In a question and answer session moderated by outgoing mayor Carolyn "Susie" Steckel, years of tension between the sitting council and two of the candidates present was dredged to the surface at the March 9 Crawford candidate forum.
Steckel and candidates Jay Ziegler and Carl Page have a history of inhospitable discourse over events that have been reported by local media in recent years. Following opening statements, Steckel, who told the DCI that, as mayor, she made the decision to moderate the forum and wrote the questions immediately before the forum began, asked candidates why they chose to run for council.
Following responses, Steckel addressed Ziegler directly. Ziegler and the town were at odds over two incidences in May and June of 2010, where cows were twice run through his property. Ziegler addressed the issue through letters to the editor and an advertisement in the Merchant Herald.
"I saw in the paper, Jay, that you have a problem with the cows coming through," said Steckel. "Do you know that Colorado is open range law and how do you feel about that?"
Ziegler replied, "I know that unincorporated areas are, yes, and that's fine..."
Steckel cut him off, telling him, "The town of Crawford is open range."
"No, ma'am, it's not," replied Ziegler.
Steckel then asked how the other five candidates and two mayoral candidates feel about cattle drives through town. "Is it a thing to be marveled at? Is it something that you hate? Or how do you feel about the cows coming through?"
Following responses, most of which were supportive of cattle drives, Steckel then asked if candidates know what the town speed limit is. She then said that during her term she tried to get people to slow down. Referring to a recall petition signed by Ziegler and Carl Page, which was determined to have ineligible signatures, Steckel said, "Bearing this in mind, there are several of you at this table that signed an illegal petition not to have a court in this town and I want to know why you didn't want a court in town? Jay?"
"How'd you determine it was illegal?" asked Ziegler.
Steckel replied, "Because it wasn't written right."
At that point, Page, who criticized council for not consulting with the town attorney in his opening statement, spoke. "How did you determine that without going to see Jim Brown?"
"We went to see Jim Brown," said Steckel.
At that point, Page's wife, Cheryl Page, attempted to tell Steckel to just ask the questions, and twice Steckel said, "We'll get to you later.
"I don't think the moderator's job is to confront the candidates," said Page. "Ask the question."
"Cheryl, shut up or leave the room," said Steckel.
Carl Page stood up and addressed Steckel. "How dare you. How dare you tell my wife to shut up. You shut up."
Following the forum, former mayor Jim Crook said the event was poorly run, had "no format," and that Steckel should not have moderated because she could not do so with impartiality. He told the DCI that she should be reprimanded and give a public apology. "That is inexcusable for a public official to do," said Crook.
"They've been after me ever since I've been in," said Steckel, who faced a recall petition during her term that was led by Ziegler, Page, and citizen Casey Williams. The town also was petitioned to reject efforts to create a court system within the town. Page told Steckel during the forum that he was against it "Because the town can't afford it."
The referral to the courts petition wasn't aimed just at Ziegler and Page, but also at another signer, candidate Tammy Broughton, said Steckel.
Steckel also told the DCI that Cheryl Page "kept butting in," and noted that Saunders' wife, Donna, tried to ask a question moments earlier and was reminded that the audience could ask questions later. "She kept quiet," said Steckel. "I thought Cheryl was being very rude. I already told her we would get to her."
Steckel said she has no regrets and doesn't believe an apology is in order, but would give one if that's what the candidates want. "I think I gave everybody a chance to talk." she said. " But I do believe I could have handled it in a more civilized way."
The remainder of the session passed without argument. One audience member asked if candidates might be more open legalizing cannabis a second time around. Council passed a ban on all cannabis operations within the town based on the 2012 vote on Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis. According to a Dec. 5, 2012, article in the DCI, "The Crawford precinct vote was 369 in favor and 368 opposed."
Ziegler, who closed his cannabis shop after the ban was imposed, said the town needs to consider every possible revenue source. Other towns are bringing in revenue with it and businesses are bound by 173 pages of regulations, said Ziegler in addressing safety concerns.
Saunders said he's not for or against it, but that the town needs revenue and the people have a right to vote on it, while Page praised its medicinal qualities and possible revenues. Paton, who is retired from law enforcement, said he's personally against it, "But if the people vote for it, then they vote for it."
Broughton, who wasn't familiar with the word "cannabis," said she isn't opposed to medicinal facilities. As a caregiver she has worked with terminally ill patients who benefited from it. "It pains me to see them have to go to Ouray County to get their stuff," said Broughton.
Watters said it's coming, but that he's against it. It sets a bad example for kids, said Watters. "They see it... Monkey see, monkey do."
Mayoral candidate Wanda Gofforth said the voters said "No," referring to the Amendment 64 results, and that's why the town forbids it. With no policing or court system in place, "We wouldn't have the ability to handle it and keep it under control."
Candidate opinions varied greatly when it came to ways of attracting businesses and people to the town. "I want to keep Crawford, Crawford," said Paton. Chriss Watters said he's tired of hearing people say, "In California, we did it this way." In his opening statement he jokingly pledged to build a wall outside of town and have Hotchkiss and Paonia pay for it.
Broughton called change "inevitable" and recalled that in the 1980s, businesses closed and people, including her parents, lost their homes. She said the town never fully recovered. "I'm sorry, John," said Broughton, "but, tourism."
Trustees also agreed that something needs to be done about pet owners letting their dogs run loose. Candidates agreed that code enforcement -- Crawford contracts law enforcement with Delta County and has no court system -- would help address the problem and increase safety, but couldn't agree on if the town can afford it.
"It's always open for discussion," said Watters.
Incumbent Hetty Todd was unable to attend the forum.
The Hotchkiss-Crawford Historial Society will host its annual meeting on Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2:00 at the Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss. There will be music, refreshments and a guest speaker, Robert Sibernagel. He is well known in the area as he writes regional history columns for The Daily Sentinel. He was formerly the editorial page editor for that paper for 19 years.