GOP hosts forums for commissioner, sheriff candidates

RBC I Rio Blanco County Republican party leaders hosted forums last week for the contested primary races for District 1 commissioner and sheriff. Party chair Sam Tolley moderated the debate between commissioner candidates Ginny [Virginia] Love and Doug Overton and sheriff’s office candidates Anthony Mazzola and Rich Garner. Each set of candidates were asked to respond to four questions after giving their opening statements.

(Left) District 1 commissioner candidates Doug Overton and Virginia Love and (right) sheriff candidates Anthony Mazzola (incumbent) and Richard Garner participated in Republican party-hosted forums in Rio Blanco County last week. | LUCAS TURNER PHOTOS

QUESTION: TOWING THE PARTY LINE

The first question posed at both forums was to ask the candidates if they agree with the local party’s statement of principles and if they agree with the 15 resolutions set forth by the state GOP at the 2022 assembly in Colorado Springs (link here). All four candidates stated their agreement with the statement and resolutions.

COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES

QUESTION: TAX REVENUES

Commissioner candidates were then asked to discuss loss of county revenue with declining tax revenues and what actions they would take.

Meeker:

  • Love: “We’ve maintained a budget last year and this year. And I think that our employees do a remarkable job.” “Just from talking with the department heads, they’re really frugal with your money. Right now, I don’t see anything glaring that is a huge need to be cut anymore.”
  • Overton: “Budget is going to be the hardest part of the job, because it affects people. The county has a lot of really good people working for it.” “If fossil fuels go away, we are going to have tough choices to make, and that’s going to be services and things people are not going to like, but I don’t know any other way around it. We’re going to have to do some things just like running a business.”

Rangely:

  • Overton: “There are avenues that you can take. Some of it is consolidation… There are tough decisions that will need to be made.”
  • Love: “There is grant money available and there is grant money available for taxpayers as well. If you have always wanted to start up a new business but were afraid to — reach out, find out what’s out there. You starting up that new business in Rio Blanco County generates tax dollars.”

QUESTION: WATER AND WOLF CREEK

How they propose to address short-term and long-term water shortages, and their thoughts on the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project was the third question.

Meeker:

  • Love: “As far as the Wolf Creek Reservoir Project, I spent two and a half hours with Alden Vanden Brink on this project. This is not a new project. It’s been around since the 1930s when they first decided that they needed some kind of water storage. It’s just being a good water steward, and I think that people in our county are extremely good water stewards.”
  • Overton: “Water rights are being challenged in court every day. If they make a call on the White River or the compact states start making a call on the water, they’re taking it. And that’s what we need to try and work on is how to keep it here. It doesn’t matter if it’s Wolf Creek or another project, somehow we need to be proactive enough to get a plan. They’re supposed to come up with three alternatives, and I’m very interested to see what comes out.”

Rangely:

  • Overton: “It’s a good project for storing water because it’s big…[Wolf Creek] is not necessarily the final project. It could be somewhere else.”
  • Love: “I have had the opportunity to go to several meetings on the water. I think they have been looking at this for sometime but, looking at the ebbs and flows over the years. The drought is going on and on.” “I am totally in support of the Wolf Creek Reservoir only because at this point in time, I think that’s the best shot we have.”

QUESTION: OPPONENT STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Finally, in Meeker, candidates were asked to share what they thought was the biggest possible weakness in their opponent. At the Rangely forum they were asked what are possible strengths over their opponent.

Meeker:

  • Love: “Doug just does not seem to, in my opinion, have the diversity that I do. As far as a weakness, I don’t necessarily say that is a weakness, but it’s just a difference of ours.”

Rangely:

  • Overton: “Any of you that know me know that I’ve been on the ground working or I’ve been doing the administration part of it. I feel I’m a much better fit with my business experience.”

Rangely:

  • Overton: “My ability to budget and make decisions. I think I am the one who is the most experienced to make those calls.”
  • Love: “My strength is people. I have always been able to get along with people, to talk to people on all different levels. When you come to the table with a different opinion, it only makes everybody in the conversation stronger in the end.”

CLOSING COMMENTS: COMMISSIONER CANDIDATES

During closing comments, Love emphasized her ability to work with people, to discuss, negotiate, and calm down someone who comes in irate.

Overton emphasized his focus on taking care of Rio Blanco County locally. “I have no agenda,” adding that he won’t “be making personal promises to get anything done” because the commissioners are a board of three, not one.

In Rangely, commissioner candidates closed with the following highlights:

Overton said, “I want our county to stand strong for constitutional rights. I have seen the benefits of hard work pay off for myself, my family and the community. I ask for the privilege of serving as your county commissioner and putting all of your hard earned money and hard work to work for you.”

Love stated, “I am actively having conversations with people and companies who have ideas to bring new services to our county… We need to be diligent fighting laws that attack our rural way of life… Locally, we need to join forces, all citizens are welcome.”

