Interviews with commissioner candidates Avey and Gates

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The HT interviewed both candidates for the open commissioner’s seat. Their responses below have been edited for clarity and brevity, and some of the questions have been omitted for length.

View a full video of each candidate interview on our Facebook page or YouTube channel, or listen to them on the Rio Blanco County News podcast.


View the full interview on YouTube.

Q: The next board of commissioners is going to face a big challenge as far as the budget goes. If you’re elected, knowing what you now know about the county budget, where do you think cuts could be made while maintaining critical services, and what do you define as critical services? 

It’s always hard when you’re looking for areas to cut and I’ve had to do that in the past at one of my jobs. I think that in any business organization or whatever that’s been going along well for a number of years you are going to find you have to start looking at what can be cut, you’re going to find areas that can be cut. I think Rio Blanco County has been fortunate and they’ve had kind of a good run. Now we’re looking down the road and it doesn’t look so good. I think some of those decisions are gonna be tough. It’s gonna be very necessary for the commissioners to be tough, as well, but compassionate.

Q: Everybody is in agreement that in order to continue to thrive, grow, develop, we need to diversify economically. What are some ideas that you have for how we go about that.

I think that the county’s economic development department does a good job. I also know that not everybody agrees with me on that point, but I do think they do a good job. What makes them work well and accomplish what they’re hoping to accomplish is if our communities buy into it. If they fight it and just get like ‘OK, they didn’t do anything for us or we suffered through this and nobody helped us,’ it’s not going to work. Is there going to be any magic pie in the sky to pull a slice of and fix everything? No. I think a lot of it is going to be having patience, looking to see what we can find that will fit into this area this environment with these rural communities. We’ve counted on our fossil fuels for a long time. Bringing stuff in to take that place is gonna be hard. When I was out talking to some of the folks, they’re ready to pack up and leave, there’s not anything here for them. They didn’t have any ideas to give me back either. I don’t have any really great ideas in that and I think that comes from not having all the information at my fingertips to work with.

Q: As you’ve been out pounding the streets is that one of the concerns you’ve heard from people?

Number one they want to know if I’m Republican or Democrat, which is interesting, but the fossil fuels and the oil and gas was a big one, the loss of coal mine jobs was another one. 

One of the questions I was asked was would I support marijuana shops in Rio Blanco County. I would not support them. Someone asked, ‘Have you really researched them?’ I have not. If I was in the position, I would research that. Whether it made a difference in my opinion remains to be seen. I just hate to see the success of our small businesses riding piggyback on marijuana shops that could be gone the next day if the trend changes.

Q: We all have our own personal opinions and beliefs and standards. How would you go about making the decision as an elected official?

I’m married to a retired law enforcement officer who worked narcotics. I would have to work really hard to separate that out. I would want to say that the good of the county would be in the forefront of my mind and not some personal thing that I have going on. 

Q: More information would possibly lead you to change your opinion or change your mind?

I don’t want to be locked into just my opinion because I think that as you learn more and you get more different options from different folks there is a large chance you’re going to change your thought process, maybe even work out a compromise and I think that’s only good, 

Q: There’s an idea the commissioners need to present a unified front and vote the same way. What are your thoughts on that? 

I believe the commissioners should be a unified front. I don’t believe they all have to vote the same. If I was to get elected, I don’t know if I’m going to vote the same way and I want to be able to feel comfortable saying I don’t agree with this so I’m not going to vote this way, and I would hope that that would be accepted. I firmly think that if they don’t agree with my thought process they are going to tell me and I wouldn’t want anything less from them.

Q: County government is one of the largest employers in the county. What’s your management style?

I’ve always thought that you need to talk to your folks. If they can have even a basic understanding of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, you will have better response from them. They may not like it, they may not agree with it, but if you’re open and upfront with them, they’ll accept it much better. 

I love an open door policy. If I should be elected, I don’t plan to be sitting at home. I know there are a lot of out of town meetings to be attended but I also know there is time that has to be spent within the county and that’s really what I want to do. With the way that it’s set up right now the department heads are split between the three commissioners and the way I understood that was going to be was for budget purposes. I think it’s gone beyond that. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Everywhere I’ve ever worked you have your chain of command. I’m also a big believer in the human resources department and I think that difficulties need to go there and be worked out and if not they should come further. If a staff member came to see me with a problem that hasn’t been discussed with a supervisor I’d send them right back.

