Don Denison, candidate for county commissioner in District 2 (the Cortez district) is running against Larrie Rule in the Aug. 10 Republican primary. Below is a transcript of his interview with reporter David Grant Long, edited only to remove redundancies and other non-essential items such as “ums” and “you knows.”
Denison is a native of Southwest Colorado. His wife, Darlene, is a former member of the Cortez City Council. Both work for Southwest Printing in Cortez. Denison, who formerly produced the Montezuma County Weekly, an alternative newspaper, has worked for the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation as well as in the fiberglass industry.
DGL: First off, if you could just describe yourself, what kind of person you are.
DD: Well, I’m one who believes in certainly our government following the law. and I believe that the rights of the people are paramount and I believe that as a Republican I believe in limited government in our lives and limited interference in our lives.
DGL: What experiences have you had that prepared you to govern the county, basically?
DD: Well, I think the experiences that I’ve gotten to be able to occupy the position of a county commissioner is one of the many years that I’ve dealt with the city of Cortez .and their governing body. I’m certainly well-read and understand quite a bit about the issues and laws and the entities that try to govern us in our county. I think my experience on actually one-on-one dealings with government entities has given me a very good background in this.
DGL: What is the main issue you’d like to work on if you are elected?
DD: There’s so many of them that are equally important I don’t know how you would extract one and bring it to the foreground as one of the most important. I think one of the big things we need to do is we need to hold our government and our elected officials accountable for their actions, whether it be the waste of our money, the giving our money away to non-governmental organizations instead of using it for required services to be supplied to our residents, actually tending to issues that are important to the benefit to all of our residents, not just a select few people.
DGL: What would those issues be?
DD: One issue maybe could be this proposed library district for the city of Cortez, having it raise taxes on the Re-1 school district people. And from one of the things that I’ve gathered, after holding neighborhood meetings and being invited to neighborhood picnics and people assembling in their living rooms, is a lot of these people feel they have already contributed money to this library by purchasing materials and services within the city of Cortez and paying their taxes. Just because they don’t live within the city limits they still contribute a lot of money to the city for that library.
DGL: Sure. That’s right. They pay sales tax.
DD: And of course one of the other issues is after making the other owners of our electrical co-op (aware) about how some of their members are being charged a franchise fee on their electrical within the city, singling out those members of our electrical association, and just like that franchise fee is attached on top of taxes and everything else. It just isn’t the energy they’ve used, they figure it the energy, the use, the service charges, the city tax, county tax, state tax, and then the city puts that 5 percent franchise fee on top of all of that. It’s a tax on a tax and the members of the Empire Electric Association and the county, actually what they find is this District 2, it’s a small portion of our county, from people I’ve talked to on Summit Ridge as well as in Mancos area as well as even down by our Ute Mountain Ute Reservation is the consensus is there is an entity that wants to turn this into the county of Cortez. And that’s why this is a very important district.
DGL: You’ll be representing the Cortez district, right?
DD: I’ll be representing Montezuma County.
DGL: But I mean the district, the second district, constitutes pretty much the town of Cortez.
DD: Yes, that’s the district that it’s in. However, the county at large votes on this district, too.
DGL: Right, but as far as. – I’ve always though the commissioner from the Mancos area was looking out after that part of the county, looking after their interests, and up by Dolores was looking out for that part of the county.
DD: But all three county commissioners are responsible for passing the legislation that governs this county.
DGL: Right. Would you try to lower taxes somehow?
DD: Well, I don’t think I can do anything about lowering taxes at all. That’s certainly a hollow promise to keep. Nobody’s going to be able to say, I can lower taxes. What I intend on doing is shining a spotlight on the money that we do get from our taxes and where that money is spent and how it’s been allocated. For instance, the county is trying to put forth a 0.55 percent additional county tax for roads. Well, I don’t understand why we need that 0.55 percent increase in taxes because the county has already given money away to non-governmental organizations such as that tram commission. I don’t see why the county should have put any money towards that tram commission, it’s not a government entity, then turn right around and as it appears somewhat influencing Mancos in their decisions. If the city of Cortez has all this money to give away to a tram study, then why are they asking for an increase in the library district to fund the library? They should be putting their money towards that library. And then again, when is enough enough? I think one of the big things we need to do in our county is start taking a look at where the money is going and who’s getting it. It’s certainly not going to the required services that we are supposed to deliver by law to our residents.
DGL: So you would be opposed to the library and you don’t think the tram commission was a good idea that should have had public financing.
