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Meet the Paonia candidates at March 10 forum

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Photo by Tamie Mecr A 2015 special meeting to discuss Paonia's water rates drew a full house. The town's aging infrastructure was identified as a high priority by most of the nine candidates running for the Paonia Board of Trustees.

The Paonia Chamber of Commerce is hosting a municipal election forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 10, at Paonia Town Hall, 214 Grand Avenue. The forum will consist of an hour-long, moderator-led question and answer session. Candidates will also be given time to make a brief statement. Following the Q&A session the public is invited to stay for a meet and greet.

The Paonia Board of Trustees has nine candidates vying for three, four-year terms. Mayor pro tem Charles Stewart is running unopposed for mayor. After Stewart is sworn in, the new board will appoint a trustee to complete the remainder of his term, which expires in 2018.

CHARLES STEWART

Mayoral candidate Charles Stewart submitted the following:

I was born in Wheat Ridge in 1958. My family has been in Colorado for five generations. I have lived in Paonia for 22 years. I graduated with distinction from the University of Colorado in 1981 with a degree in English. In 1985, I obtained a juris doctor degree from the University of Colorado. I am admitted to practice law in the State of Colorado and in the United States Federal Court for the District of Colorado.

I have practiced law in Colorado for 30 years. I have been married to my wife, Eileen, for 27 years. She is a talented artist, a former adolescent therapist, and for the last 12 years, a teacher at Paonia Elementary School. I have two daughters; both are graduates of Paonia High School. Samantha graduated from Colorado State University and is now an EMT for Charleston County, S.C. Kelly is a graduate of the University of Miami and is now attending medical school at the University of Colorado.

As an attorney I have represented community banks, nonprofit organizations, a water company, and hundreds of individuals and businesses. I have significant knowledge of various areas of the law. Over the years, I have volunteered my time to form various community organizations and I have represented the indigent in need of counsel. I am a former board member and past president of the Paonia Rotary Club. I have been a Paonia trustee since April 2014. Since May 2014, I have also served as mayor pro tem. I have years of experience dealing with people in difficult situations. I believe I have done so in a professional and reasonable manner.

In the past, Paonia town government has been dysfunctional and at times corrupt. In the last two years the board has worked tirelessly to transform town government into an honest, professional, financially sound operation. I am determined to make sure that the town is run for the benefit of all of the people and not for the benefit of a few. I ran for mayor because I was concerned that if the wrong person was elected the town could go backwards. Ultimately town government is about clean water coming out of the tap, waste going down the toilet, streets being maintained, the police arriving when you call 911, the people's money being used wisely, being honest with the public and making sure that there is a fair and open process to resolve the disputes that inevitably arise. All of the decisions I have made as a trustee and all of the decisions I will make as mayor have been and will continue to be motivated by a desire to have the best town government possible.

Trustees:

Ross King, 74, was elected to a four-year term on the board and currently serves on the town finance and public works committees. He has been married to Andrea for 50 years and they raised two sons.

King is retired from the industrial utilities sector, where he worked for 35 years. He made his way through the ranks, serving as officer and vice president of delivery systems for a five-state area with engineering, operating and customer service departments reporting to him. He has served on a long list of boards and committees and has been a member of several service clubs, including Rotary and Kiwanis. He has worked with various taxing authorities, and was an elected official of Georgetown.

"With my myriad of experiences, I thought I could be of benefit," said King.

Paonia experienced years of "benign neglect," said King. The list of infrastructure needs "goes on and on" and includes upgrades to the water and sewer systems, upgrading water meters, construction of sidewalks, paving of streets and creating a storm drain system. The town also needs to get out from under the Department of Public Health and Environment's drinking water noncompliance order.

King said administrative needs include upgrades to software, updating land development regulations, code enforcement and codification, addressing previous board decisions including annexation agreements, re-negotiation of water company contracts and more.

King supports the board's decision to hire a town manager. Due to the complex nature of running a municipal government and Paonia's precarious situation, "It is absolutely apparent that we need a town manager," said King.

