Meet the candidates for Carbondale Board of Trustees |

Meet the candidates for Carbondale Board of Trustees

Ballots coming for April 5 election

Carbondale voters will soon decide between eight candidates for three seats on the town’s Board of Trustees in the April 5 municipal election.

Candidates include incumbents Erica Sparhawk and Luis Yllanes, along with Chris Hassig, Zane Kessler, Colin Laird, Frosty Merriott, Colin Quinn and Jessica Robison.

Current Trustee Ben Bohmfalk is running unopposed for the open mayor’s seat on the board, which will leave a fourth trustee seat to be appointed after the election.

Ballots were sent out to all registered voters within Carbondale town limits this week and are to be returned either by mail or in person at Town Hall by 7 p.m. April 5.

Carbondale Candidates Forum

When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 16

Where: Carbondale Town Hall, with live broadcast on KDNK (88.1, 88.3 and 88.5) and online via Zoom. Visit or for login information

We asked the trustee candidates to tell our readers about themselves and why they are running, and to identify the top three issues facing Carbondale, in their opinion.

Here’s what they had to say.

Erica Sparhawk

Erica Sparhawk / provided photo

Being born and raised here, working for environmental, energy and climate organizations and raising my girls in Carbondale helps me bring a well-rounded perspective to the issues that come before the Board of Trustees. We persevered and accomplished a lot in the last four years, including dealing with the impacts of a pandemic. I’m running for re-election because we have a lot more to accomplish and I can bring my expertise, energy and creativity to solving important issues.

Top 3 issues

1. While affordable housing has been an issue for years, it has reached new heights with the pandemic. Thanks to our past town boards and P&Z, we have excellent requirements in our codes that were not reduced during the recession. We can look at those now and see what kind of updates are needed now and into the future. We need to create the capacity to pursue a variety of funding opportunities that are becoming available at the state level. We need to fully engage our community in deciding the future of our gifted land. We need to ensure our affordable housing work includes our Latino community members.

2. Impacts of climate change and continuing work to do our part in climate action are imperative as we move forward as a community. Continuing to implement components of the drought study (VCAPS) we completed are essential to maintaining water services in our community. Carbondale partners with important organizations that have a big impact on climate, including Garfield Clean Energy, CLEER, Colorado Communities for Climate Action, RFTA and WeCycle. We need to continue to support and be a leader with those and continue to work with them on policies and programs that make a big impact.

3. Transportation and mobility to/from and around town. We’ve heard directly from students and seniors that figuring out additional ways to move people throughout town and to the RFTA stops should be a priority. With this issue comes an exciting opportunity to figure out solutions that work for Carbondale and we’ll need the public engaged in those discussions — helping us figure out whether it’s a bike share, small circulator like Basalt just implemented, or other creative ideas. We will need strong regional partnerships and RFTA to continue to figure out solutions to the increased traffic up and down the valley.

Luis Yllanes

Luis Yllanes / Summers Moore photo

I moved to the valley in 2009 with my family after being offered a job in Aspen. I’ve lived between Willits and Basalt and we bought our home here in Carbondale in 2015. Since then, I’ve been involved in the community by volunteering for various nonprofits and have felt a deep connection to our town.

I am running for re-election to Carbondale Town Council because our town deserves leadership that reflects the diversity of the community that calls Carbondale home.

Having had the honor of serving one term on Council, I have a better understanding of how local government operates and how I can truly serve the residents of the town in the best way possible.

The recent donation of land to the town inspires me to want to serve a second term to be sure that we can leave a legacy of diversity and equity that will keep the spirit of Carbondale alive for years to come. While it may not be perfect and there is a myriad of issues and challenges that lay ahead, it’s amazing to see how passionate the community members are in their pursuit of wanting the best for our town.

Top 3 issues

1. Affordable housing: Having rented three different homes prior to purchasing, I cannot begin to imagine current renters’ challenges. With the bar now set so high for entry into home purchasing, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The town has taken an initial step by regulating short-term rentals. The next step will be working with our county and state representatives to look at tax incentives that will help put the town in a position to work through a public/private partnership to develop the new land which the town has been gifted.

2. Climate change, which has directly affected Colorado and our valley, is a critical issue facing our town. Most of our emissions that contribute to this are from residential and commercial buildings, however, as a town, we need to continue to work towards the goals of our Climate Action Plan. I would address this by looking at where the town can put additional resources to support both businesses and residents in taking advantage of green technology that curbs carbon emissions. In addition, Carbondale will need to encourage smart water use with the ongoing drought in the west.