DD: I think the library’s a very necessary thing and if they want to put a tram through, that’s a very necessary thing. But that should come from people wanting to donate their money, not coming from our tax money that is supposed to go for our roads and for the benefit of our residents at large.
DGL: But as far as the library district, that would be funded by a (1.75) mill) property tax, and you would be opposed to –
DD: Well, I’m opposed to any new taxes, David. The city of Cortez has already stretched us to the limit and added in. Well, for instance our vendor’s fee took a 20-year hike along with this rec center and if you followed that from the very conception, that was really a weird little trip they took on that. And people are starting to understand this and realize this. The next four years, Montezuma County better get its feet back on the ground and that’s what I propose on doing is occupying a commissioner’s seat that’s going to be accountable for his actions and those actions directed for the residents of this county.
DGL: You know about the issue about that company over by Mancos, Farm Goods for Kids and Going Ape???, what the commission decided to do about that?
DD: You’re talking about the expansion of the warehouse?
DGL: Right. What did you think of the commission’s decision about that expansion?
DD: I tell you what, David, I really have nothing to say about the decisions that the present county commissioners are making. I don’t have the information that they’re working from. The only information I get is from the residents at large and as we both know that can sometimes be a one-sided issue. As you well know, being a councilman, until you’re privy to all the information, it’s very difficult to judge what some people are doing.
DGL: That was all carried out at a public meeting, though, just as far as what the commission wanted in the way of mitigation, putting a limit on the number of employees that could work there, things like that. Do you think that was a good way of handling it?
DD: I kind of am from the thought that we all have the right to develop our property and we all have a right to be responsible how we develop our property. And we also have a responsibility to pay attention to what’s our side of the fence and quit taking a look at what somebody else is doing on their side of the fence.
DGL: It was the neighboring property owners that were opposed.
DD: I think that the big problem was the road, and if the road cannot achieve the traffic that’s going on there then the road needs to be addressed.
DGL: I think part of it was that the neighbors didn’t want to have basically an industrial operation in the middle of their neighborhood. Are you saying that since the guy owns the property he should be able to do anything he wants with it pretty much?
DD: Well, now that’s a loaded question right there.
DGL: Are you familiar with what the commission decided as far as what they wanted if this guy were going to expand?
DD: The last word I got on it he was still a little bit nervy about it and I don’t know the end of the whole thing. That’s something going on between those people there and I’m certainly not an elected commissioner yet and I’m certainly not going to second-guess what our commissioners are doing along with that property.
DGL: OK. Because he’s threatening to move his operation to Durango or somewhere.
DD: I know that and I certainly can understand his intentions there, but I don’t think that’s the answer to everything. What I don’t understand about the whole thing is since we have started this land-use code and it’s pretty much following everything that’s happened around here, is we can’t just make a code and live by it. Every time we have a meeting there’s a change in it, a change in it, it’s a living, breathing dragon that from now on we can’t even make our own minds up, we have to appoint commissions and have people look at stuff.
DGL: What do you think of LIZ (Landowner-Initiated Zoning)? Should it be kept pretty much as it is, or do you want to get rid of it or change it?
DD: No, I was involved in the adoption of that and we had it all set up and then an organization called the Homebuilders Association, which the city of Cortez is involved with, came in and started lobbying our elected officials for changes in it and putting codes on it and this is what I’m getting at, David. There’s too many non-governmental organizations spearheaded by special-interest groups that are starting to change our way of life here and the residents of the county are getting sick of it.
DGL: Well, do you think LIZ needs to be changed, or gotten rid of?
DD: LIZ is fine as long as they just leave it alone. This is what we came up with to govern ourselves. If people can’t live with that, they either are going to have to adapt to it or as time goes on we can maybe see where we could benefit by less government in our lives and do it that way.
DGL: OK. Most county commissioners today have other jobs or business interests. Do you think the position should be a full-time job?
DD: You’d better believe it. They’re getting paid full-time money. There should be an office down there for commissioners, commissioners should start taking more of a role of accountability for their elected positions and I think they need to start making more of their own decisions rather than pawning it off to an administrator, a planning and zoning commission or any other non-governmental organization. A good one is the TDRs up the Dolores River Valley. Yes, I think what we need to do is start getting county commissioners’ elected positions held accountable. It’s a full-time job, if you can’t devote your full-time job to it, you shouldn’t be elected or you shouldn’t run. Find out what’s important to you.
DGL: What are TDRs, what about them?
DD: Transfer of Development Rights.
DGL: You don’t think that’s a good idea?
