Trustees’ Race Highlights Political Chasm in GMF No peace in sight Rick Langenberg

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By all accounts, the race for several Board of Trustee positions in Green Mountain Falls is outright unusual, putting GMF once again in the political spotlight.

Contrary to past years, a record six candidates are vying for three positions, and the town is clearly split into two competing political camps. One faction clearly favors the current administration and Mayor Lorrie Worthey and touts the experience of their candidates and their civic backgrounds, while the other side stresses their management experience and what they describe as fresh and bold ideas. They clearly support former Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, who is challenging Worthey. But oddly enough, both sides agree on the main priorities for GMF, namely roads, parks, and fiscal accountability, and have similar goals.

As noted by Cameron Thorne, a trustee candidate and a key leader of a group of challengers that call themselves, “Smoother Roads Ahead for GMF,” “Everyone I talk to loves this town, and almost everyone has similar goals. The differences in the candidates are how they approach citizen input, and the skills, ideas and attitude they will bring to the job.”

However, veteran civic leader and opposing trustee candidate Dick Bratton, who clearly supports the pro-administration side, argues that “there is no substitute for experience.” Moreover, he says it’s easy to come up with big ideas, but cautions that GMF has definite fiscal limitations. “To address criticism, voters need to elect people who will prevent radical changes by new people, especially those who do not know or understand the severe constraints presented by a very small amount of income to work with,” said Bratton. “Beware of people who promise to fix things with money that does not exist.” In fact, the candidate, who has headed the trails committee for years, attributes the huge competition in this race to a group of angry opponents. “A disgruntled group went out and recruited inexperienced and naive people to run,” added Bratton, who is urging voters to consider the vast experience of the pro-incumbent and current administration slate.

The trustee race, in many ways, culminates a political fight that has persisted for the last several years. In fact, don’t look for a likely truce between these groups that have dominated GMF politics for about four years. In addition, both sides haven’t been shy about posting signs with downtown GMF experiencing an invasion of campaign displays.

The pro-incumbent candidates include Bratton, a long-time resident for more than 30 years, and a former trustee and mayor; Tyler Stevens, the current mayor pro tem, who has been a civic fixture for nearly 20 years as a mayor, trustee, planning commissioner and as a captain of the GMF/Chipita Park Fire Department, and Barbara Gardiner, a current trustee and parks liaison, and a secretary of the Ute Pass Saddle Club.

Based on responses to a TMJ questionnaire, and in campaign statements, this group has emphasized their overall experience and desire to continue accomplishing what they started two years ago, under the current administration. This is when a slate of candidates endorsed by Worthey took the reins of the town government. In the process, a group of former leaders were irked by some of their moves, such as rehiring former Marshal Tim Bradley and changing many laws. This group has made it clear they want to finish the work they started.

“The past two years has been a very productive time for our town, with a new town hall, a revision to many important laws and policies, new staff, renovating the pool and clearing out the lake, among other things,” stated Stevens. “There is a lot more to get done. This board has been working extremely well together through many difficult matters. I would like to keep GMF moving forward.”

The other pro-incumbent candidates echo similar sentiments. As for his top priorities, Bratton mentions cracking down more on speeders and drunk drivers in town, along with doing road and park improvements. More specifically, he wants to clean up the Gazebo Lake. “I designed and raised all the funds for the recent (lake) dredging project. Now I want to lead new storm water projects to keep muddy road runoff out of the lake. A goal is to stand on the shore and actually see the fish out there.”

Stevens cites detailed efforts taken to update new laws and make needed changes. “I would like to see us update our town code. Our (new) website has been a good start, but there are many other things we can do to keep the information flowing between the town government and the citizens. My ‘Pet Project’ is to continue to improve efficiency and accountability to the citizens.”

Gardiner, meanwhile, elected two years ago, has been a big proponent of parks’ efforts and cites her common sense approach to solving problems. “I tell it like it is. I feel I’m a practical down to earth representative for the town.” She also cites her knowledge of the town and her family roots in the area.

This group of trustee candidates, along with the mayor, has stressed their detailed experience and their relationship with other key leaders in the region, and involvement with such groups as the Pikes Peak Regional Council of Governments.

Smoother Roads Ahead
But the pro-incumbent side faces some hefty opposition. The “Smoother Roads Ahead” trustee candidates consist of Thorne, a former planning commission member, who helped establish one of the town’s original live streaming equipment set-ups and has served on many GMF committees; David Pearlman, a local lodging owner and a current planning commission member; and political newcomer Erin Kowal, who sports experience in a variety of businesses and training with an Army Ranger School They, along with Newberry, have flooded the town with huge campaign displays and done mailers that list a plethora of community concerns and goals. These run the gamut from “controlled attorney costs,” “honesty” and “better budget management,” to “consideration of public input,” a “right-sized marshal’s department,” and “accountability.”

Kowal, in fact, attributes the unprecedented competition for the trustee seats to discontent with the status quo direction the town is taking.

“Actually this is the most contested election in many years and I believe it is a reflection of the current condition and direction of our town,” said Kowal. Thorne agrees, noting, “I think the level of energy in town this election cycle is a reflection of the size of the problems the town faces, and the number of candidates simply says there are a lot of people who think they have what it takes to do a better job.”

All of the “Smoother Roads Ahead” candidates cite a desire for the board to listen to citizen input more. “I really hope that the board will begin to listen more to input from citizens and the different committees. While experience may help, having the humility to listen, learn and grow for the betterment of the citizens we represent is even more important, added Kowal;

They also heavily support efforts to improve road maintenance, contending that the current administration is not putting enough resources into its public works department. “The current board has provided zero training budget for our relatively new road maintenance crew,” stated Thorne, who cites a “literally crumbling infrastructure” in some places in town. “Every employee should have the opportunity to improve their skills through continuing education – even the most experienced ones. As a board, I will insist we fund the training needs of our departments.”

Candidates from this slate have their own favorite projects and special ideas. Pearlman, for example, wants to see GMF do more to boost its tourism prospects. “I would like to see us as more of a resort destination. I moved here 20 years ago and have always been in the resort business. I feel that with proper ordinances for vacation rentals, we could have a good balance between residential (units) and vacation rentals.”

Besides road and park improvements, Thorne, who served with the town’s previous economic sustainability committee, wants to see more focus on grants and generating additional revenue. “We definitely need to look for ways to bring in new sources of revenue, such as returning some focus to grant writing. Then we need to be creative in looking for ways to be more efficient – in every single department. The board needs to fund the departments’ training needs, get out of the micromanagement side of things, and use their leadership to drive higher performance in our delivery of services to the town,” he explained.

Unlike two years ago, the group challenging the mayor and veteran trustees is taking the Fifth regarding the touchy subject of possibly eliminating the marshal’s office and introducing a town manager form of government. But in one of the group’s flyers, they do cite a “lack of accountability in the public safety department.”

The election is April 5 and it is being conducted through a mail-in ballot system, coordinated by El Paso County. Registered active voters in GMF were mailed ballots last week. Ballots must be returned to town hall or a certified drop-off point by 7 p.m. on April 5.

For more information, call 719-575-8683.