In their words: A Q&A with the Garfield County Commission District 1 candidates

The Post Independent this week launches a series of question-and-answer format stories focusing on the local and regional candidates running for office in the Nov. 8 election.

Ballots are to be mailed out to registered voters in Garfield County and across Colorado this week. Completed ballots are due by 7 p.m. Nov. 8.

We begin the series with the candidates running for Garfield County Commission District 1, Republican incumbent Tom Jankovsky and Democratic challenger Ryan Gordon.

Garfield County Commissioner District 1 Candidate Tom Jankovsky answers questions at the Oct. 5 Issues and Answers Forum at Glenwood Springs City Hall.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Garfield County Commissioner District 1 Candidate Ryan Gordon answers questions at the Oct. 5 Issues and Answers Forum at Glenwood Springs City Hall.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

What do you see as the top two most pressing issues facing Garfield County, and what’s your approach to addressing them?

Jankovsky: One issue of importance in Garfield County is public safety. Most citizens of Garfield County aren’t aware the Governor and State Legislature have passed criminal laws allowing no cash bail and reducing penalties for possession of hard core drugs such as fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamines from a felony to a misdemeanor. Both the DA and Sheriff have stated they are seeing individuals arrested and coming through their doors with 12-14 prior arrests and immediately being released.  Violent crime is rising in Garfield County; to date there approximately 1,400 crime victims per year. I have and always will fund the Sheriff, DA and public safety.

Housing is another important issue in our County. The answer to the housing crisis will come from government, nonprofits and the private sector. As a county commissioner, I have overseen affordable housing requirements of one house in 10 for new subdivisions, HUD funding of $3 million for mortgages, and down payments for first time homebuyers, funding for Habitat for Humanity, funding for Garfield County Housing Authority who administers HUD rental vouchers and oversees affordable housing. The private sector is the most important player to our housing shortage. A small builder in Glenwood Springs who converts a church to 13 condominium units, the manufacturer in Rifle who turnkey is building affordable housing, or the owner of a hotel in Parachute converting to apartments. The answer to our housing crisis is cooperation between all sectors. I will continue to work with government, nonprofits and private entrepreneurs to solve this housing problem.

Gordon: Affordable housing is the top issue that will dictate how our county grows and thrives into the future. What I am really worried about is if we lose some of our workforce, are we going to be able to hire anyone with the current cost of housing? Will they be able to find housing in the communities in which they work?

Wildfire is something that we need to think about all year. Are we prepared if there is a wildfire? Do you know what the evacuation routes or rally points are? I haven’t seen a plan that addresses these concerns. We need to increase the amount of coordination between agencies in order to understand our strengths and identify our limitations. We need to make sure our forests are healthy. We must ensure that our wetland and riparian areas are protected to help with water quality concerns.

We must find ways to set aside politics and work collaboratively. Our issues are not confined to Garfield County and we need to have a regional approach that takes advantage of our collective strengths.

What is your position on the county involving itself on state and national policy issues? What are the pros and cons of such an approach?

Gordon: There are many issues at the state and national level that affect Garfield County citizens either directly or indirectly. And many of the policies, bills and court decisions are beyond our ability to control or provide input, but I believe that we should advocate for or against issues that originate at the state or national level. We need to lend our voice, our support to those who are affected and impacted by these decisions.

We see many good things that result from involvement from the state and the federal government here in our region. Look at the recent positive designations for Camp Hale and Thompson Divide. And as much as the commissioners don’t like the results at Sweetwater Lake, 488 acres of pristine lands will be preserved for our future generations and will guarantee that our access to Sweetwater Lake is not restricted.

However, we should not blindly follow or accept impacts to Garfield County from the state or the federal government. We must have a seat at the table and have input on decisions or policies that will affect us — and to do this we need to work collaboratively with all policy makers, Democrats or Republicans, and agencies.