3. One of the basic tenets of a functioning democracy is clear and open communication. This should be done with a level of understanding and learning what the other side is looking for without a desire to win. Whether in advisory boards, at the town council, or between neighbors, many issues have taken a zero-sum approach and communication easily breaks down. I would address this by engaging the community members to have conversations that invite all sides of an issue to discuss and listen. This includes having all communications in a bilingual format so everyone can participate equally.

Chris Hassig

Chris Hassig / provided photo

I grew up in Carbondale and have learned from and love many of the people in this town. I care deeply about its unique character, and have always looked for ways to contribute to our community. I’ve long been part of the Carbondale Creative District as an artist involved in a number of events as well as serving as a DJ and Vice President for KDNK.

I have attended many trustee and board meetings over the years and have gained perspective on our development history and governance. I hold a B.A. in Architecture and Environmental Studies from Middlebury College and have a passion for sustainable, human-centered design. I will bring local knowledge, design understanding, attention to detail, humility and deliberation to the role of translating broad community goals to reality. Thank you to the many friends and neighbors who have urged me to run and supported me. I hope to represent all of the people of Carbondale as we work together as a community to ensure a resilient future.

Top 3 issues

1. Respecting and protecting our environment: We have gained new respect for the power of our environment and climate the past few years. The town has developed an Environmental Bill of Rights and Climate Action Plan that I support, but there is much in it we have yet to accomplish. There’s more we can do to improve our environmental ethic, preparedness and resilience around issues such as water, local food, transportation, waste and wildfire so that we can weather an uncertain future.

2. Helping vulnerable members of our community: Digital disruption and financialization has been pushing those who live near the margins of the economy out of town. Protecting and creating affordable housing is key to helping members of our community stay here. We have some good opportunities if we work hard to conceive and develop them. I will bring a dogged determination to deliver results. Housing is one step, but finding ways to support social cohesion, mental health, and meaningful work should also be part of this conversation.

3. Community character: Sustaining our small-town character of diversity, vitality and creativity is an ongoing challenge. Too much money corrodes character and community. We need to examine new development very carefully, actively work to overcome ill effects of already approved projects, and create fair rules that protect our most vulnerable. We should channel the resources we do have with an eye towards maintaining the spirit and strength of our community through the long term.

Zane Kessler

Zane Kessler / provided photo

I originally moved to Carbondale to serve as Executive Director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, where I led a broad-based coalition of local ranchers, municipalities, conservationists and recreational users to conserve nearly a quarter-million acres of public lands in the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale. I have nearly 20 years of experience working with boards and commissions on local, state and federal policy issues. Today, I work for the Colorado River District where I am proud to advocate for protecting West Slope water and keeping our water on the Western Slope.

My wife and I often remind each other how fortunate we are to be raising a family in this community. Carbondale is a singularly special place. But we also recognize that maintaining community takes work. I believe we all have a role to play in maintaining community. My work running the Thompson Divide Coalition taught me that when we come together as a community, no challenge is too big for us to tackle; so long as we tackle it together. Simply put, I am running because I’m interested in working to protect and maintain the community that I love.

Top 3 issues

1. Affordable housing: Like many communities in Colorado and throughout the Mountain West, Carbondale has seen a dramatic increase in housing costs over the last decade. I believe that a lack of affordable housing in Carbondale has negatively impacted our community in real and meaningful ways. If elected, I commit to working with the Board, the town’s staff and Carbondale voters to make meaningful investments in affordable housing that strengthen our community for current and future generations.

2. Growth: Carbondale is facing unprecedented growth in the years to come. I believe smart-growth policies that bring us together around a long-term vision for our community are needed now more than ever. If elected, I will advocate for policies that prioritize transit-oriented development, affordability, and diversity.

3. Climate resilience: Our community has seen the devastating impacts of climate change unfold around us in recent years — historic drought, catastrophic wildfires and mudslides, just to name a few. I believe that our small mountain town can set an example for how to bring people together around climate solutions. I believe we can work at the local level to address the root cause of climate change while simultaneously preparing for a hotter, drier future. As a Trustee, I will advocate for policies that promote conservation, clean energy and climate resilience.

Colin Laird

Colin Laird / provided photo

I have been a Carbondale resident since 1999 and lived in the Valley since 1990. My wife and I have raised two kids in Carbondale.

I am originally from Scotland, grew up in a very urban area, and feel extremely lucky to live in Carbondale, with easy access to the outdoors, the bikeability of our town, and Carbondale’s diversity and culture of creativity and community involvement.

