It was a night of contrasts as the Paonia town council received word of Trustee William “Bill” Bear’s sudden resignation. The sad news was tempered somewhat by a more celebratory moment as a new police officer was added to the town’s skeleton force.
Bear, a long time Paonia resident, coal miner and public servant, tendered his resignation via a written statement read by Mayor Mary Bachran at the beginning of the Nov. 9 meeting.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have to convey that Trustee Bear has resigned his post immediately. He contacted me this morning, he said he’s leaving for reasons beyond his control,” Bachran said. “He asked me to convey his regrets and support for the board.”
In his statement, Bear said that he enjoyed serving on the board for the past five and a half years and appreciated everyone and their efforts for the town. He humbly asked that others ‘step up to the plate’ to serve as well.
“This is a very sad announcement and I appreciate all the work that Trustee Bear has done over the years. His voice and his knowledge will be very much missed,” said Bachran with emotion.
Trustee Dave Knutson was temporarily appointed Mayor Pro-Tem in the absence of Bear who served in that position for over a year. Bachran said the board will have to make a permanent appointment at a future meeting.
The announcement of Bear’s resignation was followed by the swearing in of Lance Kramer to the Paonia Police Department with the oath of office being administered by Town Administrator Corinne Ferguson.
Officer Kramer worked in the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department prior to completing the academy in 2019. He also served in law enforcement in Roswell, New Mexico.
The addition of Kramer brings the department to three officers. A fourth officer is in training and is expected to join the force in late December or early January.
“We are excited to have him join our force here in the town of Paonia,” said Ferguson prior to reading the oath of office.
Both Kramer and Ferguson, wearing required COVID masks, jointly held the microphone as the board and audience witnessed the ceremony.
“Welcome Officer Kramer, it’s nice to have another member of the police department on the street. I hope to see you out there,” said Bachran as the audience offered a hardy round of applause.
Days following the news of Bear’s resignation, Trustee Tamie Meck spoke about his service to the community in both his profession and as a trusted member of the town council.
“As both trustee and former DCI reporter, I have witnessed over the years his willingness to listen to and consider the opinions of others in his decisions. One former trustee told me he believes Bill grew more in his years on the board than any other trustee, and I agree,” Meck said.
In 2018 Bear was the recipient of the Jim Pendleton Award during the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Annual Conference held, at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The annual conference and expo related to mining was attended by more than 6,000 industry professionals from around the world.
During the conference Bear was surprised to receive the prestigious Pendleton award which honors outstanding individuals or organizations for their significant contributions to the reclamation of mined lands in Colorado.
Bear was one of the few names associated with coal mining in the North Fork of the Gunnison River Valley. A third-generation North Fork Valley coal miner, Bear had been involved in mining operations in Colorado for the past 48 years, all of it centered in the North Fork Valley.
Bear also actively participated in and was a founding member of the North Fork Coal Working Group, which in the 1990s brought mining operations, local environmental organizations, governmental representatives and concerned citizens together to address the impacts of coal mining on the valley.
Bear retired from Bowie Resources, LLC, and the Bowie No. 2 Mine in 2018 and began his tenure with the Town of Paonia Board of Trustees.
“Any interaction that I had with Bill concerning any of the Division’s coal permits or inspections of operations or reclamation activities was always professional, non-contentious and collaborative,” said Senior Environmental Protection Specialist Jason Musick at the time of the award.
Meck, who served along side Bear on the recently dismantled Public Works, Utilities and Facilities committee, reminisced about her soft spoken friend and mentor.
“He taught me a lot and urged me to keep asking questions and keep learning. He doesn’t speak often during meetings, but when he does, he speaks from experience, wisdom, conviction, and the heart. His career in coal mining and a lifetime of living in Paonia translated well to his service as a trustee,” she said.
Bachran said the council will address finding a replacement for Bear at the Nov. 23 board meeting.
“We’ll ask for letters of interest and it will be posted on the website and other places,” Bachran said, “I don’t know how long we’ll leave it open but we will probably make an appointment at future meeting once we receive the letters of interest.”
Other open seats on the board for the April election include Trustee Karen Budinger (term limited) and Trustee Mick Johnson. Whoever is appointed to fill Bear’s position would have to run in the April election if they wish to hold the seat.
“While Bill’s term was set to expire next April, his early resignation is a tremendous loss to the board and the people of Paonia and the outlying area. He truly is a voice for the people and I am going to miss him. It will be difficult to replace him,” Meck said.
Lisa Young is a staff writer for the Delta County Independent.