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Paonia voters will select from 10 candidates

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Registered voters in Paonia will have 10 candidates to choose from in the April 3 town board election, and will be allowed to vote for no more than four candidates. The DCI has reached out to all 10 candidates to learn about what they see as the most important issues the town faces in the coming two to four years, and to learn a little bit about the candidates themselves.

Interviews are listed in the order of the names of candidates as they will appear on the April 3 ballots, scheduled to be mailed out by Delta County Elections Office on April 12.

Chelsea Bookout

Age: 37.

Years in Paonia: Almost 12

Occupation: Owner, Remedy Juice Bar Cafe in Paonia. Since moving to Paonia almost 12 years ago she has worked for the Delta County School District, with a small home-schooling co-op, with several farms, and directed a children's gardening camp for several years. Prior to opening Remedy she ran the Unicorn Arts Collective's Paonia Fashion Show.

Family: Husband Sean. Two boys, ages 12 and 5. Her mother and stepfather, brother Ben and sister-in-law Mara live on Redlands Mesa.

Community service: Appointed to the town board in 2016, currently serving on the Finance and Personnel committee. Part of the initiative to create the North Fork School of Integrated Studies; volunteers or has volunteered for KVNF, The Blue Sage, The Kids Pasta Project, Elsewhere Studios, Paonia Cherry Days and the Mountain Harvest Festival.

Why are you running for the board?

"I believe there has been good forward momentum in the last six to eight months," especially with the Space to Create project, which she calls a "huge opportunity" that exposes the town to national funding opportunities. It takes time to grasp how the whole system works, she said. While she has much to learn, "I feel like I had trudged through all the mud to get to this place," she said. "Walking away didn't feel like an option."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Creating a stable economy for all. "How does the town work together to create an economy that supports those who are here, that keeps young people from moving away, and that allows everyone to be successful?" she asks. "It's a great place to raise a family, but at the end of the day, people have to make a living in order to stay." People are coming to the area with their own jobs and making a living in different ways than they have done in the past, she said. She sees a lot of positive things happening. "If everyone can work together, we can move forward in a positive way."

Strategic planning: "What do we want to see this town look like in 10-15 years?" asks Bookout. "It feels like there's not a lot of direction and that leads to conflicts."

Aging infrastructure is something the town needs to constantly be addressing, said Bookout. Recent water system upgrades are a start and have reduced interruptions to service. Just as they are throughout the country, roads are also an ongoing issue. All of this costs money. Because current revenue streams are limited, "It's never going to quite match up to what needs to be done." She wants the town to work toward building strong relationships with grant writers, the Department of Local Affairs and others and seek alternative funding for future projects. "I think it's a give and take," she said. Living in a small community has its benefits, but "There just aren't the resources to make everything perfect all the time." That's why the town needs to keep addressing infrastructure and finding creative ways to fund it.

James (Jaahcco) Thompson

Age: 42

Years in Paonia: 1.5.

Occupation: Tradesman. Over the years he's worked in timber logging, as a roughneck in the oil and gas extraction industry, and other trades.

Family: Most of his family lives in Minnesota. Thompson, his parents and five siblings lived in Paonia in the early 1980s. "It was my life goal to make it back here," he said.

Community service: Has served as a volunteer firefighter "since I was old enough" and served as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force. Has also done various service jobs over the years and is getting involved in his neighborhood homeowners association.

Why are you running for the board?

"Because this area means so much to me and I really like the people here," says Thompson. Of all the places he's lived, this is the one place where the people and energy "just feels good to me."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Overdevelopment at too fast of a pace: While he is not up to speed on all that is happening in the area and at town hall, generally speaking, he sees responsible, healthy economic growth as vital to a healthy community. Right now, he says, the town isn't set up to be self-sufficient and allow people of all ages to have a healthy lifestyle. "It's sad to me that so many brilliant people grow up here and then feel the need to move to Denver and other places because they feel that they don't have a way of making a go of it here financially... I believe the valley has more than sufficient gifts to lend the inhabitants to live very happily and comfortably, and it doesn't feel like it's been extracted to its fullest potential."

Too many people coming in and buying up land: The town's becoming very popular very quick. He wants the town to consider putting some kinds of controls in place, if it doesn't already have them, to slow the growth. In considering the Space to Create Initiative, he believes the town needs to focus on keeping people here who are here and who have something to contribute and have a full appreciation for the valley. Creating avenues for them to stay is important. "If there's any valley in the world where people can flourish, it's this one right here."