With a declining tax base and recent job losses in the mining industry, King said the town should investigate all possible revenue streams, and has revitalized discussion on cannabis legalization. "Revenues are of vital concern if we're going to provide the level of service the town needs," said King.

KAREN BUDINGER, 76, has been in Paonia about 16 years. She is a church bookkeeper and an elder caregiver. Her background is in corporate administration and finance. At age 55 she went to college and earned a master's degree in gerontology. She was the first manager of Creek Vista Apartments starting in 2000 and during that time served as secretary for the Paonia chamber board.

She worked in Los Angeles transit authority executive offices prior to rapid transit and has experience with non-profit and corporate boards as well as corporate mergers and acquisitions.

Budinger has family in the area. Her father was a town trustee and her daughter served on the North Fork Mosquito Abatement District. "It's basically my turn," said Budinger.

Since deciding to run, she has attended most of the board meetings. "Obviously the infrastructure is very old," said Budinger. She believes upgrading roads should be a priority and says upgrades to Third Street is a good project.

Budinger said she has no personal agenda. Her constituents are mostly the elderly citizens who want improvements to sidewalks, safer roads and better snow removal efforts. She said the recently-approved Silver Leaf Cohousing project is a good thing for Paonia and she would like to see more efforts to build more senior and affordable housing.

While she hasn't studied the budget, she believes money is of primary concern and that new sources of revenue are greatly needed. Regarding marijuana, she said it would be wise for the town to investigate legalization if it can be shown to provide a good source of revenue with no adverse effects on the citizens. In general, however, she is not in favor of it.

WILLIAM BEAR, who goes by Bill, is a lifelong Paonia area resident and has lived in town the last 28 years. He is employed in the mining industry.

This is Bear's first venture into local government. The Bear family has deep roots in the Paonia area and Bear wants the best for its citizens. "I've been concerned about the direction Paonia is heading for the last few years," said Bear. "I want to be a part of how to right the ship."

With more job losses following the announcement of the idling of the Bowie Mine #2 there will be more losses in jobs and severance taxes, and the town is already experiencing the pinch. "We will see if that will result in additional costs" and higher water bills, said Bear. "Here's my chance to get into the discussion."

Fixing the water delivery infrastructure is already underway, and completing it would be "very expensive," said Bear, and would result in more debt. "I pay my bills and I see prices going up," said Bear, who worries that some people are already struggling to pay their bills.

Bringing revenue to the town is important, said Bear. If the town wants to attract business, it must make upgrading its aging and failing infrastructure a priority. He supports investments in broadband infrastructure, which he sees as a benefit to the town. And while he supports efforts to attract new businesses, "I would not be in favor of marijuana."

BARRY PENNELL, 45, has lived in the area for three years. He is a staffing consultant and his wife, Megan MacMillan, owns a business that relies on the success of local agriculture. They are also proud new parents, which Pennell said has given him new motivation to be involved in local government.

Pennell has been involved with government and includes team-building and negotiations on the local and international levels (see www.linkedin.com/in/barrypennell for details). He wants to use his skills to help create a more participatory government with greater transparency. Pennell said his biggest concern is with the budget and the town's lawsuit with the former town clerk. The town's aging infrastructure makes it difficult to attract new businesses. Because agriculture is a major industry, fixing the water infrastructure beyond band-aid solutions is a priority.

Paonia has a very strong arts community and many untapped resources, including citizens who want to participate but who feel disenfranchised, said Pennell. He sees business possibilities in those untapped resources, including the North Fork Valley Airport.

Paonia's unique microclimate is ideal for growing hemp and cannabis, which should be developed in a way that honors the area's agricultural history, he said. While it's not a panacea, "If the town doesn't take control of this and take matters into their own hands," the industry could be developed by outside interests. If done right, tax monies could be put toward many good projects. As for protecting the area's youth, legalizing and "regulating it is the only way to protect our youth," said Pennell.

