Creek Council and Mayoral Candidates Support Citizens’ Vote on Retail Marijuana

Double Eagle Forum Generates Lively Discussion on Pot, Affordable Housing and Fiscal Cuts

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Let the citizens of Cripple Creek decide the fate of retail marijuana and cannabis clubs within the town limits, as a way to spruce up needed revenue. Regardless of their individual views, this is a stand endorsed by the far majority of candidates vying for council and mayoral spots in Cripple Creek for the Nov. 5 election.

During a candidates’ forum last week, hosted by the Double Eagle casino and facilitated by TMJ News, all three council and mayoral participants stood behind the idea of putting the issue of legalizing retail cannabis outlets in Cripple Creek to a vote of the people. That’s a drastic turn-around from the council’s position several years ago, when the proposition was soundly trounced.

Council and mayoral candidates Nancy McDonald, left, Meghan Rozell and Tom Litherland address questions from the media and local citizens during an election forum, hosted by the Double Eagle casinos and facilitated by TMJ News, on Oct. 17. Registered voters have until Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. to return their ballots. Photo by Rick Langenberg

“It is something we should consider. We should put it to a vote,” said Councilwoman Meghan Rozell, one of two candidates for mayor. She contended, though, that a potential development of this significance should be decided by the citizens of Cripple Creek and not by five elected leaders.

Ward Four candidates Tom Litherland and Nancy McDonald echoed similar views. They didn’t really express their individual views on the  matter, but maintained that this could open more revenue opportunities for the city. “We will have a lot of new people coming here. It is going to change Cripple Creek,” said McDonald.

But that said, she made it clear that this type of decision needs to fall on the shoulders of residents. “I think the residents have to have a say.”

Litherland agreed, and indicated his previous opposition  on this idea dealt more with the limited revenue the city  may reap from cannabis clubs He believes now this issue needs to be voted on by the citizens.

Milford Ashworth, a mayoral candidate who is running against Rozell, did not participate in the forum last week. But in an interview Friday, he said he personally opposed the idea of retail marijuana. But like the other candidates, he stands behind the idea of a future local vote on the issue. If such a vote occurs and the majority of residents give the okay, Cripple Creek could become the sole jurisdiction in Teller County to allow retail marijuana shops.

Housing Woes Approaching Crisis Level

The Double Eagle candidates’ forum touched on a lot more than legal pot. In fact, all three participating candidates expressed big concerns on the subject of affordable housing.

Litherland cited a huge financial and critical gap, noting that when gaming started, local average wages were several dollars above those in Colorado Springs. Now, the reverse scenario is occurring, noted Litherland. “They (casino employees) are not making it,” said the Ward Four incumbent, who previously served as mayor in the late 1990s.

He cited the need to entice housing developers with incentives, lower sewer and water tap fees for viable projects and helping developers with state grant programs. He made it clear that’s it’s time to make a deal, when it comes to opening the door for workforce housing.

McDonald, meanwhile, threw out the idea of the city “giving away land” for affordable housing development, a concept explored somewhat in Victor. She also expressed concerns with the slew of vacant buildings in the downtown area. Rozell cited the importance of having town hall meetings and more council discussions regarding this critical issue. She believes the city needs to follow the guidelines developed in the recent comprehensive housing study, and not to let this study gather dust.

All of the candidates agreed too that the city needs a more diversified economy, with more emphasis on trails and outdoor recreation and nongaming commerce. But they all they had their different priorities. Litherland described himself as a leader who views running the city “like a business.” He stated that he has gained a reputation for scrutinizing various expenses,  such as marketing. “We need more bang for our bucks,” said Litherland, in describing his views on marketing. He described previous marketing attempts, with the city featuring close to 15 different directors, as a failure.

Ward Four candidate Tom LItherland, an incumbent, answers a question during last week’s candidates’ forum, hosted by the Double Eagle casino. Litherland and challenger Nancy McDonald are vying for a four-year council seat in the Nov. 5 election

McDonald stated that she is running to represent the residents of Ward Four. She outlined a gap between city hall/council and the residents that she hopes to fill.

Rozell wants to have more communications with residents. “We need to get out more,” said the mayoral candidate. She cited a desire to have regular town hall meetings, compile a mayoral newsletter and have more visibility on social media. She also believes the city has carved the right marketing course in selecting Jeff Mosher as the new director and in forming a steering committee.

One issue that generated a slight debate dealt with potential fiscal cuts. With diminishing revenue due to fewer gaming devices and a saturated casino market, the city may be forced to make some tough decisions if current financial conditions prevail.

Litherland acknowledged this reality and said he is prepared to make necessary cuts. “It is not going to be pleasant. I am ready,” said Litherland. His opponent questioned some of the high city salaries and the purpose of certain endeavors, such as the heritage center. “It’s a big secret,” said McDonald. “The residents want to know.” Her comments focused on questions she said she has received about city expenses and certain programs.

Rozell, though, was more hesitant about advocating any potential cuts. She urged leaders to think creatively and outside the box, prior to cutting positions. She indicated that these actions create a bad state of morale among the staff.

By comparison, her opponent, Ashworth, has favored cutting  non-supportive services if necessary, with the fire, police and emergency services receiving the highest priority.

Voters Facing Three Local Ballot Questions

Cripple Creek City Administrator Mark Campbell discusses the benefits of Proposition DD and local question 2C during a candidates’ forum last week, hosted by the Double Eagle casino and facilitated by TMJ News. These questions deal with the prospects of sports betting. Both questions must get approved by the majority of state and local voters in order for the sports betting to occur at local casinos. Photo by Rick Langenberg

Both City Administrator Mark Campbell and City Clerk Janell Sciacca also addressed the three ballot issues facing voters in November.

Campbell addressed the issue of sports betting, a proposition that local voters will cast tallies twice in the forthcoming election. He said sports betting won’t generate that much extra money for the city.

However, if the issue fails, he warned that the proposition will be addressed again by state lawmakers and the gaming communities could face a solution that wouldn’t benefit their interests. He said that one of the big pluses of Proposition DD and question 2C is that sports betting would be restricted to licensed casino operations in the three gaming communities.

Sciacca, meanwhile, outlined the benefits of questions 2A and 2B. These issues would free the city from state rules requiring the government to publish detailed ordinances, resolutions and  expenses in a designated  local newspaper. If these questions are approved, the city could post these, except for ordinance titles, on their website and Facebook. Sciacca said these propositions would save the city “thousands of dollars” a year and make it easier for people to view these ordinances and resolutions.

The ballots for the Nov. 5 election were sent out early last week. Registered voters have until 7 p.m. on Nov. 5 to return their completed ballots.