The health of the land and the environment: Mining, logging and other activities on public land need to be done well and with respect to the land, says Thompson. "Fracking, not at all." He went to school to obtain his certification as a drilling fluids engineer and says he understands that the industry can have impacts on water. "Our entire valley depends on the health of the water and the soil."

Suzanne Watson

Age: 54.

Years in Paonia: 17.

Occupation: Boot maker, currently working on a line of sandals; self-taught home renovator with an interest in historical homes. She's also an avid landscape and vegetable gardener.

Community service: Elected to town board in 2014, currently serving on the Governmental Affairs and Public Safety committee; former member Paonia Tree Board; formerly involved in the North Fork River Improvement Association/Western Slope Conservation Center citizens' water quality testing project.

Why are you running for the board?

With several people stepping up to run, she wanted to give the community a broad selection of candidates and platforms to choose from. She has personal beliefs in what's important for the town, but in the end, "It's what the community wants to see."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Addressing the hostile environment: The town needs to work to eliminate the "atmosphere of hostility and intimidation that causes division among the council, the staff and the public."

Updating the master plan: The existing plan is 22 years old. Updating it would give the public "a voice in planning issues" and is critical for obtaining grant funding. It could also help the town look at housing affordability and the best zoning laws for increasing housing density. While cost has been an issue, she believes that updating the master plan can be done affordably. Grants specific to master plans are available, and information contained in the current town code, along with data contained in past studies such as the 2012-2013 "North Fork Heart & Soul Project" could be incorporated into it. "It would have been nice to be a little bit more prepared for growth," she said. In looking at the Space to Create Initiative, she would like to see more planning by the town, and wants to see "something very community oriented that benefits the greatest segment of the population."

Eliminating inconsistencies in Town Code: Watson said she is more familiar than other board members with Town Code building and zoning regulations and believes the entire town code needs to be closely examined. "It creates the framework from which the town operates," and the inconsistencies and inaccuracies result in different interpretations "that can lead to confusion, and sometimes mistrust." When she was elected in 2014, board members were charged with codification, forcing them to study the code. "We knew when we adopted the code it was a work in progress, but recently it's taken a back seat to other issues," she said. She'd like to see the next board receive education on the code early on, and bring the public into the conversation. Citizens could come to meetings with a code question and everyone could "look it up together" to find the answers. "That's a good place to start."

David Bradford

Age: 65

Years in Paonia: Almost 25.

Occupation: Retired from 33-year career with U.S. Forest Service in 2013; currently working as part-time consultant specializing in rangeland management and natural resources issues.

Family: He and wife Jeannette are third-generation Colorado natives and have been married 44 years. They have a grown daughter, Chelsea, and son, Taylor, both of whom were raised and attended public schools in Paonia.

Prior community service: Completing four-year term on board of trustees, during which he has served on the Finance, Parks and, currently, the Public Works, Utilities and Facilities committee. Served as mayor pro tempore since 2016. Highlights include serving as past director and board member, Society for Range Management; steering committee for Rangelands magazine; Paonia Tree Board 1998-2007, currently town board representative; Parish Council president for Sacred Heart Church in 1990s, currently serving on council; member Knights of Columbus; committee member on the state's North Fork Habitat Partnership Program 2004-2013, chair 2009-2013.

Why are you running for the board?

Bradford said he first ran for the board in 2014 to make positive contributions to the town, and because of a lack of candidates. The board completed updating of the Town Code and made it available online. It still needs work, he said. He helped develop policies for commercial use of town parks, naming of town features, and a street art policy, which "may seem like small things," but can become big problems without a structure in place. He also helped implement the ongoing sidewalk replacement project, and most recently, he spearheaded the Town Park miner's statue revitalization project. "We have had some success," said Bradford. "I would like to continue to contribute positively."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Examining the effects of food trucks and short-term vacation rentals on the town's revenues and the established businesses: While brick and mortar businesses must follow existing regulations, he believes it's important to begin the conversation on what level of regulation is needed on these other businesses, "and decide how far we need to go with it."

Coordination of newer art-related businesses with the traditional businesses: "There is a big push to grow the arts industry and I would like to help coordinated that effort with the traditions, customs, cultures and traditional uses of the valley," said Bradford. With growth already occurring, as with all development, "We've got to have a plan in place to allow that to occur. I believe there is room for the creative industries, but the traditional agriculture and mining industries need to be recognized and also promoted... I believe a balance is possible if we all work in a positive manner."

