This year, there are two seats up for grabs on the three-person La Plata County Board of Commissioners, with Gwen Lachelt (District 2 - Durango) and Julie Westendorff (District 3 - Bayfield, Ignacio) term limited. Commissioners are elected “at large,” meaning all voters can vote for a candidate in each of the two district races, regardless of which district they live in. Commissioners serve four-year terms and are term limited after two terms.
The two new commissioners will join Clyde Church (District 1 - western, southern and northern La Plata County, including Redmesa, Kline, Marvel, Hesperus, Bondad, Hermosa and Purgatory.)
Here, commissioner candidates weigh in on some of the pressing issues and burning questions of our time. Answers appear in the order in which they were received.
Marsha Porter-Norton (Democrat)
Day job: I own my own business and have for 20 years. I am a professional meeting facilitator helping mediate public issues. I do this work across the Western Slope and the Four Corners working primarily on public lands and water issues.
On the weekends you can find me: Two ways to answer this ... Before I ran for office: hiking, xeriscape gardening, traveling the Colorado Plateau doing fun things, volunteering, and spending time with family and friends. While running for office: calling people, walking neighborhoods, typing letters off my keyboard, going to events (COVID-19 safe of course), listening to what you care about.
One thing people may not know about me: I started driving farm equipment when I was 5 years old as I grew up on a cattle ranch/farm in Lewis, north of Cortez.
Favorite podcast or last book read: “Here and Now” on NPR.
Favorite “Caddyshack” line (or other favorite ’80s movie quote): “Snakes! Why’d it have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
One thing always in your fridge: Cream for coffee.
Now that the land use code has passed, what do you see as the next biggest issue facing La Plata County and how do you plan on addressing it? I will work for healthy communities and a strong economy. We must get through COVID-19. It has wreaked havoc on too many businesses and families especially, those in the service sectors. County government needs to continue to respond by advocating for more CARES Act money; by continued support to San Juan Basin Health; and by providing important services for county residents.
Affordable housing: I am calling for a countywide action plan/investment strategy. We need more tools in the tool kit, more political will and to leverage resources of all kinds. This needs to be a top county priority to benefit Telegraph readers’ futures and everyone.
Economy: For young people and families to make it here, we need to work for jobs that allow a good quality of life. I will work with all groups currently aiming to improve our economic future. We can bring in good jobs through local food, sustainable outdoor recreation, renewable energy, creative arts, sustainable timber harvesting (especially in beetle-kill areas), helping light/ clean manufacturing businesses find a home, streamlining planning, and improving internet and airport services.
Growth: this county is slated to have 70,000 people in about nine years. Where will they live? What type of road system will they drive on? Where will water come from? Where will they work and play? How can we protect what is special but still grow? These challenges require a trusted, proven leader who will work for everyone and stand up for progressive values.
Jack Turner (unaffiliated)
Day job: I don’t have a day job. I have multiple jobs like lots of other folks. See www.ElectJackTurner.com.
On the weekends you can find me: Someplace where hopefully you can’t find me.
One thing people may not know about me: I organized and led a snowboard expedition to the Islamic Republic of Iran for TransWorld Snowboard Magazine (1997).
Favorite podcast or last book read: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Favorite “Caddyshack” line (or other favorite ’80s movie quote): “The best time to be is now, and all’s we can say is ... Let’s rock!” (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – 1989). Note: This film and line are symbolic of our campaign in so many ways.
One thing always in your fridge: Stuff I probably should have eaten two days ago.
Now that the land use code has passed, what do you see as the next biggest issue facing La Plata County and how do you plan on addressing it? The 377-page Land Use Code was approved, but it’s far from being settled. No project has been through the new process. Its efficiency and impact are unknown. The code is central to housing, employment, public safety and almost every aspect of keeping La Plata County a “real” place to live and work.
Technical issues aside, my concern is that the code was written to isolate commissioners from the public and vice versa. Virtually all power is vested in planning staff and the county attorney until a project comes to the commissioners for final approval – a process that drives up costs that are passed on to the public.
The code must be dynamic and subject to constant review by the public, elected officials and staff. I believe a commissioner must be able to listen, collaborate and assist citizens rather than just being judge and jury at the end of a process.
There is no “next big issue.” Recovery and reinvention from the wrath of 2020 will take years. EVERYONE, not just the commissioners, is mightily challenged to address a long list of known issues ranging from workforce housing to employment to protecting the natural resources of our home.
And there is the unknown. Who could have predicted the full impact of the 416 Fire, the Gold King Mine spill or coronavirus? What’s next?
The talent and experience of the county commissioners play a role in our future, but long-term solutions rest in our working together.
Matt Salka (Democrat)
Day job: Computer tech
On the weekends you can find me: When I’m not campaigning, I’m boating or camping.
One thing people may not know about me: When I was 16, I worked for NASA.
Favorite podcast or last book read: The new Land Use Code
Favorite “Caddyshack” line (unless you have another ’80s movie you’d like to quote): “So I got that going for me, which is nice.” – Carl Spackler
One thing always in your fridge: Iced tea
Now that the land use code has passed, what do you see as the next biggest issue facing La Plata County and how do you plan on addressing it? Our local businesses need our help more than ever. We need to secure the success of their future to help keep jobs in La Plata County. In turn, this will assist our many residents who work hard to earn a living here.
Second, I would address affordable and attainable housing for first-time homebuyers. I know all too well how tight this housing market is. My experience with Bayfield’s planning commission has helped me understand that there needs to be a better relationship between developers, landowners and government.
Third, infrastructure is key to smart growth. County roads and bridges need to stay maintained. Broadband is a huge issue in La Plata County, let me bring my experiences to help fight for better broadband access in the county.
As mayor of Bayfield, I helped secure a $1 million grant for a waterline replacement project after meeting with the Department of Local Affairs expressing how important this project was for Bayfield. As county commissioner, you can count on me to seek grants, strategic partnerships and always look out for La Plata’s best interests when it comes to infrastructure.
Charly Minkler (unaffiliated)
Day job: Rancher, home builder
On the weekends you can find me: Working on my ranch or enjoying the San Juans
One thing people may not know about me: I grew up in Denver and attended an inner-city high school. After I moved to La Plata County, I married into agriculture. Best thing I ever did. Never would have guessed I would be riding horses, cleaning ditches and baling hay. Really has helped me to get an insight into both worlds.
Favorite podcast or last book read: Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, about how people of differing views can work together for the common good.
Favorite “Caddyshack” line (unless you have another ’80s movie you’d like to quote): “Be Good” from “ET,” and “Wax on, Wax Off” from “Karate Kid.”
One thing always in your fridge: Jalapeño stuffed green olives
Now that the land use code has passed, what do you see as the next biggest issue facing La Plata County and how do you plan on addressing it? Economic development. Especially now because of COVID-19, we have a lot of businesses that will need help. Federal and state funds have been available to help businesses, and now the county has an opportunity to help even more. “La Plata Cares” grants will soon be available to qualifying businesses to offset expenses related to the coronavirus. Looking at the bigger picture though, I think we do a great job helping new businesses get off the ground, but we do a terrible job keeping them here as they grow (Osprey). I will strive to keep businesses in La Plata County as they grow and need to expand, and to attract the kind of new businesses that bring jobs to our county, especially higher paying career jobs that will allow us, our children and our grandchildren to afford to live and work here.