Credentials and concerns

Carbon County Commissioner candidates talk qualifications and issues at CCHEC candidate forum

 


The night of Oct. 18 all four Carbon County Commissioner candidates found themselves on the hot seat, with a pair of Rawlins High School students doing the grilling. The occasion was a forum hosted by the Carbon County Higher Education Center (CCHEC), where about 30 people gathered to watch the three Republican incumbents and their lone Democratic challenger vie for three open positions on the board. The forum was also live-streamed on the CCHEC’s facebook feed, where it had generated over 1,000 views by the next day,

A round of introductions kicked things off, with all of the candidates boasting of long ties to Carbon County.

Introductions and

Qualifications

“I’m the fourth generation, my children are the fifth generation and my grandchildren are the sixth generation (raised in Carbon County),” commissioner Lindy Glode said. Glode also touted prior experience as the Clerk of District Court, and a lifetime’s involvement in clubs and organizations.


Chair of the commissioners John Espy was next. Espy said his family has been ranching around Rawlins for five generations, and that serving on public and private boards over the last 20 years had left him well-prepared for the responsibilities of being a commissioner. Some of those boards include a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Advisory Committee, a local predator district board and a sage grouse local working group.

The third incumbent Republican commissioner was Sue Jones, who joked that service on a landfill board and running her waste disposal business meant that “(she) can talk trash.” Jones also cited eight years on the Saratoga Town Council. Being a commissioner means being a fiscal agent for the county, Jones said, and, “When you have no money being a fiscal agent is kind of a strange situation to be in. You learn how to cut things and make things work with less. We’ve certainly done that.”

Trying to win one of the three seats held by Jones, Espy and Glode was 16-year Medicine Bow Town Council Member Kenda Colman, the sole Democrat in the race. In addition to her time in municipal government, Colman spoke of working with Governor Matt Mead to bring high speed internet to Medicine Bow. “I’ve always served that community with an attitude of openness and honesty and I think that’s one of the things that people like about me,” she said.

Following introductions, the candidates were asked a series of questions, to which they were given three minutes to respond.

Commissioners Glode, Espy, and Jones vaguely mentioned prior disagreements with one-another, but on the debate stage they frequently presented a unified front.

In a Saratoga forum, Colman had taken those incumbents to task over cuts to county services and hardships imposed on county workers, but at this forum Colman took a more conciliatory, positively-oriented tack. With all of the onstage affability, it was at timesdifficult to discern policy differences between the four candidates.

Land Access

With hunting season in full-swing, issues related to access and public lands were at the fore. Three of the forum’s 10 questions touched on these issues, and though the candidates frequently echoed one another, slight differences in tone and position did emerge in their responses.

A question about a proposal to transfer federal land to the State of Wyoming, for example, drew strong opposition from Glode, Jones and Colman, but Espy seemed more open to the concept. He said Wyoming was “not prepared financially,” for such a transfer, but hedged that “the BLM does not have a presence in (some isolated tracts) and the state could probably manage them better.”

Espy also offered firmer responses than the others to questions of property rights and trespass. When asked about his position on “corner-stepping,” or briefly traversing private property to get to public land, for example, Espy was unequivocal: “The State of Wyoming does prohibit corner-stepping.” Colman also declared her opposition to the practice, but said “Try to convince someone that’s a guide not to do that when he’s got to get a guy out for that prime elk.”

Economic Strategy

Plans for diversifying the area’s economy and staunching the outflow of young people from Carbon County also featured heavily in discussions. Espy touted the Chokecherry Sierra Madre (CCSM) wind farm as a future job-creator, but admitted “Wyoming is never going to be completely insulated from the boom-and-bust cycle.” Espy saw another avenue for future growth in biomass from the forests in the Sierra Madre Mountains, claiming the area “hasn’t been managed in 30 years,” but could be put to productive use.

Glode described her revitalization plans in terms of promoting tourism assets like the Red Desert, the Platte River and Elk Mountain. Glode also cited the CCHEC as a valuable community asset, calling it a “lifesaver,” and saying she had taken several classes there. “I believe in diversifying energy. Renewable energy is the future,” Glode said in praise of the CCSM project.

Jones also spoke of wind energy and tourism as improving the area’s economic outlook, but said small businesses could likewise be drivers. Economic progress would be piecemeal, in her view: “We need to work a little better on what we have,” she said. Engineering jobs and other skilled labor often pays less here than in Colorado, and Jones said, “I don’t know that we can do anything about this.”

People want to live in this area, Colman said, but they struggle to stay because of poor job markets. “Jobs are the answer. If we have good jobs here, we’ll have families stay here,” she said. Colman promoted the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services’ “Wyoming Grown” program as a recruitment tool to bring workers back to the state.

Hospital Problems

A question about financial distress at Carbon County Memorial Hospital had the incumbents on the defensive.

Espy claimed, “the hospital has a lot less problems than it had four years ago,” saying new executives had been working to address difficulties. He largely deferred on the issue, however, saying, “We have a hospital board and I don’t believe it’s the commissioners’ place to micromanage that board.”

Glode also described the hospital as being on the upswing, noting that it had over 200 days of cash on hand and had hired a new billing company. “One thing that would really help them is Medicaid expansion,” she said.

Jones said the hospital’s problems largely stem from low patient numbers, but credited the hospital board with “gathering up the slack of the financial crisis.”

Colman also noted the issue of low patient numbers, saying “A three-story hospital for two people on a given day is sort of hard to run.” The challenger proposed a pair of solutions, saying that enticing specialists to the area could be a business boon, as could acquiring an open Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine for the facility.

Bits and Pieces

The candidates were largely on the same page when it came to other issues facing the county. All four praised the success of a juvenile services board meant to divert young people from the court system, and each also spoke of the need for tact in trying to beautify the “Skyline Area” east of Rawlins. The three incumbents said they were strongly opposed to a bill that would expand commissioners’ authority over special districts. Colman said she was wary of such entities in general, asking, “What happens when industry leaves and special districts are still there?” Colman answered her own question (“we’re left with the bill”) but she did not say whether she supported legislation to give commissioners authority over such entities.

Nov. 8, voters across Carbon County will send three of these four candidates to new four-year terms on the Board of Carbon County Commissioners.

 

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