by Rick Langenberg:
The Woodland Park City Council didn’t pull any surprises last week in appointing veteran leader and local businessman Ken Matthews to complete the term of outgoing member Terry Harrison for the next eight months. Matthews, who previously served on the council, was the definite favorite, according to sources.
However, the selection process was anything but easy with a surprising five contenders entering the council arena for an appointed seat that will only last through next March. The contenders offered a wide range of experiences, covering the gamut from non-profit groups, higher education institutions and the federal government, to economic development organizations, the city planning department and local businesses. Other than Matthews, the candidates included Darwin Naccarato, John Posusta, Geoff Watson and Stephen Yoxheimer.
In the end, and following the third vote and a marathon process, Matthews got the nod by a 5-1 tally over Watson. This occurred when two of Watson’s former council supporters joined ranks with the Matthews camp in the evening’s final round of voting. The council initially mulled deciding the seat in a subsequent special meeting, following a two-person run-off between Matthews and Watson that ended in a 3-3 draw. The other candidates were eliminated following the first round.
Matthews, who is currently the co-owner of the Insurance Center and has been involved with many local organizations, was favored mostly because of his experience and business background and prior involvement with the building industry. Several of his strong supporters, including Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith and Mayor David Turley, stressed that he offered a background that was currently lacking on the council with a group that features many retired government employees. Matthews also unsuccessfully tried to run for county commissioner a year and a half ago.
In an open interview with the council prior to his appointment, Matthews cited a desire to see the Downtown Development Authority district expand and succeed as a top priority. “I would like to see the DDA grow,” said Matthews. “I would like to see the continuing development of the DDA and stay on top our water situation.”
As for growth, Matthews noted, “It is a growing community. But let’s be smart about it.” Compared to the other candidates, Matthews took a more status quo stand on most issues, and emphasized that he would like to work with the council again. In addition, he cited communicating better with the citizens regarding the actions of the city government as an important objective.
Watson, the runner-up, meanwhile, touted water, housing and fire mitigation planning as the top three issues for Woodland Park. “Growth ought to be well-planned,” said Watson. “I would be middle of the road (regarding growth). Government kind of guides it.” In addition, Watson expressed a desire to update the city’s comprehensive master plan. Watson was heavily supported b y Councilman John Schaffer, who touted his work with Help the Needy and other nonprofits.
Probably the most interesting candidate, though, was Yoxheimer, a recent college graduate who also works as a volunteer with the city planning department. He told the elected leaders that a disconnection exists between young people in the community and the city government. Yoxheimer said many young people are disappointed with the community’s failure to develop a recreation center. He reminded the council that this was a previous promise associated with the Wal-Mart project, with projected sales tax revenue from this development expected to finance a recreation or YMCA center. “It never happened,” said Yoxheimer.
Yoxheimer stated that Woodland Park currently has a lack of activities for young people, unless they want to drink. “I would like to provide more options for the youth,” said the candidate. “I see myself as being a youth representative.” Equally blunt comments were also echoed by Posusta, who questioned the feasibility of the current efforts for developing an aquatic center. “I think it is difficult. Many of these (aqua and rec centers) turn into white elephants,” said Posusta, the director of the Southern Teller County Economic Development Coalition. He also supported more cooperation between the city and county regarding economic development projects and sees downtown traffic and lack of visible parking as a pressing issues.
Virtually all the candidates agreed that the city needs to address the growing problems associated with affordable housing. But none of the candidates conveyed any set plans for tackling this community gap. Following the third vote, Matthews was immediately sworn into office.