Council candidates questioned
Candidates for Saratoga Town Council answer questions during October 12 forum at community center
October 21, 2020
The vacant mayor position, a divisive council and the need for a planning and zoning director were the major points of discussion for the four Saratoga Town Council candidates during a forum held on October 12 at the Platte Valley Community Center (PVCC).
The forum, held in the Great Hall of the PVCC, was hosted by the Valley Service Organization (VSO) and livestreamed on Facebook by the Saratoga Sun. Tasha Worthington, Ben Spaulding, Danny Burau and Creed James spent approximately an hour answering questions submitted to the VSO prior to the forum and from those in attendance.
Former mayor John Zeiger announced his resignation on the evening of August 17, less than 24 hours before the primary election. Since then, the Saratoga Town Council has agreed that the position must be filled but has disagreed on when to fill it. All four candidates were asked if the current council should wait to fill the position until the new council is seated and, if so, if they would consider an appointment to mayor.
“Regarding the appointment of a mayor, I think the one thing that’s been brought up is that this council shall appoint a mayor,” said James. “The timing of it has been debated at council meetings from what legal counsel says.”
James added that he believed the appointment should come from the current council, but that he would hope that the governing body would consider recommendations from the two candidates elected on November 3.
“There might be a good candidate sitting there right now that might be on an expired term,” James said.
As for if he would consider being appointed to the mayoral vacancy in January, James stated that he would “rather not” and reiterated that the appointment should come from the current sitting council.
Spaulding echoed James’ statement about successful candidates being consulted about who to appoint as mayor, but added that he did not believe the decision should be rushed. During the September 15 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, the governing body voted unanimously to move the meeting on November 3 to November 4 with Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Keel suggesting that an appointment would be made that night.
“I believe that the people that are here right now that are running for the town council need to have input. At the same time, I don’t feel like it’s something that we should rush into the next day after those people are elected,” said Spaulding. “I do believe that we need to have a mayor, I believe that mayor needs to be done (appointed) before the first of the year, but I think there needs to be some more time deciding who’s going to be the best fit for that position.”
Spaulding stated that he believed being appointed to the mayor position after being elected was similar to setting up someone for failure.
Burau agreed with Spaulding that there needed to be more time on filling the mayoral vacancy rather than rushing into it immediately after the general election. He added that the candidates could give the same evaluation now as they would likely give the day after the election. As for being appointed to the position, Burau stated that he wouldn’t be “prepared skillswise, mentally, emotionally, to step into the role of mayor.”
Worthington stated that the situation was unique as only two of the four council members were elected and neither of them were willing to step into the position of mayor. She added that she would consider being appointed to the position if elected to the council.
Finding Common Ground
Before the passing of Councilmember Steve Wilcoxson and Zeiger’s resignation, residents have witnessed a council that appeared to disagree more than they agreed. That has recently manifested with 2-2 votes on various issues to come before the governing body. The four candidates were asked how they would steer the council to be more productive and cohesive.
Burau stated that he believed that the council was in a “darkest before the dawn” moment as a number of major issues had recently been brought to public attention. He added that he believed the best way to move forward was from the perspective of having the best interest of the town at heart and understanding the wants and needs of Saratoga residents.
James, meanwhile, referenced what he learned growing up playing sports such as hard work, communication and teamwork. He added that the latter two appeared to be the biggest issue facing the current council but that he also believed they were getting better.
“Anytime something comes to a head, there’s a lot of animosity, there’s a lot of bickering and back and forth. It’s good to have that bad stuff come to a head because it exposes what’s going on, it exposes what’s out there to the public as well,” said Spaulding. “I think what we need to do is, we got to remember that anytime we are in a position that’s for the people, that’s a leadership position and people are putting their trust and their abilities and their support in us to make sure we’re making the right decision every single step of the way.”
Worthington used her marriage as an example, stating that it was important to meet in the middle and find common ground. She also referenced her experience as an activities director at a skilled nursing facility and overseeing council meetings among the residents.
“They come from varied backgrounds with differing opinions. It can get heated sometimes,” said Worhthington. “I think you can always find what you agree on and work from there.”
The Town of Saratoga has been without a permanent planning and zoning officer since March 2019 and, recently, the acting planning and zoning officer resigned. This has left current council members to review and approve building permits as several subdivisions are being constructed around Saratoga. The candidates were asked if filling the position was a priority and if they would consider making it a full-time position.
Spaulding stated that he believed the visible growth of Saratoga was justification for a full-time position to ensure that things were built on schedule.
“With growth, I think that will bring more income into the town and I think that’s justification for bringing an actual full-time zoning officer in,” said Spaulding. “If we push for a full-time zoning officer, we’re going to get somebody that the town would benefit from.”
Worthington stated that a planning and zoning officer was third on her list of priorities, following the budget and infrastructure.
“The issue with the zoning officer, I think, comes down to need and I think if anyone’s watched the last couple council meetings, there’s a definite need for it,” said James. “With the new subdivisions that are going in and all that, I think there’s going to be even more of a need.”
Burau recognized the growth of Saratoga, stating that it was a reason why he and his wife had moved to the area and opened Firewater Public House. Burau also cited the renovation of the building that now houses his restaurant as a reason for a full-time planning and zoning officer.
“We ended up just having to make decisions based on the direction of construction companies and what they understood,” said Burau. “So, there’s a lot of confusion there and I think that if we’re going to have successful builds moving forward, we’re going to have people feel comfortable bringing businesses in and doing that construction, getting comfortable with it and understanding what has to happen next, we need that to be a full-time position.”
The forum lasted approximately one hour, after which the candidates sat in the audience as the two House District 47 candidates took questions from the VSO and the public.
The general election is on November 3.