Pennell said that despite the citizens' strong differences of opinion, "I believe we have more in common, and that's where I feel I can help."

CHELSEA BOOKOUT, 35, has lived in Paonia almost 10 years. She is a mother and director of Unicorn Arts Collective in Paonia. Bookout is also a teacher, but is taking time off to be with her young children.

Bookout has no prior government experience. She was instrumental in working with the Delta County School District board to bring the North Fork School of Integrated Studies project to fruition. As one of the founding families, she worked on marketing and outreach. While her experience is limited, "I do have an extremely high level of dedication to this community and I am willing to work hard to learn whatever it is I need to know to be an effective and successful board member."

The people are what she loves most about Paonia. "This community is powerful and passionate and I am proud to raise my children here among people that care about one another and can come together when any individual in the community needs support."

She sees aging infrastructure as a major issue. She says that in dealing with upgrades and repairs the town needs to be realistic about what citizens can afford financially in terms of fees. It's "going to be a difficult job and is going to require ingenuity and drive to find creative solutions."

Bookout says she is interested in seeing how the community as a whole will come together and address economic concerns and to make the most out of the resources available. "I am also interested in how we continue to support local businesses, and encourage more commerce to take place in Paonia."

JILL SPEARS, 55, has more than 30 years' experience in medical practice management, and has been self-employed in the business for 25 years. She has lived in Paonia for four years and is a former KVNF board member.

While her service to local government is limited to high school student council, her job requires she report to boards and shareholders and use negotiation skills in seeking compromise between opposing sides. People are generally kind and compassionate, but can also be passionate about their beliefs, and that can cause divisiveness, said Spears. She wants to use her skills to help bring the board and the community together.

Asked if she has a particular agenda, "My agenda is to represent," said Spears. She believes her profession provides her with good business skills and makes her a great listener. "I want to help find solutions," said Spears. "I definitely have a lot of work to do to get up to speed."

Regarding the aging infrastructure, Spears said she hasn't set her own list of priorities, but understands that projects must be offset with new revenue streams. "We have to figure out ways to increase the town's revenues. She is "looking forward to working with the people on solving the town's problems."

Regarding cannabis, Spears said she is neither pro nor con, but believes that due diligence by town leaders is in order. "It's an industry, and there are a lot of smart people making a lot of money," said Spears. She would like to see the town come up with a viable plan that would allow citizens to vote on the merits of the plan, rather than base votes on emotions.

While she understands concerns over the changes taking place, "We want to be prepared for the future," said Spears. Figuring out how to respect the area's past and protect and enhance what people love about the area will be a challenge. "I will certainly do my very best to attend every meeting," to work to better understand the issues, and to listen to what people are saying, said Spears. "You can't represent if you don't show up."

ERIC GOOLD is completing a four-year term as trustee. He has lived in Paonia for eight years and is a reporter for the Delta County Independent. He serves on the town's public safety and facilities and development committees and is a planning commission member.

Goold said he ran in 2012 to give the voters more choices in candidates.

Goold said he supports the town manager position and that Jane Berry helped the board pass a balanced budget for the first time in seven years. The police department and public works department have been "restructured in a good way," and town staff has been re-organized. Code enforcement, which he said was previously almost non-existent, is now in place and the fee structure was updated for the first time in decades. He also believes the town needs to continue work on codification.

Servicing debt from water infrastructure upgrades and getting out from under the Department of Health non-compliance order are high priorities. Completion of the water/sewer rate study will be helpful in establishing more fair rates and will allow the town to better understand who its clients are and what their usage needs are.

Paonia is not unique in its struggles with aging infrastructure and how to fund improvements, said Goold. With increases in water main breaks and associated problems with service, "It's very noticeable here."

Recent mine layoffs are part of a continuing cycle. "Hopefully we can find an economic driver to stop that cycle from happening." He wants the town to be more supportive of new business, and while legalizing marijuana could bring more money to the town, he sees it as a highly divisive issue and any efforts to legalize need to come from the citizens.