Infrastructure/street repairs: Regarding the town's proposed one-percent sales tax ballot initiative that voters will decideon April 3, he pushed for revenues to go to street repairs, while trustees voted to designate them to the general fund to allow future boards discretion on where to spend funds. That revenue can still benefit the streets, he said. "Getting the sales tax increase will allow, if we have the discipline and fortitude, to make sure some of that goes to street repair and we can start moving ahead."

Mary Bachran

Age: 66

Occupation: Supposed to be retired, but runs The Sewing Bee and volunteers "lots and lots of hours" at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts.

Family: Widowed in 2010, kids and siblings "all over the place."

Years in Paonia: 16, including five living off the grid on Stephens Gulch.

Prior community service: Volunteered five years for Mountain Harvest Creative, three years at Blue Sage (two years as treasurer), many years at the Paradise Theatre; HopeWest Hospice maker of Memory Bears and respite caregiver since 2011. Member of Space to Create Paonia steering committee, Paonia Planning and Zoning Commission.

Why are you running for the board? For the same reasons she ran in 2016, says Bachran. "I want to see Paonia thrive and I want the people to thrive. I think I could help make that happen. And I'm a good team player." A regular attendee at meetings for most of the past three years, meetings were "chaos." But the past few meetings have run "without a lot of controversy and chaos," and she wants that to continue.

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Infrastructure: "Infrastructure is, in my mind, one of the biggest things," says Bachran. The town largely completed the in-town water line project with funding, but now, "We have to get the streets paved." Sidewalk upgrades are also an important issue that she would like to see focused on.

Financial stability: Researching and finding grants to pay for as much of that infrastructure as possible is a priority, "So that we don't have to over-tax the citizens." She believes the town is more willing to look at grant funding and other revenue resources than it has been in the past. Creating financial stability also means building a strong tax base, bringing businesses in that pay sales taxes and offer jobs. "I would like to see every store front on Grand Avenue with a viable working business."

She would also like to see less turnover in the Police Department, which will require more money. The town lost two police officers last fall to higher paying positions. With a small department, hiring straight out of the academy is understandable, said Bachran. "But it would be nice to have them stay and learn and become a more stable part of the system."

Beautification: As with infrastructure, "There's money out there for projects like beautifying the entrance to town." She supports upgrades to the Miner's Statue at Town Park, and would like to find ways to have a lot of trees growing in town without damaging sidewalks.

William Brunner

(Note: While the other candidate profiles were based on interviews, William Brunner submitted his profile in writing, which was edited for clarity or brevity.)

Age: 69

Years in Paonia: Valley resident since 1976, town resident since 1982.

Occupation: Owner Paonia Iron; welder/artist/blacksmith contractor. For the past 25 years Paonia Iron has employed between three and seven people. "It's pretty much what 'Space to Create' wants to foster."

Prior community service: member West Elk Mountain Rescue; two year term Planning and Zoning Board, former board member Western Colorado Congress and Western Slope Environmental Resource Council. Town board member in mid 1990s, elected as trustee in 2016, resigned in June, 2017.

Why are you running for the board?

"My message is: Paonia needs new leadership. For the last four years we have been under the Bradford/Stewart/King alliance. They are very determined men. Together they are steam rolling Paonia. If either Mr. Bradford or Mr. King is elected, the balance on the Board will not change...

"The building inspector was suddenly fired. Why? It wasn't because he was enforcing pretend laws and regulations. He'd been doing that all along. The town has been shutting down work and dragging people into court on false pretenses. People are afraid of retaliation.

"I believe there have been unorthodox changes to the Town's books. I asked the auditor to examine a particular group of transactions and verify nothing is amiss. (Town treasurer Ross) King informed me that the auditor would not be looking into this. Paonia should re-bid the audit and change the eyes on the books regularly.

"A trustee pointed out we don't track (dispensing of) Town fuel. They were attacked by the Manager and staff and accused of slander. No one ever suggested putting a piece of paper by the fuel tank to sign for fuel use. In the end the Trustee was innocent but the staff never apologized and the Board warned the Trustee to be quiet. This is institutionalized bullying, not accountable government. It's not supposed to be like this."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

"Lack of oversight while trustees focus on pet projects. I don't see much difference between frittering away town resources, tolerating a building inspector who costs people thousands defending themselves or overpaying the auditor vs. the embezzlement of a few years ago. In fact, I prefer the honest thief.

"How to grow without displacing those who just want to live here and won't benefit from rising home prices. Paonia is ripe for a boom. We don't have a system in place to fairly deal with an influx of gentrification and new people who expect good sidewalks and a fair shake from Town Hall.

