Bar owner gets nod as new councilman; New police chief takes the oath

Chris Hazlett, the owner of Ralf’s Bar and Grill and the town’s former police chief, has received the nod as Cripple Creek’s new Ward Five representative.

Hazlett replaces Gary Ledford, who was forced to resign by the gaming division due to a potential conflict with his role as a landlord for the new Big Jim’s Gambling Hall and Saloon that opened last week inside the Imperial.

The Cripple Creek business owner beat out Tas Blevins, a well-known local resident and former city employee, who sought a similar council seat two years ago, in the council showdown for this appointed position.

The official appointment occurred following a secret, paper ballot process during which council members didn’t publicly state or make known the top candidate they favored. Instead, city officials only announced the end result: Hazlett getting the most tallies. He was immediately sworn in as the new Ward Five representative and took a seat at the council table.

Hazlett’s appointment will only last through the remainder of 2011, unless he seeks the four-year seat during the forthcoming November municipal election.

During an open question and answer period, both candidates expressed similar views on key issues facing the city. Some of these questions focused on such topics as city finances, open meeting laws, special events, conflict of interest situations, relations with employees and future budget cuts. For the most part, the Ward Five candidates took a middle ground stand and refrained from making any controversial statements. In addition, they both stated that they supported the current direction of the council.

About the only issue the two differed slightly dealt with the financial situation of the city, and the prospects of future cuts. Blevins hinted that a certain level of cuts could occur without impacting operations. “There is a percentage of waste that can be eliminated from any department,” said Blevins. Hazlett mainly took a non-committal stance.

Both candidates cited their strong involvement with the community.

Blevins highlighted his strong role in coordinating the Salute to American Veterans Rally and his positions as an exalted ruler for the Elks Lodge, a key leader for the American Legion and other veterans groups and work as a former employee of the city and with several local companies, including Mollie Kathleen Mine and the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. He made a bid for a Ward Five seat position nearly two years ago, losing to Steve Zoellner.

Hazlett, meanwhile, touted his involvement as a business owner for six years, since purchasing Ralf’s Bar and Grill. In addition, he highlighted his extensive background in law enforcement in Denver and previous work as the former police chief of Cripple Creek. “You are exposed to a lot of diverse situations,” said Hazlett, in discussing his law enforcement background.

Hazlett also won top laurels as the town’s best non-gaming business owner during the 2011 Best of Cripple Creek competition, sponsored by the Mountain Jackpot newspaper. “I want to give back to the community,” said the business owner, in describing his reason for seeking the seat.

Both candidates made it clear they would like to see more city events and consistency in promoting local festivals. Hazlett cited the Ice Festival and Salute to American Veterans Rally as two of the main success stories when it comes to local events. “Those two are our biggest successes and victories,” said Hazlett, who believes the same strategies should be adopted for other events.

Blevins made a pitch for bringing back the lumberjack contest, an event that he believes attracted many followers. And as someone strongly involved with the Veterans rally and motorcycle ride, he said he knew of the challenges in running popular local events.

With his appointment, Hazlett will be forced to hit the ground running. The city will soon begin budget discussions for what could emerge as the town’s toughest fiscal scenario in years. The city is facing the potential of making significant reductions due to a leaner gaming environment. Plus, the city is facing a big legal threat from Gilpin County, which is trying to change the way gaming tax revenues are allocated. If successful, Gilpin and the city of Black Hawk could siphon a minimum of $1.5 million annually of tax monies that normally go to the city of Cripple Creek and its historic preservation fund. Plus, concerns are mounting regarding the agenda of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who recently sacked the entire gaming commission (see related story) because of their recent decision to slightly cut the taxes on casino winnings.

In other key appointments, April Peterson was sworn in as the city’s new police chief. Peterson, a lead sergeant and member of the police force for more than 10 years, was the top pick among a highly competitive field with more than 60 applicants. She replaces Gary Hamilton, who retired in early June. Hamilton has been a mainstay of the police force since 1989.

Peterson was highly praised by Zoellner, a member of one of the selection committees, for hanging tough and performing extremely well during the interviews.

As the agency’s interim chief for a brief period, Peterson was the front-runner and top local candidate, according to sources. However, the city pursued a national search and formed two committees to narrow the field and to help in conducting interviews.

A large crowd of supporters attended the swearing-in ceremony. With this appointment, Peterson becomes the first female police chief in the history of Cripple Creek.