Former mayor seeks commission seat
By Gail Binkly
Democrat Cheryl Baker, former mayor of Cortez, is running for county commissioner in District 2. Baker, a former business owner, has 18 years of experience as a financial consultant. She was interviewed by Gail Binkly on Sept. 19. Her opponent, Larrie Rule, was profiled in the August issue for his primary race. That interview is available on this web site under the August listings.
GB: What kind of person are you? Just describe yourself.
CB: I’m pretty down-to-earth, honest, reliable. I’m kind, I’m open-minded, I’m a really good listener. I’m compassionate.
GB: What experience have you had that prepared you to govern the county?
CB: Most recently would be my five years serving on city council for Cortez and two years as mayor. I found over that five-year cycle we had good times, we had bad times, I learned a lot about budgeting, about compromise, I learned about listening to the residents of Cortez and I think I could put those skills to good use at the county level.
GB: Could you give an example of a particularly difficult issue you had to work with?
CB: Oh, gosh, they’re all difficult because not everyone ends up happy. When I first got on council there was a developer wanting to put in a mobile-home unit in a residential sector of town and there was a great outcry from the residents to not have that mobile development in that particular area, which was not already zoned. So I went out there and walked around and talked to a lot of the folks that lived there, and it turned out we weren’t able to approve that particular development. The residents were happy; the developer was unhappy. I think it’s hard to stand tough and implement the rules that are in place sometimes. That developer has had an opportunity and has taken advantage of it and has developed very beautifully in a part of town that IS zoned for mobile. So it’s a story with a happy ending, but at the time that we went through it, it was really emotional for the homeowners there.
GB: And he wasn’t happy.
CB: And I understood that, and I guess that’s part of government. It’s hard sometimes to have to say no, but sometimes you have to.
GB: Well, kind of relating to that, what do you think about the county’s LIZ system?
CB: I think if it’s enforced, it’s an excellent beginning. It’s a landowner-initiative system that is agreeable enough to get passed but still very misunderstood by the residents. Half of the people I talk to think if they don’t make a decision on their property it will automatically default to agriculture. and I’ve seen situations when I’ve been attending county-commissioner meetings when folks have come in and not been happy with a commercial development in their neighborhood and it turns out they’re all unzoned, so really they give the commissioners no ammunition whatsoever to stop that commercial development, because it isn’t a residential area, it’s unzoned. So I think there’s still a lot of education that needs to be done about how it works and how the homeowner and landowner can use it to their benefit. But it’s not the final piece of work because life is constant change.
GB: Would you pretty much like to retain it the way it is?
CB: I honestly don’t know it well enough to say yea or nay on that. I suspect, though, that it needs to be beefed up. I think it probably needs to address more issues, but I know right now I would just love to see it enforced, I would love to see everyone take advantage of the option they have and get their property zoned so that down the road, they don’t have some ugly surprise.
GB: When you talk about having it enforced, do you think you need a special person, a full-time person?
CB: The county has full-time people. They have a planning and zoning commission, a planning department, and the commissioners themselves, so they really have three levels of looking at these kinds of things. I think it’s just a matter of giving the planning and zoning board the ability and the incentive to really delve into some of those things, but I also think it’s going to be a lot of public meetings to communicate with the folks that are already out there about zoning if they’re unzoned. You know, an open-house thing. If you live on an unzoned piece of property, please come and let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of remaining unzoned. So it’s kind of going forward from where we are right now with enforcement and assistance, but it’s also kind of catching up with the folks that already live here that have not made a choice about zoning.
GB: There are quite a few of them, I understand.
CB: And I think public meetings, public forums, opportunities for them to get a better understanding, maybe a mass mailing.
GB: As you know, in Montezuma County there’s strong support for private property rights. Could you talk about how far you would take that? Should people be allowed to do whatever they want on their property?
CB: I think until there is a health issue or a public-safety issue involved, the commissioners have little authority to change that. Until there is an outcry from the majority of residents of Montezuma County for a change, I think the commissioners are whistling in the wind to try to do it by themselves.
GB: It’s complaint-driven.
CB: Right now almost everything at the county-commissioner level is complaint-driven. And in some respects I suppose that’s the voice of the people. In other respects, I would like to see the commissioners be more proactive about things like dangerous intersections or, oh, I don’t know, just reaching out into the community more. If I’m elected, I intend to reach out into the community more.
GB: That’s my next question. What is the main issue you’d like to work on if elected?
CB: I think communicating with the residents is really an important issue and I don’t know whether that’s through a newspaper article on a monthly or semi-quarterly basis, or if it’s televising the meetings, but I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding or maybe just lack of understanding about what the commissioners do, what the county is required to do by the state because they are a county, just how to get things done through the county. That’s something I would be interested in pursuing.
I think encouraging the residents of Montezuma County to look at the growth potential over the next 10 years and, either through a question-and-answer mailing or something, find out how many residents do they want in Montezuma County? and what are they willing to do to keep the quality of life we have here now? What are they willing to give up, or are they?
GB: Do you have a feeling about that, about what the county’s sentiment is?
CB: In talking with people who live here, whether they live in Cortez or the county, they all live here for the quality of life. Now that’s a term that can mean many things to many different people. Some people live here because they do have personal property rights and they can kind of do whatever they want on their property. Other people live here because they like the fact that there’s an element of safety you don’t find in larger communities. There’s a neighborly good will that they really enjoy, or they’re multi-generation, they grew up here and they want their children to grow up here. But somewhere in the middle there’s got to be a common denominator that we all agree on and whether it’s safety or it’s just having no rush-hour traffic, being able to drive into town and get around the way we want to, whatever it is, there’s a common ground we’ll all agree is where we draw the line, that we don’t want to lose that. And I don’t know how they feel and I’d be very interested in finding out.
