RIFLE — When the Colorado Mountain College (CMC) board of trustees voted to grant a $500,000 severance payment to former president Stan Jensen, “I would have been there to have my voice heard,” said Rifle banker Jay Rickstrew.
Rickstrew — 44, married, with two children — is running to unseat incumbent Mary Ellen Denomy of Parachute, who is hoping voters will send her back to the CMC board for a second term representing District 3, or western Garfield County.
Speaking during an interview recently, Rickstrew was critical of Denomy’s decision not to attend from a Dec. 27, 2012, board meeting, where the decisions were made to accept Jensen’s resignation as president of the college and to pay him the half-million-dollar severance amount.
Rickstrew noted that he was not sure how he would have voted, if he had been on the board at the time.
But, he continued, “I feel like, when you are elected to a position, I think you have an obligation to be there,” continued Rickstrew, who is regional president at the Alpine Bank in Rifle and essentially is in charge of that and several other branches in Garfield County.
Denomy, who has acknowledged that she stayed away from the Dec. 27 meeting because she was opposed to the size of the severance deal, said the reason she did so was to avoid causing dissension in the vote, since she was certain she was in the minority about the issue.
Rickstrew confirmed that his position is the Garfield County equivalent to the job of current CMC Board Chair Glenn Davis, who oversees several Alpine Bank branches in Eagle County.
Alpine Bank handles financial services for the 11-campus CMC District, and some have questioned the idea of having two Alpine Bank officers serving on the CMC board at the same time.
Rickstrew said he is not running because of any pressure or encouragement from Davis or anyone else connected with the bank or at CMC, and noted that he has never had anything to do with the bank’s arrangements with the college district.
“I don’t have a strong tie to anybody at the school who is feeding me an agenda or that kind of thing,” he said.
And, he predicted, college observers “might be surprised to know” that he and Davis often have differing views about subjects.
“We don’t always agree on everything that comes down the pike,” he said of his views and those of Davis.
He said that if anything ever came up involving Alpine Bank and its services to the college, he would recuse himself from any discussion and any vote that came out of the discussion.
“Alpine Bank is a big supporter of Colorado Mountain College, has been for a long time,” Rickstrew said. “Whether or not I’m a trustee on the board, I don’t see that changing.”
While he never attended CMC, he said, “I had a wonderful experience with my daughter,” who earned a nursing assistant degree from CMC while still a senior at Rifle High School.
Rickstrew, who grew up as part of a fourth generation Carbondale family, said he has never run for elective office before this, but has served for eight years on the Garfield County Re-2 School District board, until 2012, including six years as the school board’s president. He said he had a good attendance record on the school board.
He is president of the Rifle Downtown Development Authority, and is a member of the CMC Foundation board. He has been a board member of the Independent Bankers of Colorado trade group, a volunteer assistant basketball coach at Rifle High School, and a certified college basketball referee for 23 years. He said he probably will have to step down from the CMC Foundation board if he is elected to the board of trustees.
When asked why he decided to run at this time for the board of trustees, Rickstrew replied, “I know the timing doesn’t seem very good, with all the difficulties I’ve been reading about.”
But, he continued, he believes it is important to have vocational educational options for local residents.
“Not every kid is set up to be a bachelor’s degree student,” he said, adding that he is familiar with CMC’s course offerings and feels “they’ve got such a wide range of opportunities for people, I just want to help them to continue to grow.” He is not worried about the four-year degree programs that the college has created, noting that those programs provide “more opportunities to people to do what they want to do.”
Since deciding to run, he said he has obtained and studied the minutes from this year and last year, to familiarize himself with the issues the college district faces.
While not familiar with management issues within the college, Rickstrew said it is up to the board to review documents such as the recently completed Gap Analysis Report and other materials to identify the proper directions for the college district.
“If you’re elected, you’ve got a whole bunch of homework to do right off, so you can hit the ground running,” he said.