Jankovsky: Garfield County is 62% public lands. The use of these lands effect the future of our county. These lands have multiple uses, grazing, recreation, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and mineral oil and gas extraction to name a few. How these lands are managed will effect the health and wealth of our county for many generations. Former Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said, “you need to be at the table, because once these plans are in place they are difficult to change.” One federal issue Garfield County is participating in is the Rocky Mountain Resources limestone mine. The mine is adjacent to Glenwood Springs and has the potential to harm residents and the tourism industry. Garfield County is in a lawsuit with RMR and the BLM concerning the expansion of the quarry. The pros to this are that it protects an important sector of our economy and the health and safety of the residents of our county. The cons are that it takes outside counsel and a lot of staff time. There are other issues on federal Lands including, Sweetwater Lake, Thompson Divide and the Greater Sage Grouse. Although different issues, the pros and cons remain the same.

In what ways can Garfield County diversify its economy, and what is county government’s role in that?

Jankovsky: As a commissioner, Garfield County and I played a critical role in our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic.

Today, for the economy to grow we need to address our housing crisis. Our economic development and growth are linked to housing. If we don’t have housing, we won’t have employees for our schools, services and businesses. I addressed this important issue under the questions of issues affecting our county. Statistics from the State Demographer show we have a diverse economy with 10 sectors that employ more than 1,000 individuals. The largest sectors are construction, government, retail trade, tourism and health services. I am the Commissioner who chairs the Garfield County Economic Round Table, we help fund the Rifle Economic Development Corp, the Co-Venture in Carbondale and the AGNC (Associated Governments of NW Colorado Opportunity Zone). Garfield County provides infrastructure needs that are critical for economic development such as roads and bridges, the Western Garfield County Landfill, the Rifle Regional Airport and broadband. I am Co-chair of CDOT, Intermountain Transportation Planning Region, working with Silt and New Castle on I-70 interchange improvements and the Glenwood Springs South Bridge. The Rifle Airport is the third-busiest general aviation airport in Colorado. Garfield County is bringing high speed, middle mile broadband services on the I-70 corridor.

Economic Development starts with one job at a time, these jobs and businesses usually start from within. I am the business person on the Board of County Commissioners and am committed to the economic growth of Garfield County.

Gordon: Our county relies on oil and gas for a large portion of its revenue. We absolutely need oil and gas and we should continue to tap existing leases, but we must diversify our economy and escape the boom bust cycle that comes with fossil fuels. Let’s invest in our nature resources and expand access, such as additional boat ramps and mountain bike trails to not only attract tourists but to benefit of all of us. Let’s invest more in renewable energy and innovative technologies that will provide a steady revenue stream. Let’s invest in our ranching and agricultural sectors to ensure we have locally produced food and that we can maintain the traditional character of our county.

The county should be proactive and take the initiative. We should actively pursue grants and other investment opportunities to help our small businesses grow and succeed and bring in new businesses to expand opportunities. Garfield County is well positioned to succeed and thrive into the future — we need to do the work to get us there.

Should Garfield County consider becoming a home rule county (nonpartisan elections for county offices, making some of those offices appointed positions rather than elected, and potentially expanding the Board of County Commissioners to more than three members)?

Gordon: Yes, we should explore becoming a home rule county. Being a home rule county would allow us in Garfield County to have greater power and authority to govern local matters — it would allow local solutions to local issues.

Increasing the number of commissioners would have some benefits. Having five commissioners rather than three would allow us to have a more diverse, inclusive board and would limit the possibility that we would have tie votes in the event that a commissioner would need to recuse themself. Allowing nonpartisan elections or appointing certain officials would help to take politics out of the process and increase transparency if done correctly.

We should consider setting term limits for all elected offices as well. By having term limits, this creates another avenue to inject fresh ideas into our public conscience and will allow our citizens to have more choices from people from different walks of life.

We need to be careful as to not increase the amount of bureaucracy or create a situation where we are ceded too much authority to local leaders — we need to ensure there are checks and balances to any approach and this should be part of the evaluation process.  

Jankovsky: Home rule empowers local governments to act and legislate on local matters. Home rule ordinances supersede state law. Without a home rule charter, counties are statutory governments strictly subject to the laws of the state. There are currently two home rule counties in Colorado. A petition signed by 5% of the registered voters or an ordinance by the governing body begins the process to establish the home rule. The county would set an election to determine a home rule charter, and to elect commission members at the next general election. The elected commission adopt a proposed charter to be considered in a second election. Home rule counties must continue to provide all mandatory county functions such as road and bridge, jails, land management and providing for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. When a petition is brought to the county, I would support moving forward on the home rule question.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.