For many years, I led Healthy Mountain Communities, a Parachute to Aspen organization that worked on regional collaboration on such topics as affordable housing, health care and transportation. I coached soccer for 10 years, served on Garfield Planning and Zoning Commission for four years, co-founded Sopris Sun, served on the Sun board for five years, and co-founded Third Street Center, where I currently work. I have facilitated collaborative projects, fostered creative regional and local solutions, and focused on turning ideas into action.

I am running because I’d like to put my experience to work to address some of the issues we are facing as described below.

Top 3 issues

1. Affordable housing: We need a comprehensive strategy for how to tap multiple creative solutions to address this tough issue.

  • Develop a Carbondale Housing Affordability Plan that identifies the tools and policies we can use to create affordable housing as well as preserve existing affordable units. (The Roaring Fork School District is a great example of an organization with an affordable housing plan.)
  • Get the plan implemented and turn it into annual action steps.
  • Significantly ramp up efforts with other local governments, public agencies, the private and nonprofit sectors, and State of Colorado to create the mechanisms, policies and funding required.

2. Maintaining livability in the face of growth pressures: We need to ensure new development is as wisely designed and sustainable as possible.

  • Make sure concepts expressed in plans are codified so that intent expressed in the plans can be acted on through the development process.
  • Create more ways for the community to be aware of and involved in important decisions to ensure the best outcome possible.
  • Advocate for Carbondale engaging in regional transportation management and options such as regional car-sharing program, on-demand transit services (like Basalt has started); and other ways to manage increasing traffic growth and congestion.

3. Building greater community resilience: We need to do all we can as a creative community to increase resilience on issues such as water, wildfire, climate and the economy.

  • Ensure Carbondale’s VCAPS Drought Study (Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenarios) is acted on.
  • Given Grizzly Creek and Lake Christine fires, initiate regional planning, prevention and preparedness on wildfire.
  • Make measurable progress on Carbondale’s existing climate action plan and advocate with regional and state partners to develop a Clean Energy Fund to create easy access to financing and funding needed to decarbonize all sectors.

Frosty Merriott

Frosty Merriott / provided photo

Carly and I moved here with our 4-year-old in March of 1998. Shiloh attended Roaring Fork High School and then Louisiana Tech University where she received her nursing degree. Carly, my wife of 38 years, is office manager for J Frost Merriott Inc. CPA which is now in its 24th year. My daughter, Heather, has her doctorate in exercise science and is a technical writer for St. Jude’s in Memphis. We attend the Orchard Church.

First public service was on the town Environmental Board in 1998 and went on from there to serve on the River Valley Ranch Executive Board, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Carbondale Economic Roadmap Group. I was elected in 2008 to complete a vacant two-year term and served two more terms until 2018.

My strong advocacy and participation resulted in Carbondale being the first town on the Western Slope with Residential Green Building Codes. The Comprehensive Plan, the Climate Action Plan, and our Commercial Green Building Code were updated. I co-wrote the Town Environmental Bill of Rights (EBOR) which was passed unanimously by the Trustees.

I currently serve as a member of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Executive Board and the town Environmental Board.

Top 3 issues

1. The number one issue facing Carbondale is the lack of workforce/community housing. I would advocate for flipping the current ratio of affordable housing from 80 free market/20 affordable to 20 free market/80 affordable. These units would be available to not only an AMI (Area Median Income) limitation, but one would have to live and work in Carbondale to be eligible for this housing. We should immediately get a shovel ready project for the downtown land we have been gifted and build at least 200-250+ community housing units. The infrastructure is in place, it’s downtown and there is $400 million of infrastructure funds available in federal funds. Is our application in yet?

2. The second issue is sustainability, resiliency, climate change and a looming water shortage. I would not vote for any further development (except workforce housing) that did not take into account our Climate Action Plan, our VCAPS (Water Vulnerability, Consequences, Adaptation and Planning scenarios), and our EBOR (Environmental Bill of Rights). By factoring all these in, reasonable and sustainable growth would be attained and we would keep our small town character!

3. The third issue facing Carbondale is something we don’t know about yet. It could be the redevelopment of the old City Market, a massive annexation request that would strain our infrastructure to its breaking point or a wildfire that threatens our water supply. In my CPA practice we call this hoping for the best but planning for the worst. We need to ascertain that our new Comprehensive Plan modification prepares us for whatever comes down the pike. Does it? Based on my 10 years on the Board and my CPA business experience; along with the vision and passion I have for Carbondale I am the most-qualified candidate to help lead us forward in our quest to be a more sustainable and vibrant community.

