Grand Lake mayoral candidates square off at forum | SkyHiNews.com

Grand Lake mayoral candidates square off at forum

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

TONYA BINA/SKY-HI DAILY NEWS

More than 100 individuals crowded into the Grand Lake firehouse community room for the Grand Lake mayoral candidate forum featuring Glenn Harrington and Judy Burke.

Throughout the debate, each candidate alluded to the need for community healing after a failed April mayoral election that seemed to draw distinctions in the voting pool between the establishment of Grand Lake and the newer or part-time residents.

“The attitudes, quite frankly, are as low as I have seen it since the gambling debacle in the ’80s,” candidate Judy Burke, the real-estate business owner and previous mayor, said in her opening statements.

“We need to get past all this, to move forward together, to re-establish trust that voters who are eligible to vote do vote and do make their votes count, and that we all have a stake in making Grand Lake the grandest it can be.”

Glenn Harrington, the candidate who won by two votes in the April 1 election before the election result was thrown out in court a month later due to voters’ ineligibility, said after he had won he received acknowledgment from voters that Grand Lake could use a fresh path of leadership.

They were “depending on me as the new mayor to unite this town and bring it together like it has not been in so many years,” said Harrington, a geologist and former teacher of 36 years.

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Burke rebutted, saying she too heard from the constituency and was told she was the “fairest and best mayor this community ever had.”

Burke championed the need for better communication throughout town, such as hosted Town Hall meetings in which residents proper and greater community members could exchange ideas and ask questions freely. She also talked of revitalizing downtown business-owner meetings.

Harrington, who described a mayor’s ideal leadership style as one that “encourages and inspires,” said he would work to inform and learn from residents by way of the Web, at weekly coffee-shop visits with the mayor, and would encourage representatives of community organizations to meet on a regular basis.

Audience members were given chances to ask the candidates questions written on cards. Issues surrounding the Grand Lake business economy, beetle kill, lake water quality, town relations with the chamber of commerce and growth and development were among those asked.

Touching on the economy, Harrington said much of the town’s economy depends on the Grand Lake Lodge, and eventually that sale will boost the amount of jobs and the amount of traffic year-round in town. Harrington also said that creating more stable jobs in the community would help residents afford Grand Lake’s inventory of housing.

Burke disagreed with the assumption that the town should rely solely on one business, albeit an important one, for its economic success. She encouraged community members to buy locally and support all businesses.

Burke also touted the landscaping achievements accomplished in town, saying more would have been done if the beetle epidemic hadn’t thwarted efforts and consumed town funds. She encouraged more business owners to take part in beautifying the town. It was her influence, she said, to get the state’s involvement in clearing Highway 34 right of way trees.

Harrington’s perspective on the epidemic was from someone who lived near Yellowstone National Park when it burned. “You don’t stop nature, you cooperate with it,” he said. Since the beetles have nearly eaten everything they can, he said, the time now is an “exciting story” when nature begins to refurbish herself with new growth.

Throughout the forum, Harrington based answers on the platform of working with others, such as with the county, federal agencies and grassroots organizations in championing lake water quality and in working with neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park for boosting the town’s economic opportunities.

For major issues in town, Burke promoted finding balances that work out for the various segments of the community, including those beyond Grand Lake’s town boundary.

Even voters not eligible to vote attended the forum.

“I just like this kind of stuff,” said Regina Dodge, a second-home owner who is not eligible to vote for Grand Lake’s mayor, yet listened to candidates’ views as a greater community member. She said she decided who she would vote for if she could.

Eligible voter Diane Mahoney, who entered the forum undecided, also left with a made-up mind.

“I got a better feel for what each candidate felt was important for the community, and a better sense of what they bring to being a mayor,” she said.

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

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