Garfield County commissioner candidates clash over lobbyist spending, experience
The millions of dollars in Garfield County taxpayers’ money spent in recent years on matters related to federal public-lands policies became a point of contention at Wednesday’s Glenwood Springs Issues and Answers Forum in the race for county commissioner.
Three-term incumbent Republican Tom Jankovsky said that has been money well spent, while his Democratic challenger, Ryan Gordon, said the money would be better spent finding solutions and thinking toward the future on issues, such as oil and gas development.
“Each of these issues is very diverse and different,” Jankovsky said of the issues for which the county commissioners choose to hire lawyers, consultants and lobbyists.
He referred to a comment made by former U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt during a visit to Garfield County earlier this year.
“He said that, when public lands issues come to you, that we need to be at the table and talk about our positions,” Jankovsky said.
Because Garfield County has the second-largest, natural-gas reserves of any county in the United States, that’s where a lot of that spending is directed, he said.
“We need to make sure, not just for Garfield County, but for the nation and the world, that gas is accessible,” he said. “And, there’s a big push from environmentalists to make sure it stays in the ground.”
Gordon said he agrees that the county needs to protect its interests on that and other important fronts, adding he supports oil and gas development and doesn’t agree with ending it altogether.
But, he is critical of the recent decision to hire a lawyer in the county’s dispute with state and federal officials over plans for a new state park at Sweetwater Lake.
“If we’re not at the table on some of these issues and not listening and participating, then we have no say in what happens,” he said.
But, paying $60,000 to a Phoenix law firm to find holes in the Sweetwater Lake deal last year that landed the property in the hands of the U.S. Forest Service is counterproductive, he said.
“I do agree with the commissioners that we were not consulted, and that’s a problem,” Gordon said. “But, when you start lawyering up … everybody starts to get on their back heels and antagonistic. I don’t believe that’s the right approach to this and other issues. Instead, we should be working together and finding solutions.”
Jankovsky countered that his opponent is “naïve” to think playing nice is the way to be heard at the federal level.
Regarding Sweetwater, he claimed the way the deal was funded is fishy, with multiple agencies involved and an apparent windfall for the Conservation Fund.
“The Conservation Fund fleeced the citizens of not only Garfield County, but the United States out of $1.1 million,” he charged.
The candidates also clashed over Gordon’s call for a fresh perspective and new ideas over what he called the “stale approach” of the three current commissioners, who are all in their 70s and have been in office for more than a dozen years.
“It’s not an age issue, per se,” Gordon clarified. “I respect what the board has done over the years, but some of their ideas and approach is stale and needs to change. We need collaborative, cooperative leadership, and an approach that includes more people, and that is more welcoming to diverse ideas.
“I feel like the current commissioners are not looking to the future and instead are looking to the past,” he said.
Jankovsky said he believes Gordon lacks the executive experience and business sense to be a good county commissioner.
“I hate to be called stale,” Jankovsky said, noting that he believes he has been a forward-thinking commissioner, as a founding member of Garfield Clean Energy and a supporter of various solar-power projects in the county.
The topic of separation of church and state also came up at the forum, after Jankovsky was called out recently for attending a talk in June at the Cornerstone church in Basalt by conservative Christian nationalist David Barton.
“I absolutely believe in separation of church and state,” said Jankovsky, who had declined to say that specifically when questioned during a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting.
“I have a 12-year record you can look back on, and you will not find anything from me or the other commissioners to say otherwise,” he said. “There is a separation, and we are not bringing church into our discussions.”
He did acknowledge that the commissioners always start their meetings with a moment of silence, “each in their own way.
“I always say to myself, ‘May I be humble, listen, be respectful … and may I make the best decisions I can for Garfield County,’” he said.
Gordon said he, too, believes in a separation of church and state, calling it one of the country’s founding principles.
“It’s also critical that we observe and respect everybody’s opinions, including religious beliefs, and allow people to participate where they want,” he said.
That extends to the LGBTQ+ community, as well, he added.
“We, as leaders, should be the face of this and should provide public support to make sure everyone feels welcomed and open, and that we have clear transparency throughout our local government,” Gordon said.
The candidates also talked at the forum about the big topics facing the county, including affordable housing, economic development, public safety, representing diverse political and geographical interests and Latino relations.
To view the full forum, which also included candidates for Colorado House District 57, Senate District 8, Garfield County Clerk and Recorder and Treasurer and a debate over Glenwood Springs Ballot Issue 2C (accommodations tax for workforce housing), go online to youtube.com/watch?v=aPB6JWabZPA
Ballots are to be mailed out the week of Oct. 17 for the Nov. 8 election.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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