SHERIFF CANDIDATES

OPENING COMMENTS: SHERIFF CANDIDATES

The candidates for sheriff gave their opening statements next.

Mazzola highlighted his 31 years in law enforcement. “I started as a jailer and worked my way up. We have been faced with some tough decisions, budgets, and the revenue decline we’re seeing. I’m a Republican and a conservative and I’m willing to make the tough decisions. I made one of those decision last year … shutting down the jail. I’m on track right now to save Rio Blanco County over half a million dollars this year. It was tough, and I knew it wasn’t going to be popular, but I did it because that’s where my values and my beliefs are.”

Garner shared his background on the Western Slope as a “Constitutional conservative Republican before I really knew what those terms meant,” and the value of public service — especially military service — in his family. “I’m just a regular guy. I’m worried about budget, changes that are coming down, just like everyone else. I’m a problem solver, I’m good at identifying problems and solving problems. When we work together in unity and cohesion and mutual respect you get a lot more done.” Garner also said he disagrees with the decision to close the jail, and wants to work with the commissioners to explore the possibility of reopening the jail.

QUESTION: BUDGET PRIORITIES

What are your priorities for the sheriff’s budget in the face of declining revenues and why?

Meeker:

  • Garner: “First and foremost, public safety… It’s going to require working together with other agencies, maybe come up with some new ways to do things. I’m not going to tell you I have the answer to all these problems; all I do have is a desire to try to help solve those problems.
  • Mazzola: “Public safety is absolutely right. I was told ‘you aren’t going to save any money by closing the jail.’ I provided an answer, I’m willing to think outside the box. I knew there were going to be impacts to us and other law enforcement agencies, but the impacts were minimal compared to the savings to you, the taxpayer.”

Rangely:

Mazzola: “I have been accused of building a kingdom. If I wanted to save my kingdom, do you think I would have made a controversial decision like that [closing the jail]?” “I made that decision because it was a way to save taxpayer money and we could get the same thing done with minimal impact to the citizens.”
Garner: “One of the things I would do if I were sheriff would make sure that every member of my staff that worked on the road, had contact with the public or was in dispatch would have crisis intervention training.”

QUESTION: PROPOSED CHANGES

What changes to be made in the sheriff’s department and how to implement those changes?

Meeker:

  • Mazzola: “I am so proud of the team we’ve put together over the years and got to witness in action a couple months ago with the kidnapping upriver. It was the deputies that solved this case, even though we had CBI and FBI working on it… We need to improve on recruitment and retainment.”
  • Garner: “There are some great men and women that work in the sheriff’s office. It’s a challenge working in this county – it’s a big county, very diverse in a lot of ways. Hiring and retention is a constant problem. We need to try in some ways to start growing them at home. We need to have our sheriff’s office being more involved with these kids at the school level.”

Rangely:

  • Mazzola: “These are real dollars, it’s taxpayer dollars. These [jail savings] are going to allow some of these other programs to go ahead and help our mental health issues. I agree 100% mental health is a huge issue.”
  • Garner: “You have to weigh what is needed vs what you would like to have. I will include anyone who works in the county, anyone who has an idea on how we can do something better, cheaper, more efficient. I am all about that.”

QUESTION: OPPONENT STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Meeker:

  • Mazzola: “I’m not going to go that route. I want to talk about the things that we’re doing. Search and rescue is a big function that the sheriff’s office has. I was instrumental this year in passing a state bill that helps volunteers that make up search and rescue.”
  • Garner: “We both agreed we were going to run a very clean, above-board campaign. It’s not really a matter of weakness. We have a lot of the same goals. But our leadership style is different. I am a servant-type leader.

Rangely:

  • Mazzola: “There are a lot of other duties, including managing foreclosed properties, that the sheriff’s office does. I think that’s where my experience as sheriff will help.”
  • Garner: “I am a public servant. I am a team player type of guy. I am very good about pulling people together and using a group to address an issue.”

CLOSING COMMENTS: SHERIFF CANDIDATES

Meeker:

  • Garner: “Times are changing. We have a lot of challenges coming. The other thing that’s changing is the mentality of the people. We’re not going to stop progress, but what we can do is provide good examples for the people who come here and we can try to manage it.”
  • Mazzola: “We’re in the process of getting a grant to use that facility [jail] in other ways. County Sheriffs of Colorado teaches a two week detention course, what better place to have it than in an actual jail? The other one is trying to get a 360-degree video program that allows [training] scenarios. The other program is training for tower repair and maintenance. We want to continue to use that building.”

Rangely:

  • Garner: “You have an informed decision to make. It’s a choice of leadership styles, leadership priorities, and what you as the recipient of the services that law enforcement provides, what you think is important.”
  • Mazzola: “We as sheriffs have to fight at [the state] level, we have to stand up and take a stance.” “I am willing to [fight], I have been doing that, I will continue to fight to keep this community safe.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Responses have been abbreviated for space.


By NIKI TURNER and KATIE KING

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