Colin Quinn

Colin Quinn / provided photo

I moved to Carbondale with my family in 2016 to be closer to my wife’s family in Basalt. Previously, we were living in Mozambique for almost three years where I was working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to help communities prepare for climate change. We were excited to move back to Colorado and feel lucky to be part of the Carbondale community, grow our family and set roots.

Professionally, I lead the Climate Change Team for the Africa Bureau for the U.S. Agency for International Development. We help African countries and communities address the climate crisis. In Carbondale, I have served as chair of the Town’s Environmental Board since 2017 and, through volunteer work, helped establish the Mountain West Climate Services Partnership with the Aspen Global Change Institute to better prepare communities for climate change.

My father is an ecologist and I’ve been passionate about ecology my whole life, which led me to receiving a PhD in plant ecology from Colorado State University, and an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. My wife, Erin, and I enjoy the recreation, lifestyle, and community Carbondale offers to us and our two kids, Wyatt and Ruth.

I am running for Trustee because Carbondale is a special place. I want to make sure that as Carbondale grows and changes it keeps the small town character that makes it special.

Top 3 issues

1. Housing and town character: Carbondale’s identity is a result of the people who live here. We need a community where the people who work here can afford to live and thrive here. I will make development and housing decisions to fit the values of our town. These values include a strong sense of community, environmental stewardship and recreation, embracing culture and art, and living in a multicultural community. These values should be at the forefront of our community’s decisions as we grow and change, and are especially important now as Carbondale updates its guiding planning document, the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

2. Leadership through diversity: We live in a multicultural town, with people from many backgrounds living and thriving. This makes our town vibrant and a better place to live. Oftentimes, our diversity is not represented in decision-making positions. I will push for the gender, age and cultural makeup of Carbondale represented on advisory and decision-making bodies, as entrepreneurs, and in leadership positions.

3. Prepare for the future: We need to be prepared for climate change and natural disasters. The devastating Lake Christine Fire in 2018 almost burned down much of El Jebel and Basalt. That same year, the second driest year on record in Colorado, Carbondale almost ran out of water due to drought. Last summer, Glenwood Canyon was often closed due to mudslides caused by fires in 2020. I will help make our town safer by asking for better planning and preparation for these types of disasters, which are now normal.

Jessica Robison

Jess Robison / Katie J. Photography

I was raised in the Roaring Fork Valley. I attended public schools in Basalt from kindergarten through 12th grade. After college, I returned to the valley and settled in Carbondale with my family. I am a Carbondale homeowner and business owner, raising two children with my spouse. I have spent years volunteering for local organizations and have over a decade of board experience. I own a local construction business and I’m passionate about how to solve development and land use challenges. Carbondale is my home and this community holds my heart.

My heart has always been called to public service and a local position seemed like the best way to make an impact. I am running for local public office because I want to serve my community. I hope to encourage a political environment in Carbondale that fosters engagement, moderation, equity and inclusion. I have watched politicians pack up their personal agendas and sell them to the public to get elected. This doesn’t make sense to me. Our democracy was built on a foundation of public service, not personal agendas. My goal is to be a conduit from the public that I serve, to the government that serves them.

Top 3 issues

1. Maintaining our character during growth: Growth in Carbondale needs to be done creatively and thoughtfully. I will look at growth with a short and long-term perspective, and a narrow and wide-angle lens, aiming to consider density over sprawl. It’s imperative that all growth maintains the small-town, big-hearted community character that we all love. Growth needs to be sustainable — in ways that consider climate change, green building technology, connection to the outside world, connection to our neighbors, and always considering Carbondale’s future. I will work with P&Z, town staff, community members and local businesses to find solutions that maintain character every step of the way.

2. Affordability: This isn’t just a buzzword. Carbondale needs more affordable housing options, childcare choices, senior services and housing, etc. I will collaborate across agencies, neighborhoods, and community boundaries to build creative solutions to address affordability. In order to maintain Carbondale’s character, we need to maintain our people, and to do that, we need to find ways to house them and care for them, at every age and stage of life. This means finding more ways to engage everyone, elementary students to senior citizens, locals to newcomers, English and Spanish speakers, in ways they can give and receive in our community.

3. A resilient infrastructure: This is going to become more important as we head into the future. Strong community connections are the foundation for solving all of the challenges we face and making the best use of our many assets. In order to stay connected, we need to ensure that every resident of Carbondale has affordable access to high-speed internet, clean water, safe streets and emergency management plans. I will work to increase access and improve infrastructure in ways that lean on innovation and technology and that will serve all community members.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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