The former commissioner says if elected, he’ll focus on public lands, zoning
Dewayne Findley admits that losing a primary election to Steve Chappell in 2006 was a blow. Findley, the incumbent county commissioner in District 1 (Dolores), believed he had done a good job in his first term.
Now, having moved into District 3 (Mancos), Findley is trying to get back on the board and finish some of the work he feels he left undone. He says if he wins his primary against Casey McClellan, and the general election against two unaffiliated candidates, he’ll be happy to work with Chappell, now in his second term, whom he considers a friend.
Findley decided to run despite his wife’s initial concerns about his health. He has had five blocked arteries and a bad heart valve, he said, but all have been fixed. “I told Mary Ann, ‘If I can survive losing, I can survive serving’.”
As a former commissioner, Findley clearly has the edge in experience over his opponents. He served nine years on the Southwest Transportation Planning Region board (seven as chair) and is currently on the executive committee for the Region 9 Economic Development board, the Dolores Fire Protection board, the Dolores Community Center board and the board of Dolores State Bank. Findley, co-owner of Aspen Wallwood, also serves on the Colorado Timber Industry Association board.
Among the issues the county faces, land use and zoning are high on the list. Findley said he is concerned that the land-use code is becoming cumbersome.
“They’ve added quite a bit to the code since I was dealing with it and I’m not sure that’s the direction we want to be moving in, but they reacted to some unfavorable court decisions,” he said. “Maybe we should take one regulation away every time we add one.”
The commissioners recently moved to amend the code to provide incentives to unzoned landowners to choose a zoning category. Findley said he likes the approach of incentives rather than mandates.
Findley served with two of the current commissioners, Gerald Koppenhafer and Larrie Rule. Although he said he doesn’t want to “look over these commissioners’ shoulders,” he did say they have done a good job handling the budget, and that they acted wisely in making the courthouse more energy-efficient and buying the former First National Bank building to give more space to the cramped court system.
However, he faulted the commissioners for being caught off guard by changes in travel management on national forests in the area. “The one issue they really stubbed their toe on, and I think they would be the first ones to tell you this, is travel management,” he said. “They let that thing get beyond them before they got engaged.”
When Forest Service officials proposed a new travel plan for the Boggy-Glade area north of Dolores that eliminated motorized game retrieval for hunters and closed some 60 miles of roads (most of them dirt two-tracks that were old logging routes or user-created roads), it proved enormously controversial.
Montezuma County submitted no comments during the public-comment period for the plan, and thus lacked standing to appeal the subsequent decision, but was able to join with Dolores County, which had sent comments. “Thank goodness for Dolores County, because we were able to jump in on their coat tails,” Findley said.
The plan was eventually overturned on an environmental appeal for having too many roads, and in the newer version, forest officials – after lengthy talks with commissioners for both counties – have proposed restoring motorized game retrieval in some areas.
Findley said he would have stayed better abreast of the issues. “Once it hits the front page of the newspaper, your opportunities are limited.”
Findley has dealt with publiclands agencies for many years because of his business, which utilizes aspen, and has served on the Public Lands Coordination Commission, which was appointed by the commissioners in 2011. “Taking on the Forest Service and BLM is like eating an elephant,” he said. “You start with a few bites, but it’s challenging.
“You do have some opportunities to influence those processes, but I believe you have to pick your battles. You can’t use all the county’s resources to fight something you’re not going to win.”
Findley said there was some difference of opinion among the current commissioners over whether to go to court over road issues. So far they have not chosen that route, which can be long and expensive. San Juan County, Utah, for instance, has spent more than $1 million to try to prove an RS 2477 claim (a statute involving old roads across public lands) on a single road and has yet to win.
“I would have to look long and hard at the issue first and the opportunities for success before I go down that road,” Findley said. “You don’t generally win court battles with federal agencies.”
But while he believes in having a good relationship with the agencies and trying to work out problems, that doesn’t mean he would “cave in” to them, he said. “I would never do that.”
Findley praised Bob Slough, the longtime attorney for the Montezuma County commission, for his work through the years. Slough was instrumental in the county’s ultimately winning a battle with the Mesa Verde concessionaire in the 1990s that resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling that changed property taxation throughout Colorado. “He has a wealth of knowledge,” Findley said. “He’s one of the most erudite constitutional scholars I have ever been around. He lives and breathes the Constitution.”
In addition to land-use planning, roads and public lands, the board will face the issue of economic development, he said, but the commissioners are limited in what they can do. “If you do a tax incentive [for one particular company] then you’ve done a disservice to the taxpayers [who make up the difference],” he said.
“If we can streamline the high-impactpermitting and commercial-industrial permitting, we can cut some time out of the process to help business, and I’d like to take a hard look at that.”
He also favors the commission’s idea of creating commercial-industrial “overlay” areas where such development would be encouraged. “That’s what our state highway systems are for. Let’s incentivize people to locate there.”
Findley – often described as the “moderate” in the primary race – said he is in fact “deeply conservative” but that he recognizes there are many shades of gray in county issues. “Perhaps I got the ‘moderate’ tag because I’m willing to listen to anyone’s point of view,” he said.
“The challenge of being a commissioner is you have 25,000 people in the county. There might be 50 in the room on a particular issue, 25 on one side and 25 on the other, and you’d give your left lung to know what the others were thinking.
“I’m a black-and-white sort of guy, but being a commissioner does not fit blackand- white thinking.”
Findley said he “never once made a decision as a commissioner because it was politically expedient for me.”
He said the job is very time-consuming and while it may not be necessary for it to be a full-time position, “anybody that goes into this thinking they’re only going to be there a few hours on Monday probably shouldn’t be doing this job.” When he served, he said, he put 20 to 25 hours a week into the post.
If elected, he said, he will do his best to represent the interests of the entire county.
“You don’t sit as a Republican commissioner or a Democratic commissioner, but a Montezuma County commissioner, and it doesn’t matter whether someone voted for you or not. You need to be prepared to represent all of Montezuma County.”