Saturday, July 13

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

County commissioner candidates interviewed

By Chris Ryan

Editor’s note: Both interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity. The full interviews are available on The Crestone Eagle website:

Tom McCracken

What have you learned in your experience that you think would be especially valuable for you moving forward?

There’s a lot to learn about this job. I didn’t even have my legs under me for the first two years. The biggest responsibility the county has is the budget. We have 1,600 plus budget items on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and manage about 120 employees. What is valuable is learning all that, figuring out the priorities, getting a feel for if there was fluff in the budget or the areas where we need to spend more money.

Are there any solid arguments you can see why someone might choose to vote for Adam Kinney over you?

It seems like the main push is age. I don’t feel like I’m over the hill just yet. Having spent all the time learning what’s going on, I can leverage that in the future to get some real accomplishments done. I feel like maybe Adam’s jumping in a little early. I haven’t done anything to deserve to be thrown out of office, I don’t believe. 

I think, politically speaking, it would be advantageous for him to learn the ropes a little bit. I offered to mentor him, but he did not take me up on that. I’m a little baffled about why he decided to run against me. But I guess if they want a young buck in there, they should vote for Adam.

You’ve mentioned both your four decades in the valley and your four years of experience as county commissioner as advantages, but are there also disadvantages to being so integrated? 

Nepotism in the county is huge, but I’m not part of that. I think you’ll see the old boy network is supporting Adam. But the level of influence that you can build is really significant and to turn over in four years, you’ll lose that. I’m chair of the Council of Governments which includes all the counties and all the municipalities. I’m also chair of the San Luis Valley Commissioners Association. I was vice chair last year and I’m chair this year. So that’s a little outsized amount of influence I guess for a person that’s in their first term.

Where does Crestone’s electrical power come from? 

It all comes over Poncha Pass. If there were to be a weather event or fire that took down those lines, the whole valley would be without power, except for what we can generate ourselves.

What’s on the horizon that you think is going to be a particular opportunity or challenge in the next four years?

We have urgent personnel problems that have just come up. We need to hire good people. And we have a 32-unit affordable housing project that’s just been funded with two huge grants of close to a million dollars.

Did you support the idea of bringing building codes to the county?

After listening to both sides, I had to end up voting against building codes. There were a lot of good arguments for it. But it tied us into the state so closely we just wouldn’t have had any leeway to do anything alternative. Not that I’m against the energy codes. We’re one of the most solar-ready places in the United States and I see all these places going up that aren’t facing south. Makes no sense.

We’re going to have to face some issues with Airbnbs. The state’s been trying to push through a law — facing heavy lobbying from Airbnb — to allow taxation of second homes that are being used as Airbnbs, at a commercial rate. To me, that makes a lot of sense. 

There’s always environmental issues that’ll crop up and I’ll always come down on the side of the environment. 

I’ve been a tree-hugger from the beginning and I’m an organic farmer. I helped start the organic program in Colorado. And I’m still doing it.

Adam Kinney 

How do you think your experience working in government in Crestone could translate to the county level?

One of the most valuable things I’ve gained from working on the town level is having had almost 20 years to make mistakes, and to learn from them. And most of those mistakes have been around learning how to work with people. I’ve learned that there are better ways to approach working with people that you don’t agree with for the greater good, to get stuff done.

I think ideally we should seek consensus, and that’s a big part of my platform: listening to people and bringing multiple perspectives to the table to create a solution that works for everyone. And the political structure I think is pretty similar, but the scale is obviously much larger on the county level.

How do you think your presence at the county level would differ from what Tom McCracken has been doing for almost four years?

Well, I’m younger and therefore closer to understanding what it means to raise a family in this county or to be a working class family. And I think there’s a lot of value to that. And then, one thing I find is that having almost two decades of history and backstory with other elected officials can sometimes be prohibitive of getting things done. Tom has decades of history with a lot of people out there and I believe that it sometimes interferes with his effectiveness.

Was it a difficult decision to run?

It was pretty introspective and emotional for me to consider running against Tom, given that he’s got another term. It really took a lot for me to get there. People are asking me why now, why not wait four years and let him go again? Two or three months ago, that question was really hard to answer but I’ve been reaching out to the county and people in the community. I’ve been receiving encouragement and support. There are a lot of people who are looking for a change.

Are there urgent issues that are coming up on the county level that you can see on the horizon in the next few years that you’re especially focused on and interested in confronting? 

Dispelling the narrative of divide between the districts. Bringing the county together to be able to work together to prepare for the future. I think the water issue is extremely urgent, but I’m learning that it’s not the county commissioner’s job to interfere in water policy. It’s not our responsibility or authority to try to control any of that. On the other hand, supporting water users is really important and necessary. I think that the job that the current county commissioners have done to put up a buffer to protect water from threat of export is invaluable. What is as much or more of a threat to our current water levels is how we manage and use the water amongst ourselves. That needs support and attention.

What would be the disadvantage of voting for you? What does Tom bring to it that you might not?

I might care too much what people think, and Tom’s determination and conviction to what he thinks is right is admirable. I might be naive about bringing together parts of the community that have been divided, but I don’t think there’s anything I would rather do than help to build community based on consensus.

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