During his term Goold went against the majority in voting against raises for the town manager and staff and against a three-year contract with auditors RubinBrown. He also voted against the removal of former town clerk Barb Peterson, but said he'd like to have that vote back.

Goold is encouraged by the high number of board candidates and hopes they have a genuine interest in serving the community. He also would like to see more female representation on the board. Said Goold, "Council needs more women."

MARY BACHRAN, 64, moved to the Paonia area in 2002 and has lived in town since 2007. She is a seamstress and proprietor of The Sewing Bee and is a self-described "professional volunteer." She currently serves on the boards of Mountain Harvest Creative, which puts on the annual Mountain Harvest Festival, and the Blue Sage Center for the Arts, and is a volunteer for HopeWest and the Paradise Theatre.

Bachran is willing to put in the time demands of being a board member and has interest in serving on the parks and recreation committee. "Taking care of our public spaces is important to me." She decided to run after witnessing the town's handling of the town clerk's position, which is currently in litigation, and its failure to support new business, including a food dehydration company.

"I decided I needed to start looking into being more of a participant," said Bachran, who made her decision to run last summer and has regularly attended meetings since then.

In addition to supporting new business, Bachran said the town needs to address its aging infrastructure and ongoing water main breaks. "It's killing our streets, it's killing our budget." The town needs to upgrade the system, pave streets, and fix sidewalks, which are dangerous to walk on, she said.

Regarding ongoing codification efforts, Bachran said it's good to have structure, but she doesn't want over-regulation. "If we build little boxes to put everything in, what happens if something falls outside of the box?"

The town is losing coal revenue and it's not coming back, said Bachran. "That's wishful thinking." The town should work to expand the agriculture and tourism industries and investigate cannabis as a viable income generator. Bachran praised the many existing businesses and organizations, and the diversity of the local citizenry. The area is rich with artists, farmers and ranchers who produce food, and many highly-educated citizens with inventive ideas for expanding the economy. "I think those creative people are an integral part of the solution," said Bachran.

BILL BRUNNER owns Paonia Iron Works and designs and creates detailed custom metal works for homes and businesses. He became involved in local politics after moving to Paonia 39 years ago. From the beginning, said Brunner, he's had differences of opinion with town boards. During a recall year he was elected to a two-year term. The focus then was on selling out-of-town water taps at a time when the town didn't know how much water was available or how it would handle the demands of the new taps.

"I've always been interested in local government," said Brunner, who also served on the planning and zoning board for two years. While he can't be effective on a national level, "I've been able to have some small effect locally."

Brunner considers himself "an interested and concerned citizen." His main concern is that the town is spending too much money and has convinced the citizens that it's broke while continuing to spend money. For example, he said, last year the town paid $45,000, or $17,800 above the contracted price, on its audit, which he said should be no more than $10,000-$15,000. This year they have budgeted $30,000. He said there are better uses for that money. "How many school lunches could $10,000 or $15,000 buy if left in the pockets of people?" he asked.

There is also "a poison atmosphere to meetings," he said. He hears from citizens that the town doesn't care about their opinions. The board needs to hear from people, and he'd like to help make them feel more welcome and acknowledged.

He wants an incremental approach to spending for upgrading the water/sewer infrastructure and streets. Until about 10 years ago the town would address a section of street every year, said Brunner. Trying to do it all at once "is not realistic."

The recent downturn in mining activity is the third such cycle Brunner has witnessed. He believes the town's role is limited, "other than to make this a desirable place to live." Regarding cannabis, "It should be a citizens' initiative," he said.

There is also a misperception that the North Fork Valley Airport costs the town money, said Brunner, who is also a pilot. Improvements have been paid for by state aviation grants and costs are offset through leasing the cell tower. The state has also determined that the facility's annual economic impact is about $150,000, said Brunner. "I want it to stay self-funding and not be a burden to the town."

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