Q: How do you balance the need to give the county a voice at the state level and the day to day needs of the county?

I would look at the three commissioners’ really strong points and where their time with their strongest points best serves the county. Between them they have to come to some kind of working arrangement to meet the needs at the state level and at home.

Q: How do you define our customs and our culture as a county based on the mission statement?

I’ve found that a mission statement can be really, really good or it can be so vague it doesn’t say anything at all. It leaves it up to the person’s perception, which doesn’t always end up to be what the people wanted it to be in the first place. I think the mission statement is a work in progress. As time changes and people change in position and we move forward and back it constantly needs to be looked at so it does say what the county wants it to say. The mission statement 10 years ago may not fit today.

Q: What does that mean to you, the culture and custom?

To me it was cowboys — ranchers — and then you had your oil field come in so it was either roughnecks or cowboys. Customs — I like the easy kind of laid-back atmosphere that we have. To me it’s more of your small town, your rural, your friendly folks, being able to visit in the grocery store or in the post office or wherever you go. 

Q: How long have you been going to county commissioner meetings? I went a few times when I was working at the assessor’s office and then when I retired I started going full time as my hobby. It’s what I told everybody at the courthouse — that was going to be my hobby. So two and a half years about. 

Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned?

I think that one of the big things I learned was that they have and they do talk about some of this stuff behind the scenes and I guess that is OK as long as they are not making decisions behind the scenes. If I was to be elected and we’re voting on something I feel is important I want to be able to have that little bit of time to discuss so I can make things clearer in my mind or solidify how I’m going to vote. I think there has to be some way to discuss that to a certain extent. I really do think the people’s business is the people’s business and they have the right to know, but I also think we have to have some way of talking about it so we can make good decisions.


View the full interview on YouTube.

Q: If you’re elected, knowing what you know now about the county’s budget, where would you begin looking to make changes to balance the budget and maintain critical services, and what do you define as critical services?

I think first of all you have to look at all the departments on an individual basis and figure out strengths, weaknesses, familiarize yourself with them and understand, really understand what they do. I think it’s going to be very tough times, you’re absolutely right, and I think really diving down, understanding what they do, why they do it and and how they do it and figure out where we can cut from there — that would be the number one thing I would plan on doing.

To some extent every department in the county is critical. But if I really had to define critical, I think obviously our emergency services, public health — with the current pandemic that’s been a huge department — and same with human services. They have been phenomenal in dealing with this crisis and making sure our citizens are taken care of. But then you also have to look at the flip side of the coin dealing with essential services and emergency medical services. Road and bridge is critical, if the emergency services cannot get to the people that need it. 

Q: What ideas do you have for diversifying the economy. 

That’s a very interesting question and I think we should be really trying to capitalize on that right now with the pandemic. When COVID started and the stay-at-home order was in place and now we’re moved into the safer-at-home, I think that we should be out looking at outside people with our broadband project that we have within the county. A lot of people have learned, a lot of companies have learned that people can work from home and they’re very effective and very efficient. That’s just one aspect of it, but I think really utilizing what we have at our fingertips and the current environment we’re in, I think we have a lot of opportunity.

Q: As you’ve gone out and talked to residents, been out and about in the county, what are you hearing from people about their concerns and what they want from the county commissioners?

The biggest thing I’ve heard is they want their voices to be heard. They don’t want somebody to go in there with an agenda. They want somebody to go in there with an open mind, which is what I’ve campaigned on from the get go. I don’t have any personal agendas going into this. 

A lot of their concerns are based around the economic impacts of the current pandemic that we’re in with the legislation, the Senate bills that are being passed. Just last week a new one was proposed, 217 for law enforcement, the immunizations for our kids going to school, there’s so many laws and regulations and rules that are trying to be implemented right now. I think that’s the number one thing we should be cognizant of. But I do believe that most people’s concerns are the economic impact of and how can the county survive and stay viable and feasible. Our small businesses are an integral part of our community, and really unifying both ends of the county. We spend a lot of time fighting each other on those issues when we can really take that time and that energy and come together as a county, as one, and fight the bigger fight at the state and federal level.

Q: At the state level, how would you go about doing that as a commissioner and balance your day to day duties? 