GB: People talk about growth and about managing growth. I never hear anyone actually talk about limiting growth. Do you think that that’s possible or desirable?
CB: I think it’s possible. I think the upper Dolores River TDR program is showing that we don’t have to have 3,000 homes up there, we can reduce that to 1200 and still give the property owners the nest egg or the benefit of their development rights without forcing them to develop their property. I think we can do programs like that. Maybe that isn’t the end-all to everything, but these things to be looked at and explored, and we need to see how other communities have done things. We don’t want or need 75,000 people living here. Our economy is not the greatest but we’re not starving to death here. We need a reasonable amount of growth where we have infrastructure and jobs – a balance instead of 75,000 residents and no jobs and no infrastructure. I think it’s possible, I know it’s possible. Other communities are doing it. And they’re already doing it in Montezuma County.
GB: You mentioned earlier the idea of televising the commission meetings and I’ve heard you say that would be a good idea. Why?
CB: I was so surprised how many people watch the city-council meetings. It just floored me. We even talked at one point about discontinuing the televising because of budget cuts and there was an outcry of folks that said, “You know, we like to watch it. We’re interested in what goes on.” I think there’s a lot of people that are very interested in what is going on at county level and I think they would watch it and I think the more participation we have or encourage, the more this county will grow and change the way the residents want it to.
GB: Are you thinking of having it on a delay, where it would be shown in the evening?
CB: Well, that’s how the city does it. They have a live feed and then a few days later they have a delayed feed, a daytime one I think. We’d probably have to do an evening one. Most folks are at work and can’t watch the meetings on a Monday during the day.
GB: Do you favor the proposed half-cent sales tax for roads?
CB: I don’t know enough about the budget process to know where we’re at. I know roads are the third-largest expenditure that the county makes now, so if we have an increase I would want accountability. I would want the decisions to be made by a group of individuals based on usage and just be sure that the roads that need upgrading the most get it. I don’t have a problem with folks feeling willing to pay for their own services. I’m willing as a taxpayer to pay for that. . . . I know there’s a great need. I don’t think they’ll have any problem finding projects. I just want to make sure it’s done fairly and appropriately.
GB: Most of the commissioners in the past have had other jobs or business interests. Do you think the position should be a full-time job?
CB: I think it’s always been presented as kind of a part-time job, but I think if you visit with Kelly Wilson or Kent Lindsay or Dewayne Findley, you’re going to find out that it’s pretty much a very busy schedule. The issues are critical. Region 9, the senior transportation issue, there’s so many issues that are critical to Southwest Colorado. They’re attending more and more meetings. I don’t think that being county commissioner can be referred to as a part-time job any more.
GB: How would that work for you?
CB: It’ll work fine for me. I’m semi-retired now. I have rentals. So it’ll be fine for me. I’m looking forward to getting involved and doing everything I can to watch out for us, and by “us” I mean not just the residents of Montezuma County, but the southwest slope.
GB: Historically the commission has been made up of white males. Do you see a need for more diversity? What do you think has prevented it so far?
CB: Well, Helen McClellan was a county commissioner and I think she did a good job. It’s hard to run against an incumbent. I think you’re going to see a lot more women in office now with term limits. It’s just difficult to find good candidates, male or female, and I just think you’re going to see a lot more women in government with term limits in place.
GB: Same thing for more Hispanics or Native Americans?
CB: Yeah. It’s really hard to run against incumbents.
GB: You hear this term “good old boys” used a lot in reference to the county commissioners. We’ve just been asking people, what does that really mean? Is there validity to that perception?
CB: I think it’s really a term for the way things have been done in the past and it’s kind of they’ve been done to the best of the individuals’ ability on the county commission but they’ve more or less carried the ball and I think that’s changing. I think that now the folks that live in Montezuma County want to be involved more and they recognize the county commissioners are just human beings who can’t have all the answers and really shouldn’t. They’re elected to serve. In order to do a good job serving, you’ve got to take the order. I learned that years ago waiting tables. You’ve got to understand what is wanted in order to serve. So I think there are a lot of terms like good old boys and, you know, “you run for county commission to get your road paved,” that’s another one, and I just think they’re irrelevant. You’ve got three good people there that have tried their best. Two are leaving and you need somebody in there that’s got some experience. It’s going to be hard for Dewayne Findley to handle this thing with two people in there who are clueless about government, so as a resident of this community, I want someone in there that has experience, someone that I know is interested in my well-being.
GB: The last issue I wanted to touch on was Echo Basin Ranch. What’s your feeling about the controversies going on there, both involving the proposed residential development and then the commercial activities the neighbors have complained about?
CB: I don’t think it’s really complex. We have a land-use code and we just need to enforce it. I believe there are some activities going on up there that began after the land-use code was put in place, some of the concerts and things, and there needs to be a high-impact-permit process taking place and I think that’s going to take care of the issue. One thing, that road has been in need of some work for some time. It’s got a lot of traffic on it. There’s a fair amount of use on that road without the added Echo Basin pressure. I just think there’s got to be some things done to that road and that’s something that would be handled with this high-impact process.
GB: Well, do you think the commissioners were right to change the date of that high-impact hearing until after the election?
CB: I think they’re trying to conduct business without it being a circus, if you will. I don’t know that I would have changed the date just because [Echo Basin owner] Mr. Bjorkman wouldn’t commit to attend, period. I thought that was kind of mean-spirited or not in the spirit of cooperation. I think the commissioners are trying to do their best to handle the situation and I wouldn’t have changed the date because he wasn’t cooperating, but I can understand why they did. It’s meant to be government, not a circus.
GB: Is there anything you would like to add?
CB: I believe I’m the right person for the job. I just ask everyone to look at my qualifications and I would ask them to vote for me.