Creston “Bud” Garner is ready to hit the ground running if elected as the Montezuma County commissioner from District 2 (Cortez). Two and a half years of faithfully sitting through the commission’s Monday meetings have prepared him for the job, he says.
“The other candidates would come for a specific agenda item and leave,” he said. “I’ve stayed for the whole meeting for almost three years. During lulls I ask questions. I think I have a good general feel for the behind-the-scenes stuff. I will have zero learning curve.”
Garner said he has been surprised to see “the way neighbors get crossways of each other and use provisions in the land-use code as a weapon.”
In the past, he said, people used to go and talk to their neighbor and try to work conflicts out. “Now we have to have committees and commissions and boards to do that for us. “
Garner is facing Keenan Ertel and Pat DeGagne-Rule in the June 26 Republican primary. The winner is essentially assured a seat on the commission, as no Democratic or unaffiliated opponents have come forth for the general election.
Garner, the emcee of the local Tea Party/ 9-12 Project chapter until he stepped down to run for office, is retired after working in the telephone business and as a co-owner of a gourmet bakery and deli. He is a staunch advocate of small government and freedom from most regulations and taxes. In his campaign literature he describes himself as “Christian, constitutional, conservative and pro-life — period.”
He acknowledged that there is somewhat of a paradox involved when a vocal critic of government seeks to join the government that he criticizes. But he said it makes sense.
“If somebody holds my general view of things, that the government has a very limited role in its function and its authorities, and sees how it’s being expanded and expanded, shouldn’t someone like me try to put brakes on that a bit?”
If elected, Garner
would be careful about spending taxpayer money, even the sort that comes as grants. Generally, commissioners have accepted such funding with no qualms, but Garner said he would look closely to the source of and need for the grant.
“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t vote for some of them. There are certain funds, both state and federal, that are dedicated funds set aside for specific purposes to local governments. I would still look at those carefully.”
For example, he would oppose accepting certain law-enforcement grants such as the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grants designed to put more officers on the ground around the country. The grants provided 100 percent funding for new officers for three years, but at the end of that period, the officers had to be retained and
paid for by the local government. “At the end of this period, you either cut your budget in other areas or raise taxes to pay for the policeman, so it comes with more problems than solutions,” Garner said.
He said Sheriff Dennis Spruell has applied for numerous grants, but few have been taxpayer-funded. Many are private, he said, and many others come from the state gaming fund. “People that go to casinos do so voluntarily and part of that goes to the state in the form of taxes, so it’s a voluntary contribution.” He has no problem with privately funded grants.
Garner also would take a hard look at regulations, existing or new.
He said he would not try to get rid of the current land-use code in its entirety, but, “I want to make it work.” The laws should have a reasonable relationship to health and safety, he said.
One thing he would like to change involves the private parcels that were called “unzoned” until they were renamed as “historic-use zone” under recently adopted changes to the land-use code. Such tracts are essentially locked into the existing land use unless the owner comes to the county for permission to change uses.
“You are allowed one use as of 1998, when the code was adopted,” Garner said. “There is no reasonable relationship of that type of zoning code to health and safety. It has taken your basically unfettered right that you had prior to the passage of that code, and you are restricted to one use. So that needs to go away.”
Garner said he is troubled by the way the county’s Landowner-Initiated Zoning system has changed over time.
“LIZ was envisioned as a totally voluntary system. There is now a clause [adopted in May with other changes] that the commissioners may designate a zoning code. It took us 14 years to go from totally voluntary to ‘may designate.’ How long will it be before the commissioners say, ‘shall’? That’s a natural progression of things and it will happen, but it won’t happen with my vote.”
Garner said he does support keeping the current requirement that commercial and industrial structures adhere to a building code. “I think that’s completely appropriate because the unsuspecting public has a reasonable expectation of safety.”
But private residences don’t need the UBC, he said, because they already must meet strict standards regarding septic systems, plumbing and electrical wiring. “Why apply the building code to somebody building a house? The prospective buyer can hire an inspector.” He compared the situation to buying a used car. “You take it to your me chanic, right? The alternative is an oppressive and micro-managing government, and I don’t want to go there.
“A community has a duty to see to the health and safety of its members and no more.”
Garner likewise was skeptical of the need for a dog-at-large ordinance, something the commissioners adopted in 2010 as an amendment to a previous ordinance. The ordinance requires dogs to be either physically restricted to their property or in the presence of their owner.
“Leash laws are largely unenforceable,” he said. “I think I would not have voted for that. Responsible owners didn’t need the leash law, and irresponsible owners won’t follow it unless there’s a complaint.
“We have a national misconception of law enforcement. It does not prevent crime. It solves crimes.”
Asked his view of the performance of the current board, Garner said, “They have been human commissioners.” He praised their management of the budget but said, “When it comes to dealing with the public-lands issues, I think they have been misguided.”
Garner has been among those pressing the commissioners to take an aggressive stance in pursuing claims to roads across public lands under an old statute called RS 2477 and to try to make the Forest Service and BLM follow county procedures when they want to close any road on public lands.
Asked how much money he would be wiling to spend to go to court to press road claims, Garner said, “Your question contains an erroneous assumption. We do not need to go to court. We already have the legal authority to control those roads. They do not have the legal authority. Let them take us to court.”
He added, “The phrasing of your question is reflective of the view of the current commission. Our state law already describes what is a road and describes who may close it and it’s only a municipality or a county,” except in emergencies.
Garner and others cite Colorado Revised Statutes in support of their view. One law provides that anyone “other than a governing body of a municipality or county” who closes “any public highway. . . that extends to any public land, including public land belonging to the federal government, . . .without good cause therefor, commits a class 1 misdemeanor. . .” Public highways are defined as, among other things, “All roads over the public domain, whether agricultural or mineral.”
“That’s what the law says in the state of Colorado and we should enforce it,” Garner said, “and if the federal government doesn’t like it, let them do what they need to do.”
Garner said he is not calling for the county to take over maintenance of Forest Service roads, nor is he saying all roads on public lands must stay open. He just believes the county commissioners should have the final say about closures on federal lands. Old logging routes, for instance, may need to be closed after a timber sale is finished, but the county should decide that, he believes. “All I ask is that it be done through the legal process.”
Garner said the ultimate goal of the federal agencies is to shut down all access to public lands and preserve the areas as wilderness. “The intent is to shut public land down to all use. No use at all, even hikers. That will be the ultimate goal. Let’s shut the mines out this year, let’s shut the cattlemen out, then the motorcycles. That’s the progression. That’s the goal.”
If elected, Garner said, he will adhere to his personal principles as described in his campaign literature. His brochure says he believes “in personal liberty and responsibility from the bottom up, not oppressive government from the top down.”
It also describes him as “a Republican who believes in, and will uphold and defend, our founding principle of liberty — first, last, always.”