Six candidates, including two incumbents, are running for three open seats on Telluride Town Council. (Photo courtesy of MJ Guarrero)

The Telluride Town Clerk’s office has announced the names of the candidates for Telluride Town Council after approving all the necessary paperwork. Six hopefuls, including current council members Geneva Shaunette and Jessie Rae Arguelles, will appear on the town ballot for the Nov. 2 election. There are four seats open. Council member Tom Watkinson, whose term is up, will not be running for re-election as he and his family are moving to Ridgway. Mayor Pro TemTodd Brown is termed out.

Joining Arguelles and Shaunette in the running are Dan Enright, Meehan Fee, Kristin Kuhlman and Mark Hebert. Council terms are for four years and council members are paid a monthly stipend of $1,243, in addition to being eligible for the town’s health plan.

The candidates shared a variety of motivations for running for office.

Longtime resident Kuhlman counts herself lucky to be in Telluride.

“I’ve thought about running for council for many years,” she said. “This year I had several people suggest I step up and suddenly it made even more sense. I’ve lived here for 28 years except for a few school trips and its time I help contribute publicly to this beautiful place that we are all so fortunate to be a part of.”

Wanting to help solve region’s pressing housing issues was a reason cited by more than one candidate, including Hebert, who has watched friends move away in the face of shrinking housing opportunities.

“Housing is obviously the major issue in Telluride,” Hebert said. “Prior to moving here, I was involved in over $1 billion of real estate development, largely student housing, and I won an innovation in real estate competition. I also have a pretty diverse background in economics, startups, restaurants and retail, which positions me to understand how decisions impact multiple industries. Too many friends have been forced to move out of the area recently, and I am well suited to help them stay. I have to do something.” 

Enright also called out housing issues as a motivation for his candidacy. With Kuhlman, Hebert and Fee, he’s also a first-time candidate. Enright currently serves on the town’s Planning & Zoning commission and, in his quest to address worker housing shortages, presented to the town’s Parks & Recreation commission a proposal to temporarily house workers in RVs in Town Park.

“One of my primary motivations has been watching many talented and creative friends be forced out of Telluride especially since the start of the pandemic, not because they chose to leave but because there were no housing options available for them to stay,” he said. “I have been extremely fortunate in my time here in Telluride to have an apartment in affordable housing, which has allowed me the freedom to become more deeply involved in the community of Telluride, instead of needing to work multiple jobs just to cover my rent. And so I wish to help provide those same opportunities to others, so that they may become as invested in the community of Telluride as I feel I am, instead of struggling against the insecurities that make Telluride feel like a stopping point instead of their home. We have lost too many creative and talented artists, musicians, athletes, actors, chefs, entrepreneurs, journalists and valuable community members simply because they had no feasible way to continue to invest themselves in Telluride.”

Incumbent Shaunette wants to further some of the goals and projects she’s been a part of since being elected four years ago.

“I’m running for council again because I provide a voice that pushes for progressive housing solutions, community conscious budget decisions, and improved public communication from government,” she said. “I feel like I have helped instigate some new projects and policy changes and I want to see them through. Now is not a time to lose momentum, and I feel like I have furthered the discussion on topics that are important to our community.” 

Arguelles, a native Tellurider, said she really enjoys the work of representing the community.

“I love representing our diverse community and working towards creative, sustainable and equitable solutions for the many challenges we are all facing,” Arguelles said. “As the only candidate who is born and raised in Telluride, I feel it is imperative to have the historic perspective of our community values to help preserve what we all love in this magical valley. I love advocating for the most amount of good, for the most amount of people.”

Watkinson, who is nearing the end of his sole term, is going to lose his residency in the Town of Telluride, making it impossible to run for a second term, even if he wanted to. He and his wife, Robin, will return to the Ridgway home they’ve been renting out for many years. The couple find themselves in the “no man’s land” of having too great an income to qualify for deed restricted housing, yet nowhere able to afford free market properties.

“This is my home. We’d love to be able to stay here,” Watkinson said. “Nothing became available that we could pull off.”

He reflected on his four years of public service.

“I loved being there for everybody and talking to the community,” he said, noting that many considered him “approachable.” “It’s said to be a thankless job but that depends on who you’re talking to. I got thanked a lot even by those who disagreed with my positions. It feels good to get that acknowledgment.”

With their daughter now graduated from Telluride High School, Watkinson, a Telluride native, said the housing issues that have impacted so many, have served to make them commuters.

“This is my home. It’s all I know.”

Meehan Fee did not respond before press time.

Election Day is Nov. 2. The Daily Planet will have candidate profiles and ballot question analyses in the days leading up to the election.