DD: It goes along with conservation easements and everything else. The only value to a piece of property is its development rights and the rights you have to that property. And, as you know, in the city every time you turn around, your property has another restriction on it and the value is gone. It got to the point to where we couldn’t live in a certain part of town, our house wasn’t big enough. But I have great hopes for these people in the county. They are fairly wise to what’s happening. How the election is going to turn out it’s very difficult to say because for them to get out and actually stand up and be counted, now that’s going to be a task in itself. But I think they’re getting to the point where they realize they have to do this.
DGL: Do you believe the county commissioners have done a good job in the past few years?
DD: I think Gene Story was one of our best commissioners we’ve had that I’ve seen in action. I think that we could have done a lot more to protect 164,000 acres out here that went into a monument that we shouldn’t have had put on us from the top down, and I think our county commissioners should have stood fast a little bit more behind our LIZ development program and not allowed the Homebuilders to come in to lobby them here and there to get more government influence on our lives.
DGL: Do you have any idea why there’s only been one woman elected commissioner in Montezuma County? For over a hundred years there’s been a county commission and in all that time there’s only been one female commissioner for one four-year term.
DD: How many have run? Helen’s (Helen McClellan) the only one I know that’s run, other than Cheryl Baker (the current Democratic candidate in District 2).
DGL: There was talk of some other women running this time that didn’t. But historically, why do you think there haven’t been more women running for the commission or being elected?
DD: I don’t have a crystal ball. I suggest you ask the women why they don’t run.
DGL: Does it matter if there are more women elected to the commission in the future? Do you think it would be a good thing?
DD: I’ve always looked at men and women as equals, David. I don’t know the answer to that. Here’s a question for you: Why haven’t we had more Native Americans run and one elected? The Ute Mountain Ute tribe is a big influence in this county on its own. Why haven’t we have a Native American run and why haven’t we elected a Native American to our commissioners?
DGL: Why do you think that is?
DD: Because I think Montezuma County still hasn’t got it, the impact the Ute Mountain Ute tribe is making and going to continue to make. I’ve said for years, even in the paper Montezuma County Today, it’s time we give them the due respect they deserve and a place at the table.
DGL: Are you talking a commissioner that would be elected from Towaoc or the Ute Mountain Ute reservation?
DD: Well, I kind of wish Carl Knight would have run for commissioner. I don’t know why he didn’t. I haven’t really sat down and talked to him about it. They are residents of this county as well as everybody else. But getting back to why women haven’t run, I couldn’t ask you that, David, I would suggest maybe in the future we will have more women running. But I don’t think it’s a matter of a woman or a man running, it’s what they bring to the table and what they stand for and what their background has been in the decisions they have made while they have occupied office. I think we’re going to see a lot of that in this election.
DGL: A lot of times you hear the term “good old boys” referring to the power structure in the county, implying there’s a network of cronies.
DD: There are.
DGL: Do you think there’s any validity to that perception?
DD: David, you know that as well as I do. Come on now. All you got to do is take a look at whatever issues are on the plate, who’s involved, the backgrounds, the names continually crop up. It’s almost like if you want to find out what’s going on, follow the money. But in this case, if you want to know who’s doing it, follow the names. I’ll tell you, as much research as I have done, there are names that continually crop up.
DGL: What are some of those names?
DD: David, you do your homework on that. I’m not going to tell you the names.
DGL: You mean like getting special treatment or making money off of county government?
DD: You asked me is there a good-old-boy climate around here and I’m saying, yes, there is. How I’ve found out is I’ve just followed the names of issues that have come up and after a while certain names continue to be present.
DGL: In what sort of context?
DD: You’re not new at this game. You know what’s going on.
DGL: I’m asking you, Don. I’m not trying to play games.
DD: That’s not what we’re here for.
DGL: I just was asking for a for-instance, what benefit they get out of it.
DD: I can’t tell you what benefit they get, I can tell you how the rest of us suffer.
DGL: How is that?
DD: We’re losing the rights to just about everything we’ve got around here. We’re being over-taxed. You just got to experience it, I guess. I don’t know where this interview is going. I thought we were going to talk about county issues.
DGL: Well, I thought we had been.
DD: All right.
Don Denison concluded by saying he felt comfortable about the interview and had taped it himself. He thanked the Free Press for doing the community a service. He added: What I hope to bring to the commissioners’ table if elected is I will protect your private property rights, we will follow the law, we will give you due process and we should and will be held accountable and the residents of this county would do themselves a big favor by becoming more involved and holding their elected officials accountable.