Politicians battle it out at candidate’s forum | PostIndependent.com

Politicians battle it out at candidate’s forum

Lynn Burton

Wednesday night’s candidate forum in Battlement Mesa started with the Pledge of Allegiance, and ended with unexpected laughs from the Garfield County Treasurer candidates.

In between, discussions ranged from the sheriff’s department’s role in animal control to skyrocketing costs of rural health care.

The forum, sponsored by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, attracted approximately 120 residents to the Battlement Mesa Activity Center. Campaign memorabilia collectors were in luck. A table at the back of the room was filled with stacks of bumper stickers from the six Garfield County and two statehouse candidates, plus brochures and related materials.

The candidate lineup was Tom Dalessandri and Lou Vallario in the sheriff’s race, Walt Stowe and Tresi Houpt in the county commissioners race, Georgia Chamberlain and Cheryl Chandler in the county treasurer’s race, and Terry Carwile and Al White in the 57th District General Assembly.

Each candidate received five minutes for opening remarks during the forum’s first half, followed by a question and answer session in the second. Questions about animal control in unincorporated parts of Garfield County drew specific responses from Dalessandri and Vallario.

“We realize it’s a problem,” said Dalessandri, the Democratic incumbent seeking his third term in office.

Vallario, a Republican and lieutenant in the Glenwood Springs Police Department, said it will take a cooperative effort between the county, municipalities and residents to start addressing animal control problems.

Dogs that chase livestock and wildlife are a chronic problem. “People move here from urban areas and think they can let their pets run free,” Dalessandri said.

Dalessandri and Vallario agreed an underlying problem is the lack of shelters to house pets and strays deputies pick up. The nonprofit shelter for homeless pets at the Colorado Mountain College Spring Valley Campus “is not providing the service we need,” Dalessandri said.

Even without a county-funded shelter, Dalessandri said he will seek approval for a full-time animal control officer in his 2003 budget.

County commission candidates Stowe, the Republican incumbent, and Houpt, the Democratic challenger, disagreed on whether the county should hire a full-time liaison between county residents and the oil and gas industry.

“I’m not sure we’re there yet,” Stowe said. “The $100,000 might be better spent on animal control or roads.”

Houpt said she favors a full-time liaison, called a local government designee. “I do believe we need someone in there. It can benefit the industry and residents. It could turn this into a positive industry.”

One question put to Stowe and Houpt asked about the county’s plan to control growth and preserve farming in the west end of the county.

“I want to preserve agricultural lands where they make sense,” said Stowe, who is running for a second term. “It doesn’t make sense to have isolated ranches.”

Houpt said she’d like to look at the county’s comprehensive plan to make sure it’s in line with the times. She asked whether the comprehensive plan “truly maintains the quality of life we want to protect.” Houpt also said the commissioners must regularly review the plan.

Al White, a Grand County Republican, is the 57th District incumbent running for a second term. Terry Carwile, a Moffat County Democrat, is a heavy equipment operator at the Trapper Coal Mine.

Carwile said, “I’m working for people who don’t have enough of a voice in the General Assembly.”

White told the gathering it gets to be “quite a battle” dealing with Front Range legislators, especially in education issues.

The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance has lobbied to change the makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which by law has a majority of members with experience in the oil and gas industry. One question asked whether the candidates support a change in the commission to put public health and safety ahead of oil and gas concerns.

White said it’s not “unreasonable” to expect such a board to have members with experience in the oil and gas industry, and he’s not aware that any “glaring” problems exist on the oil and gas commission.

Carwile said, “It appears a bias on the commission should be looked at carefully.”

Both candidates said the legislature should look at the increased costs of rural health care, but White said, “I don’t see anything that will cut medical costs in half.”

Only one of the three questions put to treasurer candidates Georgia Chamberlain and Cheryl Chandler were directly related to the office’s duties of collecting taxes and distributing funds.

When asked what changes she would make in her office other than computers, Democratic incumbent Chamberlain said she believes in “smaller, smarter government,” and wants to keep the size of her staff the same despite a rising work load.

Chandler, a real estate broker and Republican, said she’d work to establish a plan for growth in the capital finance plan, and work with cities. Chandler also said the treasurer’s office is “strong” and agreed that “smaller is better.”

A serious question about tax assessments on oil and gas properties ended up bringing the night’s biggest laughs, and sent everyone home smiling.

After reflecting on the question for a second, Chamberlain said, “I’m not versed in oil and gas valuations.”

Chandler quickly added, “I’m not either.”

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