While a dozen Democratic candidates for president of the United States squared off on the national stage Tuesday night, six local citizens vying for either mayoral or Telluride Town Council seats handled an array of questions at a forum hosted by the Progressive Women’s Caucus (PWC) in Rebekah Hall. It was a forum focused on issues, with the politics of personality largely missing.
PWC member Jocelyn Lifton-Zoline and Telluride High School senior Sydney Murray ran the forum, which opened with representatives of various local entities such as Strong Start, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation and the region’s newly established mental health advisory panel. Each updated the public on how voter-approved tax dollars are being put to work.
Brief informational overviews of every issue on the ballot were presented by each issues’ representative. Ballots were mailed out Friday.
From there, the candidates — Lars Carlson, Luigi Chiarani and Adrienne Christy for two open council seats; and Sean Murphy, David Oyster and DeLanie Young for mayor — fielded questions about the budget, the area’s significant carbon footprint, their ability to collaborate, public lands and the impacts of tourism, what types of affordable housing are needed most, and whether outlying areas such as Hillside and Lawson Hill should be annexed to the town.
All six candidates readily cited examples of how they were able to work collaboratively in a team environment.
Oyster pointed to the teamwork required in his former occupation as a worker on film crews and as a former member of Town Council.
“We worked together to get through that (the recession) without cracking,” he said. “We did pretty well.”
Collaboration, Christy said, is “the foundation of being effective. It’s an essential role a council person takes on.”
Murphy, who is running for re-election to his post as mayor, said he learned teambuilding skills and respect for others when he was a teen working in the family insurance business.
“I’ve always been part of a team,” he said.
Carlson, the incumbent council member vying for re-election, called his family “the greatest collaboration in my life,” and said the key to collaboration is the ability to listen and to “want to create a solution.”
The first budget question posed by PWC members asked candidates if the town’s budget reflected the community’s values. The candidates all agreed that, yes, it does.
“It does reflect the desires and needs of the community,” Oyster said. “It’s formulated by members of the community (the mayor and current council members) who have an eye on what the town wanted and needs.”
PWC wondered if summer events and festivals support businesses enough to justify the impacts. At the most recent council meeting, Town Manager Ross Herzog reported that sales tax collected in July was a historic $935,000.
Christy said festivals give much to the community, though they can also take away.
“Most businesses would say we need more people,” she said. “But what is the actual human impact?”
Carlson wondered if the summer season could be spread out, acknowledging the vast numbers of people who visited in a relatively short span of time. And, he said, the festival calendar does not need more additions.
“We don’t need more festivals,” he said. “The town could use a little respite.”
Murphy acknowledged it was “a delicate balance” and said that uniform curfew and decibel levels needed to be established.
Young noted that the town’s Fourth of July celebration was “the mother of all festivals” and a great boost to the economy.
“Without them we’d be hard-pressed to pay for what we need,” she said.
Chiarani came down on the side of limiting any further expansion of the summer season.
“Employees are getting tired,” he said. “I don’t want to see it get much bigger.”
The local environment was the next topic and the forum’s organizers wanted to know what — given Telluride’s massive carbon footprint — could be improved. Most candidates suggested better, possibly incentivized, composting and recycling and ramped up educational efforts, while some said better use of public transportation could help address impacts.
The question of the area’s public lands being loved to death followed. What, the women’s caucus asked, is the role of Telluride in protecting public lands. The candidates pointed to numerous collaborations with other governments, agencies and environmental watchdog groups, improved public education, and making Telluride’s environmental values clear when speaking with elected state and federal representatives. Using the popular Hanging Lakes Trail near Glenwood Springs on the I-70 corridor as an example of how public lands are becoming overrun (there is now a permit system in place to control the impacts there), Young said, “Maybe people need to take turns.”
Given a choice between more rental or more ownership opportunities in the affordable housing arena, most candidates said the rentals should be a greater priority. Chiarani called them “essential,” while Oyster, Murphy and Young called for more public-private partnerships to create affordable housing projects. Murphy indicated a mix of rental and ownership housing was needed, while Carlson supported continued land banking.
The idea of annexing Lawson Hill and Hillside was posed. No one running for either mayor or a council seat wanted to close the door on annexation, but most agreed it would be up to the residents in those communities to approach town to discuss options. Should those residents choose to explore annexation, benefits such as voting in town elections and serving boards and commissions would be possible.
The last two questions were for the mayoral candidates: What sets them apart from their opponents? And how would the three contenders approach the mayoral duties of agenda-setting, role as an ambassador outside of Telluride and running meetings?
Oyster declared his commitment to Telluride, and said that his best four years in town had been during his term of office on council. As mayor, “My only agenda (would be) the people of Telluride,” he said. “I will show up for work prepared. … I see no necessity to reach outside the community.”
As a former Main Street business owner, Murphy said he knew what it was to struggle and shrugged off his relative short tenure as a Telluride resident.
“It’s not how long you’re at the table, it’s what you bring to the table,” he said.
He also pointed to the numerous outside organizations and groups in which he participates, emphasizing the importance of bringing Telluride’s values and voice to a larger arena.
And Young, who noted she has worked in public service “since the day I got here,” said that her “level of dedication cannot be matched.”
She added, “I show up,” citing her nearly flawless attendance record at local and regional housing meetings as an example. Young also said she’d rather focus “inward on our community … (it’s) supremely important.”