As president of Ertel Funeral Home in Cortez, Keenan Ertel often becomes acquainted with people under the worst of circumstances. Nevertheless, he is a popular figure in the county – something he attributes to his efforts to make sure the grieving families served through his business are treated with respect and kindness.
“People don’t come to us because they want to, but hopefully the relationships we have formed have been positive, not negative.” Ertel, who has been with the funeral home since 1978 (he and his wife bought it from his father in 1993), said he has learned much from his experiences.
“In my job I’m brought into contact with all strata of life here. I’ve gotten to know a lot of different people, and I’ve learned from them.”
Now he hopes to take those acquaintanceships and lessons and use them to help him serve as county commissioner. Ertel is vying with Pat DeGagne-Rule and Creston “Bud” Garner for the District 2 commission seat. All three are Republicans; the winner of the June 26 primary is virtually guaranteed the seat, as no general-election opponents have come forth.
If elected, Ertel will leave the family business, letting his daughter and son-in-law take over. “I was going to retire in January 2014, so if elected I will move that to 2013,” he said.
He said the complexity and magnitude of the commissioners’ job is such that he isn’t sure he could juggle it along with his other position. ”I will feel much better about serving the community if I can devote my full attention to this job,” he said.
However, he stopped short of saying the position should be a full-time one; he believes other commissioners have managed to serve well even while running businesses.
Ertel said he likes the fact that the current commission has been very fiscally responsible and praised their purchase of the former First National Bank building as “one of the buys of the century,” but admitted he hasn’t been to enough meetings yet to evaluate them on most of their other decisions.
One of the issues he would most like to work on is business growth and development. He is dismayed by the number of people who are struggling to get by in Montezuma County.
He realizes the commission’s ability to promote economic growth is limited but wants to pursue whatever opportunities there may be.
“If there are venues available to me as a commissioner to promote business and economic activity to maybe free people from social services, or to allow our young people to come back here and bring up a family and do well economically, I want to help. I don’t know how the commissioners can help, but that will be something I will certainly investigate.”
Ertel would like to work with the private Montezuma County Economic Development Association. “That council has some very talented businesspeople on it. Maybe they can work with the commissioners and locate economic opportunities.”
Ertel was born and raised in the county and has lived here all his life except for a few years out of the area when he was pursuing his education. He has a B.A. from the University of Colorado and a mortuary-science degree from the Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science in 1980; he was class valedictorian.
He served on the Cortez City Council from about 1986 to 1990 (he hasn’t lived in the city since then), has served on the board of the Cortez Fire Protection District about 15 years (not all in sequence), and has been on the board of Citizens State Bank since 1988.
He makes no bones about the fact that he has some catching-up to do on the issues, but he is eager to learn and receptive to different ideas.
He has attended meetings of the local Tea Party/9-12 Project and the Southwest Public Lands Commission, a recreationalaccess advocacy group, to learn about public-lands issues. “There are some very vocal people in those organizations. I’m getting a pretty good education on what some of the issues are. There are some very dedicated and capable people.”
Ertel described himself as “probably a bit more of a conservative Republican,” but said he prefers not to be labeled. “I would like to be a Republican that’s based in principle and value.
“I try and base everything I do on some kind of principle.”
One issue various commissions have wrestled with over the years is how much weight to place on the comments of people who come to public hearings, frequently to speak against proposed developments, as opposed to the “silent majority” that doesn’t show up.
Ertel said in considering any proposal, it’s important to first consider the people who will be most directly affected. “Their concerns have to be weighed, along with, will this gravel pit or whatever it is be an overall beneficial activity for the county of Montezuma? Will it help alleviate some of the high cost of gravel? Increase competition? Employ people?
“Weigh the pros and cons, then make the best decision you can possibly make on what is overall the best for the county. I’m sure it will be fraught with difficulty.”
And, of course, the decision has to be made in alignment with the state and U.S. constitutions, he said.
Ertel is receptive to the idea of having some commission meetings or public hearings in the evenings. “Maybe you could have part of the meeting during the day and then have an evening session. I think that would give more access to more people.”
Asked about the fact that the county has no sales tax, Ertel said he would have to think long and hard before ever proposing that it seek one. “Sales tax is the most equitable tax there is. Not that I am necessarily in favor of taxation, but of all the taxes – property, use excise – the sales tax is the most equitable. If the county were to implement a sales tax maybe we would need to alleviate some taxes in different areas.”
Any new tax would probably be for a specific purpose, he said, such as adding to the jail. But, he said, “Here we are talking about expanding our jail and we can’t expand our schools! There’s something wrong there!”
Ertel said his philosophy strongly favors personal responsibility, “which we as a country have forgotten about. It starts from our government trying to write laws to govern everything. You can’t legislate morality, ethics, values, personal responsibility.
“Let me make myself clear. I am a person that is in favor of less government, not more. I will do whatever I can to reduce the intrusion of government regulation in people’s lives.”
And, he added, he wants to serve the county.
“I think whoever runs for the seat of commissioner — hopefully they are running because they want to be an effective person in the county and want to do things for the benefit of the county, not necessarily benefiting themselves,” he said. “I hope we are all for the betterment and the promotion and advancement of the county rather than advancement and personal recognition.”