Former Garfield County surveyor wants job back
An independent candidate for the largely apolitical elected position of Garfield County surveyor is using his current campaign in part to voice concerns about what he views as favoritism toward candidates affiliated with political parties.
“I strongly believe that party nominations don’t necessarily bring forth the best candidates for elected positions, especially at the local level,” said Sam Phelps, who held the county surveyor’s job from 1992 until 2002 when he shed his own Republican affiliation.
Phelps, who has his own surveying company, SurvCo in Glenwood Springs, is running as an unaffiliated candidate in the Nov. 4 mail ballot election against incumbent Surveyor Scott Aibner, a Republican who also has his own business, River Valley Survey Inc., based in Rifle.
“I believe a lot of people have good ideas about the process of government that should never be disregarded because of differing party affiliations,” said Phelps, who finds the petition process for independent candidates to get on the ballot to be unfair.
Four years ago, Phelps declared as a write-in candidate after he says “election legalities” kept him from seeking nomination by petition as an unaffiliated candidate.
“I did it just to show the public that I am still willing to serve as the surveyor,” he said of that unsuccessful effort.
This year, he was able to gather the necessary 276 signatures of registered voters in the county to have his name on the ballot. That number reflects the required 2 percent of the total votes cast in the 2010 surveyor’s race deemed necessary to petition onto the ballot.
Aibner, who was appointed to replace Phelps in 2003 after Phelps chose not to seek re-election as a Republican, said he agrees the surveyor’s position is not highly political, nor should it be.
Regardless of the process to get elected, though, Aibner said it’s his job to work with the county commissioners and other elected officials in the county, such as the assessor and clerk and recorder, no matter what their political affiliation.
“The position mostly involves reviewing plats for subdivisions that are to be recorded with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office and to make sure they are accurate in content and form,” he explained.
According to Colorado statute, the county surveyor is also responsible for representing the county in property boundary disputes and notifying the county attorney of any discrepancies, and for filing surveys or other records for work authorized by the county commissioners.
“I really enjoy working with the people in Garfield County, the assessor, the clerk and recorder, the county attorney and the commissioners,” Aibner said, adding it is a part-time job, paying just $328 per month, but one he would like to continue to do.
Phelps said he, too, enjoyed his previous 10 years serving as county surveyor, adding that the fact he was willing to go through the petition process to get on the ballot “shows that I really am willing to serve in that position again.”
But it’s taken him three election cycles to put together a successful petition effort to actually be on the ballot.
“Our election system is truly geared to the current party system,” Phelps said.
After Phelps was initially appointed in 1992 to replace then-Surveyor Bob Scarrow who was retiring, he didn’t have to think about the official process to become a candidate for the office until the next election.
“I was informed by the clerk and recorder that I either had to be nominated by petition or through a political party,” Phelps said.
“As a business person I probably lean toward the Republican philosophy, but I didn’t really want to be affiliated with a party,” he said, though he eventually did go through the more-streamlined party process.
After being elected twice as a Republican, he decided to register independent when the 2002 election cycle rolled around. But he later learned he couldn’t run as an independent candidate until he had been registered as unaffiliated for at least two years.
That resulted in the 2002 ballot being empty for the office of surveyor. Phelps said he continued to serve as “de facto” surveyor until early the next year, when the county commissioners decided to advertise the open position. Aibner got the appointment, and was subsequently won elections in 2004, 2006 and 2010.
As far as carrying out the county surveyor’s responsibilities, Phelps said he has heard concerns about how accessible the current surveyor is to the public.
“When I was in office, I did maintain a presence in the courthouse,” he said. “I really want to be available and try to be of benefit to the public and assist with any questions people may have.”
Aibner said he spends one day a week in his office in Glenwood Springs, and his county phone number is always forwarded to his cell phone.
“I do make it a top priority to try to get back to people who contact me, that’s just part of good business,” he said.
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