Forum spotlights three Delta candidates

By Pat Sunderland

A candidate forum held March 1 provided an opportunity for voters to learn more about Delta City Council candidates Nathan Clay, Kevin Carlson and Jay Stooksberry.

The forum was hosted by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Darnell Place-Wise, the chamber's executive director, and Pat Sunderland of the DCI.

Place-Wise provided a brief biography of each candidate, then posed the first question submitted by a member of the audience: "Please define how you define your role of a city council person."

Kevin Carlson explained a city council member is a liaison for the community, and should make decisions that are supported by the community.

Nathan Clay said a council member should be proactive, making sure that everyone is moving in the same direction -- or a semblance of the same direction. The primary concern should be enacting the will of the people.

Stooksberry said a council member is a public servant, someone entrusted with a large amount of resources that taxpayers consider very near and dear.

The next question asked for each candidate's overall vision of a thriving downtown.

Nathan Clay cited more occupancy, revitalization of the arbor program and shifting traffic to the bypass so other motorists can slow down and enjoy Main Street more.

Clay said the city should create an atmosphere where business owners are encouraged to make improvements, an observation Jay Stooksberry said he agreed with.

He added that people should be encouraged to stop in Delta and spend money here. One idea would be diverting traffic to the bypass for Main Street events like music or movie festivals. He feels the city should be more open minded to all types of business models.

Kevin Carlson said there are a lot of vacancies in downtown Delta, but the business owners also need to step up. He commented on the city's appearance during the summer, when the flowers are in full bloom, but the effort to enhance downtown Delta should be year-round.

The next question posed by the moderators: "What skills do you bring to the office?"

Jay Stooksberry, a member of the Delta Planning Commission, said he has a knowledge of how local government works, plus the perspective of a business person. He described himself as open-minded and friendly, a person who can be approached. "I will give you my opinion, but I will value your opinion as well," he said.

Carlson was honest: "Government skills ... I have none." He says those in power, like the city manager and council members, should let the workers work.

Clay said he has developed problem-solving skills through his career as a production professional. He is able to think on his feet, to identify problems and attack them with diligence and grace. Communication with the citizens in a fair and honest way is key, he said.

"Would citizens feel reengaged if the city brought back citizen boards such as the tree board and the historic preservation board?"

"Absolutely," said Carlson. "When I first came here there were citizen boards for every sport." Yet he recognizes the same people were serving on every board. He would like to see involvement from a more diverse group of individuals.

Nathan Clay, looking at the small audience, speculated apathy is to blame for the dissolution of citizen boards.

"It would be great to have those boards, but people need to feel they are being heard ... people should see that council is an honest conduit to address their concerns."

Regarding the viability of the riverfront hotel project, Clay said, "I think it is going to happen, and it would be a good thing for the community." He believes the project could help showcase our natural resources.

Stooksberry said research shows Delta is losing out on visitor dollars, but he is concerned about using public funds to develop the project. That's not providing a fair platform for every business to be successful, he said. He's also skeptical of urban renewal and DURA's financial obligation.

Carlson's answer was brief: "Yes, I support the hotel."

The next question: "How do you propose to attract new businesses? How would you make it easier to start a business in Delta?"

Stooksberry was the first to respond.

"Delta has unfortunately developed a reputation as a tough place to set up shop. It plays out in the overall cost of starting a business ... contractors build in more costs, etc."

An honest evaluation of the rules and regulations that might be pushing businesses away should be done. Prospective businesses should be greeted with an open hand, rather than a list of demands. The city should offer a helping hand, a connection to resources like Region 10 and the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We need to get back to our homegrown roots ... greet them with a handshake," Carlson said.

Clay agreed with Carlson's statement that the city should find out what's wrong and figure out how to fix it. "We need a different attitude ... we need to put aside politics and be more open-minded about how to grow business."

If it becomes necessary to cut spending, voters wanted to know how the candidates would determine how and why.

"Without the budget in front of me, and knowing the numbers, I don't know," said Carlson. "Maybe city council is getting paid too much," he joked, referring to the $100 monthly stipend for council members.

Clay said parks and recreation might be the most logical choice, based on revenues. "There's really not a good choice ... the town is very tight on finances."

Stooksberry said Carlson gave an honest answer. "Without numbers in front of us, I'm not ready to say."

He did say he would look to comparisons with similar size cities, looking for areas out of balance.

Marijuana sales were on the minds of several folks in the audience. Specifically, candidates were asked to balance the potential revenue against expenses the city could incur. The risk to children in the community was a big concern.

Clay was the first to respond. "First and foremost, my opinion is this particular issue cannot be ramrodded through city council. This issue is so important, it's something we have to take a vote on.

"My personal view: the potential income outweighs the negative."

He expects regulations to be more stringent than alcohol, but as for danger to our children, "All of these topics are extremely difficult and not possible to get into in two minutes (the time allotted for responses)."

Jay Stooksberry said the sale of marijuana offers a unique opportunity for businesses. As for the effect on children, he cited statistics that legalized marijuana has not significantly increased usage among teens in Colorado.

He said he does not use pot, but is not against it. He views sales tax revenues as an opportunity to offset revenues shortfalls.

Carlson agreed that there is an opportunity to increase sales tax revenues, but asked, "Are we willing to take the risk? I am not." He said citizens voiced the same opinion when he was circulating his nominating petition. On the other hand, he provided an example of an acquaintance who benefited from the use of medical marijuana. Overall, he said he is opposed to recreational because of costs involved to community.

The candidates were asked about other possible sources of revenue for the city.

Nathan Clay suggested showcasing our natural resources. Technology also offers opportunities to expand.

Stooksberry agreed that technology will help diversify the local economy. Broadband is here, bringing competition and driving down prices.

"Government should get out of the way and let business get the job done," he said.

In addition to showcasing the area's natural resources, Carlson brought up the golf course, the first mention of Devil's Thumb. He believes hosting the state golf tournament for high school youth would be a huge boon for the community.

Prior to closing comments, Ron Austin, Delta mayor pro-tem, was invited to comment on the ballot questions regarding the taxation of marijuana. While the sale of marijuana is not currently legal, the city has elected to be proactive with the ballot questions.

He explained, "Just because it is on the ballot, it does not mean we are in support of it (marijuana) ... only in favor of taxation on it."

Council and staff have also discussed zoning, but shelved the ordinance until, and if, marijuana sales become a reality.

The April 3 election is being conducted as a mail ballot. Nathan Clay is the only candidate for District C. Kevin Carlson and Jay Stooksberry are vying for the at-large seat.