Bill Utrup is stoutly convinced he has the essential qualities to make him the “best commissioner Montezuma County has ever had.”
“I am a young, energetic 65-year-old [who is] proactive and pro-business,” Utrup said, describing those qualities he believes would make him the leader the county must have in the challenging times ahead. “I have been self-employed my whole life and understand what it takes to make things happen.”
He lists among the wide-ranging experience that has prepared him for the job his work as a real-estate agent, a building and demolition contractor and, in those capacities, his complex dealings with local, state and federal governmental agencies.
“These professional occupations have given me extensive experience in business and government, whether for building a home, financing a business or purchasing a farm – as well as for the preservation of the natural systems we all hold so dear.”
If, as he confidently predicts, he is elected, his priorities will include focusing intensively on improving the county’s public education system, vigorously promoting economic development and instilling a sense of community in which all citizens will benefit from their united efforts.
“My greatest challenge will be my greatest reward,” he said in a prepared statement, “and that will be to assist in the enhancement of this community on every level that I can.
“But I need your support,” he stressed, “[so] together we can continue to build a model community that we will all be proud of.”
Asked what the commissioners could do to improve the quality of education in Montezuma County, which ranks very low in most of the categories by which the county is judged statewide, Utrup said that “just my presence and supporting education I think would be a biggie.
“And the school systems, knowing that they’re supported any way they can be by a county commissioner, I think is a big plus. “I know we [the county] have excess funds from time to time that can be channeled in that direction and also as a commissioner, there’s always the possibility of influencing different organizations to donate to our school system,” he said. “In the case of Kinder Morgan [a CO2 producer that accounts for a large portion of the county’s tax revenue] in terms of joint efforts with them and other individuals, to buy computers. “So I think there’s a lot of room there to support the school systems through being a county commissioner.”
Utrup said he doesn’t believe the incumbent commissioners are doing all they could to support education
“Other than directing funds from time to time, I don’t think the current commissioners have given that much attention to education in terms of awareness – in terms of being on the forefront of doing everything they can in order to assist the educational system,” he said. “They have varying interests and I guess my interest in education might not necessarily be their interests.
“So I feel it’s a personal endeavor as a commissioner in whatever arena you’re in to fully support that arena,” he said, “and education is one of my priorities because it feeds into economic development and vice versa.”
Establishing a stable economy is paramount to providing jobs once an educated workforce has been trained and ready to enter the job market, he said.
“Getting a good education is integral to getting a good job, and if we have economic benefits here, hopefully we can keep more of our people in the community versus leaving for the outside world — they have to go where the economic opportunities are the greatest.”
Just how such economic opportunities would be developed is, Utrup conceded, a knotty issue.
“That is a major hurdle,” he said. “A lot of the kids that grow up here would like to stay here if there are job opportunities available, so a good education and job opportunities go hand-in-hand.
“So we have to continue to increase and build on our economy as well as help our students to become more progressive any way we can to get good jobs in the future.” Utrup heartily endorsed the proposal now being mulled by the incumbent commissioners to “livestream” meetings (broadcast them via computer as they are in progress) and possibly record them for later transmission to allow interested citizens to tune in at their convenience.
“Videoing our meetings would be a definite asset to the community,” he said.
Other than that, Utrup said, he would need to have a comprehensive view from the inside once he is on the commission to gain insights into how the county government could be improved or made more efficient.
“That’s a tough one because you would almost have to get in there and have a feel for the reins, and then that opens one up to see what possible changes would benefit the community,” he said.
“It’s one thing to be on the outside and another to be on the inside dealing directly with these issues,” he added. “On the inside you’ve got a full reign of what’s going on through the different factions.
For instance, he said, “We have an ongoing relationship with Kinder Morgan, but being on the outside, we’re not that close to Kinder Morgan to where a lot of information is shared between us and Kinder Morgan, but between the county commission and Kinder Morgan a lot of information is shared.
“Now this is just a ‘for instance,’ but until we know more of the depth of everybody’s business we can’t start to formulate new ideas as for how things should go,” he said.
“This is just from my perspective, but from being on the outside we don’t have near the flow of information that we have on the inside,” he added. “Once we’re on the inside, through that flow of information we have a lot more to pull from and make conscious decisions.”
When asked what he would do to improve county government and the lives of its citizens, Utrup said he “would have to think about that, because I’ve been focusing on a lot of different areas of the job,” such as conflicts with federal agencies on roads and who has ultimate control over them, and on the issues surrounding transferable development rights (TDRs) in the Dolores River Valley Plan.
On one of the more controversial issues currently facing the county, Utrup makes no bones about the fact that he believes the plan, developed after years of study by a citizens’ group with input from water-quality experts, has failed to live up to its goals of improving water quality or enhancing property values in the river valley. Perhaps the most contentious provision of the plan is the system of TDRs under which property owners who have no plans to develop their properties could sell 10-acre portions to those who do, thus concentrating development in certain areas while leaving others in more pristine states. Recently, the commission voted 2-1 to eliminate this portion of the plan, and a lawsuit challenging this decision is currently working its way through the court.
“I am a relatively new to the area [so] I wasn’t here when the plan was enacted 10 years ago,” Utrup wrote on his Facebook page, while sharply criticizing the scheme. “There is no proof that the quality of water has changed in the valley [and] proof of a change in the last 10 years should have to be established and pointed out to the commissioners.” (Defenders of the plan say pro-actively assuring water quality is far better than addressing a problem once it occurs.)
Utrup said he would make a better commissioner than James Lambert, his Republican opponent, because, “I am a more active member of the community – I think that’s a big plus. I work in the soup kitchen now and attend school-board meetings and am a member of the Cortez Chamber of Commerce. I feel my business experience is way better than his.”
While Utrup remained vague when asked for specific programs or policies he would support or oppose as commissioner, he did sum up his general goal during his interview with the Free Press:
“My whole ideal is to become the best county commissioner that has ever been elected in this county.”