In an election year overshadowed by a global pandemic and the high drama of a presidential race, San Miguel County residents could be forgiven for not realizing the District 3 county commissioner seat is open. But it is, and incumbent Kris Holstrom would love to keep it. Her challenger is Norwood Mayor Kieffer Parrino who is mounting a write-in campaign. District 3 encompasses the county’s West End.
Holstrom is a familiar figure in the county with a long history of service, first on the County Planning Commission — a post she held for 20 years with stints on that board from 1992-99 and again from 2002-2015. The commission, she said, “was a good training ground.”
The Hastings Mesa resident was elected to her seat on the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in 2016. Running for re-election almost snuck up on her.
“Four years goes really fast,” she said.
Of her service to her West End constituents, she said she’s received “pretty good feedback.” She’s held numerous listening sessions and feels she’s done a good job bringing third district concerns to the table.
“I think those folks appreciate the fact I will listen,” Holstrom said. “I really work to bring the voices of the district … the range of opinion to the table. I do not push my personal opinion.”
In her four years on the BOCC, she can reflect on her work in areas such as affordable housing, environmental issues, food security and, of course, the unexpected policy-making that has risen since the COVID-19 pandemic augered into everyday life. In the midst of steering long-term visions such as the Sunnyside, net-zero affordable housing project, the BOCC has worked in concert with county public health director Grace Franklin in managing the coronavirus and protecting the health and well-being of the county’s citizens, a charge borne by all public servants and elected officials. Since March, the commissioners have held weekly meetings in their capacity as the county board of health.
“In the thick of things we were receiving equal amounts of criticism and praise,” she said. “We’ve been pretty proactive and careful.”
Holstrom noted that there have been zero coronavirus-related deaths in San Miguel, while recognizing that the third district — rural and less populated — has different issues and concerns than does the east end of the county.
“We’re different out here,” she said.
The impact of the pandemic on business in the third district is of great concern for her. “I’m always looking to help with businesses that have been harder hit.”
Overall, she said county has performed well in response to the pandemic.
“I’m so grateful for Grace,” she said. “I feel like if we keep to the five commitments, that’s the best we know how to do. We’ve been as rigorous and careful as possible at protecting the public health. We’ve done a good job.”
As a farmer and a staunch advocate for keeping food sources as local as possible she said her “personal favorite” issue is that of strengthening the food economy.
“How do we continue to grow that network (of local farmers and markets) and keep more of it (local food) on our own plate,” she said.
She’d also like to continue exploring the possibility of a local facility in which to slaughter and process meat raised in the region. A feasibility study, she said, is the logical next step.
But, like much else on the county’s to-do list, the pandemic has delayed a number of projects, such as composting and recycling revitalization, a revised master plan for Down Valley and the Telluride region, and ongoing work on housing solutions.
Bottom line? “I love my job,” Holstrom said.
Holstrom has a late challenger for her seat. Keiffer Parrino currently serves as the Mayor of Norwood, a post he’s held since 2016. Before that, he served on the Norwood Board of Trustees for 10 years. He has held jobs with Telluride Ski & Golf, as well as in property management and the hospitality industry. He has mounted a write-in campaign for the District 3 commissioner post, a decision he said that was spurred on by the pandemic. He was furloughed from his job in March, and as a representative of Norwood at the weekly BOCC meetings, realized his role in government had become full-time.
“I found myself on Zoom meetings six to eight hours a day at the county level,” he said.
His increased involvement in decision-making made him realize he’d like to be the West End’s official representative at the county level. But since candidates had a January deadline to get on the ballot, he is instead running as a write-in.
The county’s West End, he said, “is a different animal.” Compared to District 1 — the east end — and District 2 — the central and southern part of the county — policy-making to fit the needs of the West End is a challenge.
“One shoe does not fit all,” he said, noting that many in the West End take issue with the county’s stricter stance on public health issues, a position more restrictive than state mandates.
“People pushed me (to enter the race),” Parrino said. “I’d like to focus on Egnar and the West End as they’re a bit underrepresented. I’d like to bring those voices to the table. I feel like we can do more.”
An Independent, Parrino said politics on the county level isn’t so much about parties, but more a grassroots process.
“I like community politics,” he said. “I like responding to what the community wants us to do.”
Parrino believes he has the thick skin required for the job. Politics, he observed, can be “nerve-wracking and stressful because you want to please everyone. But you need to have it to keep doing the work.”
Though not expecting a challenge for her seat, incumbent Holstrom welcomes Parrino’s candidacy.
“We’re all entitled to run,” she said. “Having Keiffer run has been energizing.”