Russi appointed to New Castle council seat
NEW CASTLE — Town Council landed on a familiar name Tuesday to fill an empty seat on the seven-member board.
After a little more than one hour of interviews, councilors selected Greg Russi, a former town councilor of 12 years, to serve the remainder of Frank Breslin’s term through April 2018.
Breslin, a former mayor remembered by elected officials throughout Garfield County for his dedication to public service and the town of New Castle, died of natural causes on Aug. 1.
In his letter of interest submitted to the town, Russi cited his experience in town government and his like-minded opinions on policy that he shared with Breslin, who he described as a friend.
“In sum what I offer is both the experience of over 14 years involvement with the town, and a decent amount of political continuity,” he wrote.
Russi’s appointment is the most recent change on a council that has gone through a significant shakeup in the past five months.
In April voters elected political newcomers Graham Riddile and Grady Hazelton to council, along with incumbent Mary Metzger. One month later council appointed Art Riddile, Graham Riddile’s father and a member of council since 2006, to serve as mayor after Bob Gordon resigned from the position in mid-April. Gordon moved to Battlement Mesa and had to vacate the position of mayor.
Council was informed Tuesday that no challengers filed petitions to run for mayor, meaning the elder Riddile, who has repeatedly stressed that council members be engaged in the community since taking over as mayor, will be the only mayoral candidate on the November ballot.
A month after Riddile’s appointment to the mayor’s position, council tapped Scott Owens, a resident of nine years and another newcomer to town government, for the council seat formerly held by Riddile.
As was the case with Owens’ appointment in June, four applicants submitted letters of interest and were interviewed for the open seat Tuesday night.
After the first round of voting, council narrowed the field of four to two — eliminating Brandy Copeland, a New Castle resident of four years, and Sara Malloy, a New Castle native who said she actually drafted her letter of interest in April.
Russi and Brad Gates, who also was a finalist for the seat now held by Owens, were the two finalists Tuesday. Russi was chosen on a 4-2 vote, with Metzger and Hazelton casting their votes for Gates.
Several councilors noted the difficult decision they once again faced due to the qualified pool of applicants.
“I would have felt good with any one of them up here,” Owens said.
Hazelton concurred, noting that all the candidates applied with the town’s best interest in mind and did not come with a set agenda.
Despite being a little more than two years removed from council, Russi, who works as an attorney specializing in personal injury and worker’s compensation, is no stranger in council chambers.
For the past two years he served as special projects director for the town in a volunteer capacity. Much of that work has related to trail planning and building, including a stretch of the long-envisioned Lower Valley (LoVa) Trail.
In addition to successfully writing three grants, Russi wrote a grant for $175,100 through the Transportation Alternatives Program of the Colorado Department of Transportation. The grant, which other stakeholders in the region contributed matching funds toward, would pay for design work on a 2.4-mile stretch of the LoVa Trail between Canyon Creek and South Canyon. The town expects to hear back on its application in a little more than a month.
In his letter, Russi wrote that if appointed to council he would “continue to support creating safe and functional bike lanes on Main Street,” which he said are needed for the town to realize its goal of improved bicycle recreation and commuting.
While Russi’s work in the past two years has focused on trails, he told council during the interview Tuesday there are other areas of emphasis that motivated him to apply for the position.
Specifically, he said he wants to play a role in the continued development of downtown. Doing so requires plenty of good buildings, especially those that blend commercial and residential space. The goal is to create a space where people can work, live and play, he said.
As far as style of governance, Russi stressed collaboration with partners outside of New Castle’s boundaries, much like the work on the TAP grant, as well as public participation.
“When in doubt hold a hearing, is my motto,” he said.
In talking with council prior to being selected, Russi noted the full-circle nature of his involvement with town government.
“When I first got on council I looked at the people who were the verbal historians of this town and thought, ‘Gosh, I’ll never know what they know,’ and now I am one of those … ”
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.