Garfield County commissioner candidate Acha runs forward-looking campaign
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories profiling the candidates for Garfield County commissioner District 2. On Thursday, we will feature five-term incumbent Republican John Martin.
John Acha, who’s running as a Democrat for Garfield County commissioner against the 20-year incumbent Commissioner John Martin, says a commissioner’s primary role is to look forward decades into the future, which he says the current Board of County Commissioners has not done in many years.
Acha, from New Castle, said his priorities lie with affordable housing, sustainable jobs, eliminating congestion on major thoroughfares and whistle-blower protection for county employees.
Acha also said he wants to “put the kibosh” on the county’s lack of affordable housing.
From his years of experience as a federal construction contractor in the U.S. Air Force and later with NATO working on projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Acha says he has the experience with using contemporary technology and smart design to cut building costs.
Acha said the first thing he’d push for in office is reinstating a county policy making mandatory that 10 percent of new Roaring Fork Valley residential developments be affordable housing.
He wants to improve the county’s partnership with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and eliminate traffic congestion. Toward this end he points to his experience redesigning transportation systems on Yakota Air Force Base in Japan and his many other major federal projects.
The county needs to focus on building economic diversity, he said, but the commissioners have made the county reliant on oil and gas developments.
With the downturn in that industry, Acha fears the $20 million the county plans to spend down in 2017 will be a trend that drains the county’s coveted reserves.
Worse, Acha anticipates the price of oil and gas is going to continue to drop as more deposits are found around the world.
“We need to build an economy that isn’t so dependent upon hydrocarbons,” he said.
The county also needs to be soliciting companies in the industries not already established here, he said.
“We need to package Garfield County, bring manufacturers and other types of jobs in, so when we have the flux in the petroleum industry we can ride it out,” Acha said.
He gives the examples of a possible Luv’s truck stop west of Parachute or an Amazon warehouse in western Garfield County.
A study of the Rifle Garfield County Airport gave many recommendations for expansion that the commissioners haven’t acted upon, Acha also claims.
“We have to find other means to bring in that tax revenue, and that is marketing Garfield County as a place to come start your business,” he said.
The types of industries that could work in Garfield County are “only limited to our imagination,” he said.
Natural gas drilling in Battlement Mesa within residential areas and near the high school is irresponsible and is being “given to a company that doesn’t have a stellar track record when it comes to safety practices,” said the commissioner candidate.
They need to be held to a standard above and beyond because of the locations of those wells.
“I’m not against the petroleum industry. I know that technology isn’t where it needs to be to wean us off petroleum, though that day is coming,” Acha said. “I believe we need to work with petroleum to extract resources, but it has to be done responsibly and safely.”
Finally, Acha is focused on whistleblower protection for county employees.
The Acha campaign and the Garfield County Democrats have jointly filed 19 recent Colorado Open Records Act requests looking into a range of county dealings, one of which involves allegations of misconduct by Martin.
Among their claims is that county employees have confided in them about mismanagement, incompetence and corruption on the part of the commissioners.
Acha’s campaign has even drafted a whistle-blower protection measure that he says he’ll work to pass upon his election.
The campaign and local Democrats say they’re releasing their results from these CORA requests between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. So far they have made two releases; the first chastising the commissioners’ for their handling of the county’s $100 million-plus in reserves, and a second on Tuesday documenting what they say was a $1.4 million overpayment of a building in downtown Glenwood Springs in 2012.
In the last six years, “When the Board of County Commissioners completely became Republicans they stopped looking forward,” Acha said. “They turned their seats around, and they started becoming county managers. And strategic planning fell by the wayside.”