"The failure of the Lamborn Mesa water system reservoir. This is a big deal. Now a drought means rationing water. Paonia dumped over $1 million into that reservoir just two years ago. It was a Bradford/Stewart/King decision to take the money for a new tank and use it on the 3rd Street waterline. Now Paonia is in debt and a new tank is a couple of million more."

Ross King

Age: 76

Years in Paonia: Almost nine.

Family: Married 52 years to Andrea, two grown sons living in Vienna, Austria, and Paonia.

Occupation: Retired from 35-year career with an investor-run utility company. Originally called Public Service Company of Colorado, following a series of mergers it eventually came to be today's Xcel Energy. In the last years of his career he was vice president of delivery systems.

Community service: Served as trustee from 2012-2016, appointed town treasurer in 2016. During his career he served on "hundreds" of boards, committees, and organizations including Historic Denver, Mall Management District (now Downtown Denver Business Improvement District); chair, 16th Street Mall board; Denver Athletic Club; Denver Convention Visitors Bureau; Historic Georgetown; chair/treasurer Evergreen Sanitation District; numerous service clubs, Chambers of Commerce, improvement districts and various other companies in the Denver, Grand Junction, and Cheyenne, Wyo., areas.

Why are you running for the board?

"I feel, with my past experience and as the town treasurer I bring some experience and knowledge that would be beneficial to the community," says King.

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

One percent town sales tax increase: Passage of the sales tax question that will be on the April 3 ballot "is very important to improve the financial well-being of the community." Previous boards have done a good job to get enterprise funds (water, sewer, trash) on a "good financial footing." The main area needing attention now is the general fund and improving and enhancing existing staff, providing better support to the Police Department, improving streets, and providing greater support for parks -- all areas where general funds can be directed. Our staff needs help. With only a town administrator, clerk and finance officer, the staff needs some depth, said King. There currently is no back-up to cover for vacations or emergencies. He supports the board's decision not to earmark funds for street repairs, allowing future boards discretion on where those funds are most needed.

Infrastructure: Paving of streets and completion of water projects on Clark and Dorris avenues, pressure relief valve replacement on Minnesota Creek, and the lining at the 1 million gallon tank are all priorities,

Staffing of the Police Department: This is a major concern and "something future boards will need to address," said King. The majority of these issues falls under the proposed sales tax increase.

If elected, King said his future as town treasurer is at the discretion of the board. Some trustees believe that the treasurer should not be a board member, he said. In a small community like Paonia, finding enough people to fill those positions can be difficult. The treasurer ensures that town funds are properly handled, that excess funds are properly handled and controlled and government restrictions adhered to, and that there are no expenditures made outside of the board's approval. What would worry him is if the treasurer "tried to interject themselves into the day-to-day operations of the town."

Samira Hart

Age: 39

Years in Paonia: 16

Occupation: Community Manager, Creek Vista Senior Apartments.

Family: 13-year-old daughter, two grown sons; late husband Bill Hart, who served on both the Paonia Police Department and Gunnison Sheriff's Department.

Prior community service: Chair, Paonia Tree Board; served about 5 years as volunteer victim's advocate and hopes to again serve in that capacity in the future.

Why are you running for the board?

To serve her community and help make decisions. "I've always considered it, and there was never 'the right time," she said. She didn't want to wait another two years. Hart said she and her family have been involved in the community in one capacity or another since they moved here, but that she still has a lot to learn. "I'm not going into this with preconceived opinions," said Hart. "I'm a research person. A lot of the issues, I know, I'm not very familiar with. But I'll dig into them. I'll learn about them."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Moving the town forward: Based on what she has seen and heard, one issue is that several groups and interests trying to move the town forward. While people all have the same goal of making Paonia a better community, "There is a lot of division. I'm maybe hoping to bridge gaps."

Creative funding: "I think we need to spend a lot less time looking at what's happened in the past to prevent us from doing things and start finding solutions," says Hart. There are grants and other funding mechanisms available, but always some reason for having to wait to apply for them. "I just want to see people looking forward instead of backwards."

Master Plan update: The existing master plan was last updated in 1996. "If that's something that's keeping us held back from getting some of that funding that we need," then updating it needs to be a priority.

Improving communication between the town and the community: The Miner's Statue upgrade is a good example of why the town needs to better communicate with the community, says Hart. After attending the past few meetings, she said that one of the letters to the editor criticizing the town and the board for what was happening at meetings didn't reflect what she saw happening. "I don't know how that can be fixed, but I know the town and the community need to get a little bit better on communication."

Roger Baril

Age: 60

Years in Paonia: 20 years in North Fork area; seven years in town.

