.
On the contrary, hard work is what she signed up for.
“I think sometimes the public perception of what the City Council does is rubberstamp stuff,” she said. “Some of the stuff is really thought-provoking. We’re thinking about laws that will affect a number of people if they get passed.”
At the same time, it hasn’t been the headline-grabbing issues that Riley said she hears about most.
“I’ve had more people call me about the potential four-wheeler ordinance than anything else,” she said, referring to discussions about whether to allow off-road and all-terrain vehicles on city streets.
“The reactions are mixed,” Riley said. “My own husband was on a rant about ATVs the other day, and I told him he was welcome to come to a council meeting to voice his opinion.”
Still, the city’s newest councilor said she prefers to hear the voices of Craig, whether they’re happy or mad.
“I prefer people to have an opinion,” Riley said. “I understand why people get upset about a decision. They’re passionate about it, one way or the other.”
At her best, Riley’s colleagues said she is determined to never make an uninformed decision and never to cast a vote on a whim without consideration for all sides.
Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said she is one of the most studious councilors he has worked for since he was hired in 1998.
He also was not at all surprised to hear Riley has his office number on speed dial.
“At least initially, she works very hard at getting informed,” Ferree said. “She’s really prepared for the meetings, reads all the documentation we provide, all the meeting materials,” which are usually 50 to 100 pages for each meeting.
At the same time, Riley’s handling of the city’s bigger issues have not gone unnoticed.
“She’s had a lot thrown at her, the whole council has,” Ferree said. “They’ve all handled it really well. She’s handled it as well as any of the others.”
With everything on her plate, Riley said she second-guesses herself from time to time.
There has been one vote she regretted, though, when she voted for a Police Department equipment purchase that officials made before ever bringing it to council.
She said she never forgot that vote, made relatively early in her political career, and later voted against a road and bridge department purchase because she didn’t agree with a request to waive the bid process.
Despite Ferree’s commendations for her thoroughness, Riley hasn’t let go of her regret, and said she hopes to never repeat the same mistake.
“What I’d ask more of myself is to ask the hard questions, and if I’m not satisfied with the answers, to keep asking questions until I am,” she said.
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