Grand Lake candidates spar at forum | SkyHiNews.com

Grand Lake candidates spar at forum

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

TONYA BINA/SKY-HI DAILY NEWS

“I didn’t know who some people were, so it was nice to put names to faces, and now I know who’s-who and exactly how they feel about things,” said voter Chris Rourke after Grand Lake’s candidate forum Tuesday night at the firehouse.

But another voter, Suzi Maki, wasn’t interested in how the candidates felt about the issues.

She prefers plans of action.

“I wanted to know what they’d do, not how they felt about things,” she said, adding that the questions fell short of the mark.

“There were no questions about what they’re going to do.”

The panel of eight candidates, three of whom were running for mayor, was one that represented the business community, the second-homeowner, the elderly, the workforce, the newcomer and the long-timer.

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They answered questions such as what they envisioned for Grand Lake, how they would create open space, attainable housing and a diverse economy.

All agreed on three main points: Grand Lake needs a more stable year-round economy, the attainable housing shortage must be addressed and the town’s namesake, the waters of Grand Lake, must be protected.

Their approaches were diverse.

Gary Gates, owner of Grumpy’s who held an unlit cigar throughout the event, would shrug his shoulders and sigh about the way Grand Lake’s government has been operating. He pointed to “a lack of true communication between the town and the community at large.” Gates decided to run for the office of trustee, he said, because he’s done being “a back room politician.” If elected, he’d be in a “better position to do something,” he said.

“That’s why I’m running.”

Joanne Jewell of Coldwell Banker in Grand Lake boasted of the time and commitment she’s willing to devote to the community. With 20 years experience in marketing with high profile businesses and 15 years living as a part-time-turned permanent resident in the area, Jewell’s platform focused on how to promote Grand Lake with the aim of boosting the local economy.

Texan and humble Bear’s Den business owner Benton “BJ” Johnson said he envisioned a “beautiful, prosperous and safe” Grand Lake. As trustee, he said he would find a way to maintain the Grand Lake that attracted his family to the village three years ago.

Being a “good listener” and having a background of serving on community boards would aid him in the office of trustee, he said, and he emphasized the instability of the economy as being the root of Grand Lake’s dwindling workforce population.

Affordable housing, fire mitigation and preserving the water quality of Grand Lake were commercial property owner Elmer Lanzi’s three top priorities if elected as trustee. Lanzi’s been “a Grand Lake friend and neighbor” for 21 years, subscribing to the notion that “a good quality of life is much better than a rich life.”

Grand Laker for two decades Kathy Lewis, who works at the historic Rapids Restaurant and Lodge, was the sole trustee incumbent on the panel.

“I feel like I have other things I’d like to see done and be a part of,” she said.

Lewis listed a variety of organizations she’s been involved with on the regional level since having been elected trustee. She also noted her long-time involvement with committees, events and organizations.

Lewis highlighted the need to replant trees in Grand Lake in the wake of the mountain pine beetle and the need to create attainable housing in town.

Representing the mayoral race, Judy Burke, Glenn Harrington and Russ Martin sat in a row.

Mayor Burke vying for another term was the election veteran at the table with four years as mayor, eight years as mayor pro-tem and another eight years on town boards. Burke has owned ERA Grand Realty for 31 years.

“One term is not nearly long enough to accomplish the goals we set forward for the town,” Burke said. “Let’s start on the path for planning the future.”

The mayor said she relies on the citizen-created Grand Lake master plan for a guide, since it represents what the citizens themselves would like to see for the future of Grand Lake. In accordance with the plan’s language, she strives “to maintain the rustic, Western family town that was here when you came here,” she said.

Mayoral candidate Glenn Harrington, a town trustee, received that-a-boys from the audience when he said a mayor’s position of leadership should serve to “inspire people to unite and work together.”

The retiree is a former military classroom instructor, science teacher, counselor and business owner. According to him, established winter events are gaining success in Grand Lake and should be cultivated more to augment winter business. He also said he would establish a “Grand Lake Info” Web site about town projects, if elected.

Russ Martin, new to the Grand Lake political scene, said if elected mayor he would provide a “fresh set of eyes and fresh set of ears.” The resident of town for the past four years, working as a chef, strives to be active in the community.

“I’m a fine candidate,” he said. “I’m a broad thinker and an independent thinker.”

Martin said his vision for Grand Lake is that it “holds its mud ” its history and nostalgia.” And even though voters are hearing the buzz word “change” a lot in the national races, Martin resists it for Grand Lake. “There’s not much room for change,” he said, “but room for improvement.”

To reach Tonya Bina, e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com or 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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