Mountain Village Town Council candidates gathered Tuesday for a forum hosted by the Wilkinson Public Library, discussing the town’s impending financial challenges and their ideas for improving issues like transit and affordable housing.
And as the forum unfolded, a theme of consensus emerged. Not only did candidates tend to agree with one another; they also emphasized that in order to proceed successfully into the future, the town has to focus on collaborations, partnerships and consensus-building.
“There’s not one thing on our list when we look at the big issues that is going to be fixed without collaboration,” said Mayor Laila Benitez, summing up a point that was oft repeated. “It still is key and still must be the driving force behind all of the major challenges we face.”
Six candidates are vying for four spots on the council in an election that will be decided June 25. Along with Benitez and fellow incumbent, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Caton, candidates include four newcomers: longtime Village resident, landscape company manager and ski patrol supervisor Martinique Davis Prohaska; semi-retired renewable energy executive and four-year resident Peter Duprey; real estate broker and general contractor Kara Mills; and Chris Busbee, who spent 25 years working in finance and investment banking before moving to Mountain Village with his family two years ago.
Though they were on the same page regarding many issues facing the town — such as the need for deliberate growth, environmental protections and sound financial decisions — candidates also endeavored to highlight ways they stand out from one another.
Duprey, who moved with his wife to Mountain Village to put down roots after a life on the move, stressed that his experience as a CEO and CFO equips him to make the kind of tricky financial decisions the Village is facing — such as figuring out how to fund the gondola beyond 2027, when its current funding runs out.
“We have some very major financial decisions that we have to make, and I think my experience fits well with that as a CFO and as a business leader,” he said.
When asked about the gondola later in the forum, Duprey said, “I really believe that the gondola needs to be funded by everyone who benefits from it.”
Prohaska, who moved to the Village as a child, leaned on her long history of involvement in the community. Along with co-owning a small business with her husband, Prohaska has been a member of the town’s comprehensive plan task force, medical center advisory board and green team.
“I feel that I’m extremely lucky to have been able to be been raised here, and now to be raising my children here,” Prohaska said. “And that’s why I’m running, is because I want my children to have the same opportunity that I had.”
That kind of sustainability, she said, can be achieved through mindful development, regional cooperation and a dedication to preserving community.
Caton, who has sat on the council since 2015, emphasized his experience and the current council’s track record of improving regional partnerships, developing affordable housing and facilitating increased vitality.
“So many things have begun that I really feel strongly about accomplishing and continuing to work toward,” Caton said, noting that the last four years were spent envisioning, planning and building foundations. “But it’s in the next four years that the rubber is really going to hit the road on some very huge projects.”
And Mills said her management skills make her a qualified candidate who can communicate with the gamut of community members.
“I’ve had a diverse and successful career, which enables me to appreciate all our community’s members thoughts, ideas and opinions,” she said. “I want our local government to be efficient, logical and transparent to all stakeholders.”
Busbee was out of the country, but submitted a short video to the forum. The wind and solar power expert, board member many times over, cattle ranch operator and father of two said he would like to contribute his skills to difficult town issues such the wastewater plant expansion.
“All my life, I’ve worked on challenging projects with terrific teams,” Busbee said. “I know how to build consensus and I know how to get deals done.”
Benitez, meanwhile, said serving as mayor and council member has been a remarkable experience. So much of why she is running for re-election comes down to the same reason the audience showed up for the forum, she said. “You are here because you love this community and you want to give back and you want to make the best choices possible. And that’s how I approach every day in this job.”
Ballots can be returned either by mail or in person to Mountain Village Town Hall at 455 Mountain Village Blvd., Suite A, by June 25. On Election Day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.