Occupation: Local business owner and nationally board-certified massage therapist in his 30th year of providing awareness and self healing massage and body work; 20 years of providing tree pruning services.

Family: Daughter, Lyla. Grew up in a large family in the wine country in Sonoma County and spent most of his adult life in western Colorado.

Community service: Paonia Tree Board member; involved in Citizens for Healthy Community, Western Slope Conservation Center, and a volunteer for A Little Help Paonia helping senior citizens remain in their own homes. Also spends a lot of time with area youth.

Why are you running for the board?

Baril said he was told about the vacancies on the town board and encouraged by friends to run. "There's a real feeling for a need for some function and change," he said. "I felt like I was willing to do it."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Growth: In considering growth, he believes the town should think wisely about sustainability, providing support for the arts, and making the town more inviting. A lot of people are coming to the area, he said. "Even though the coal mines are mostly shut down, it's booming. Property prices are rising." Downtown, he said, is changing and some nice things are happening. Small changes, like putting park benches on street corners, can make a big difference in the appearance of the town. He takes regular walks with a 104-year-old resident. With few places to rest, taking a walk to town is a big commitment. "Park benches are a good investment, and necessary for making this town a better place to live." He'd also like to see some beautification projects such as flower planters, placed throughout town and at town entrances. The Jumbo Mountain trailhead is a "big asset" that's getting very busy and will only get busier, he said. He'd like for the town to work with the BLM and neighbors to provide a shady place to sit, and a porta-potty.

Lighting: Paonia's proximity to the night skies and star-gazing makes it special, he said. However, its street lights "are intrusive." They make a loud buzz, and some are extremely bright and shine all night in household windows. He would like to see the town invest in dark sky-friendly lighting. "The ambiance of a town's lighting influences the desirability of a town in a big way," he said. "Let's raise some money for something that's really good."

Hydraulic fracturing: Baril believes that the vast majority of the citizens living in and around Paonia have issues about fracking. People grow food in town, and the soil in town is some of the best around, he said. In addition, the North Fork area is garnering attention as an ecotourism destination and a "very special and rare" place to visit. "Fracking is a high-pressure industry that wants to come here in a big way," he said. "If we're going to represent this community, then we'd better represent it fully on that issue."

Barry Pennell

Age: 47

Years in Paonia: Three years; five years in the North Fork Valley.

Occupation: Co-owner with wife Megan MacMillan of the recently-launched "Who Do You Love" granola bar company. Recently joined the staff of ENGAGE Delta County -- ENtrepreneurs, Growth, AGriculture and Energy.

Family: Wife Megan, 2-year-old daughter.

Community service: Pennell was a board candidate in 2016 and was appointed to the board last July and currently serves on the town Governmental Affairs and Public Safety committee. Member of Space to Create executive committee, Western Slope Conservation Center board member, and while he's paid to work with ENGAGE, "I feel like it's part of a community service."

Reasons for running for the board?

"I feel like there's a real sense of community here," says Pennell. When a trustee seat opened up last summer, he saw an opportunity to try it out and determine if he's a good fit. "The board needs continuity and familiarity," he said. There have been some contentious times in recent years, but he believes the board is moving forward and the meetings are running more smoothly, which "spurs great debate." He also wants to help overcome the stereotype that one must have deep roots in Paonia to be a contributing community member. "I would call to task anybody that says I don't have the best interests of this community in mind. I really want to raise this community up so that we can all be proud to live here."

What do you see as the three most issues/priorities facing Paonia today?

Economic development: With more people moving to the area and property values increasing, the town needs a long-term plan. As with the goals of ENGAGE and Space to Create to drive economic development, create jobs, promote tourism, and launch businesses, he believes he has the skill sets needed to help move the planning process forward.

Comprehensive Plan update: In updating the 22-year-old plan the town can address several issues, including how best to use existing resources, and zoning. "Some things that have worked in the past don't work now," he said. One example is use of accessory buildings to create density. "Our ordinances don't support that." Long- and short-term rentals are an issue, and while they can be "understandably contentious, I feel like we've got to start having those tough conversations."

Improving board committee structure: The Governmental Affairs committee, one of three town committees, often considers difficult and contentious issues, says Pennell "Everything I deal with is a hot potato." He would like the board to examine how the committee system works. "I don't think it's effective." Outside of the actual committee meetings there's little interaction with the community. It also excludes participation by people living outside of town limits who have interest and involvement in the town. Opening up those meetings, he said, could help ease the perception that there's little transparency on the board while tapping into local talents and resources.

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