I think being part of AGNC and Club 20 and things like that where you can unify counties, you’re going to have a bigger voice at the state level. If you can build an alliance, build the relationships, which I have a lot of those relationships in place right now, but if you that team and that framework behind you then I think you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck, if you will.

Q: How do you define our customs and our culture as a county based on the mission statement?

Right now if I had to define the customs and cultures of Rio Blanco County, right now I would say that we’re (a) very tight-knit, very independent and self-sufficient county. I think we’re heavily reliant on oil and gas industry. Our roots and cultures go back to our ag industry. Agriculture, outdoor recreation that’s always played a big part. I don’t know what it’s going to look like in 10 years, but I do think being flexible and not so stuck in your ways and hard-headed and, “this is the way we used to do it or have always done it.” We need to get out of that mindset and really focus on our future. You can’t move forward looking backward. You have to look forward to move forward.

Q: What is your position on marijuana within the county?

 I have been asked that, as well. Personally, I do not use marijuana. I do not have anything against people that choose to use marijuana. It is legal in our state. I think the medical purposes behind marijuana are very beneficial to people but if it’s referring to having a dispensary in our county, I would not be for that for a couple reasons. Number one, I firmly believe that we’ve missed the boat on that. When the dispensaries popped up, they popped up rapidly. Number two, we’re surrounded by dispensaries, to get to Meeker you’re going to have to drive past a dispensary. I don’t think you’re gonna get a lot of business at a dispensary in Rio Blanco County. Those people in my opinion would not want somebody to see their vehicle in front of that, whether that’s tied to medical marijuana or recreational. So I would be opposed to it just because I don’t think the benefits would really be there for the county to really thrive off of.

Q: If someone showed you an economic benefit and had the numbers to back it up, how would you make that decision separate from your own personal standpoint?

I’m open to any and all ideas. I’m not so hardheaded and think that my way is always the right way. If I make a decision and somebody can prove to me that I was wrong I’ll be the very first one to stand up and admit that, ‘Hey I’m wrong. I made the decision because A, B and C.’ So if somebody came to me with that, I would  definitely entertain the idea and then I think it would come down to the constituents in Rio Blanco County as to if they would want that or not. I don’t think a decision like that should come from the commissioners alone. I think the residents of Rio Blanco County should have a say in something like that.

Q: What other questions and concerns have you heard?

We’ve had some conversations about the Wolf Creek Reservoir, other economic drivers that could go along with that. There’s a lot of benefits coming from that.

Q: How do you feel about the board having to have a unified front and voting together?

I think having a discussion and agreeing to disagree is healthy. That’s what a commissioner is elected for, that’s what any elected official is elected for. I think having conversations, professional conversations — we want to keep everything professional — but no, I don’t believe one size fits all. It’s OK to disagree on something or have a different viewpoint. I think at the end of the day you have to be able to walk away and still have that working relationship, that healthy relationship.

Q: There’s been some discussion about how much interaction goes on behind the scenes. How do you avoid that?

Some of the people I’ve talked to, past boards even further back they would have those discussions during the meeting. I think that’s beneficial, that’s healthy for the media, for the general public, for everybody to hear and see where the individuals, where I stand on it, where another fellow commissioner would stand on something. I don’t think everything needs to be decided ahead of time. I think that there are going to be some things that special meetings will have to be called for and where decisions are going to have to be made, but I think having more discussion during the meeting – it’s not a race to see how fast we can get through the meeting. 

Q: The county government is one of the largest employers in the county. What’s your management style? 

So one of my very first posts when I announced I used the analogy of a big wheel with a bunch of spokes in it, and each county employee represents one of those spokes, including commissioner. I think a county commissioner is no different than any other county employee. We’re all there to perform a job. Micromanaging is definitely not my style. Either you have faith and trust in your department heads, if you don’t figure out why and make the appropriate corrections, but don’t get down into the weeds. 

As far as a healthy working relationship, I think if you have the chain of command in place, the commissioners are unified command. There’s three commissioners at the top and their job is to set the objectives. You let your department heads figure out the tactics and  how to perform that. My management style is not sitting over somebody’s shoulder and micromanaging or telling them you should do this or do that. They are the professionals, that’s their job. 

Q: How much time do you think you would end up spending at the capitol?

I think it would depend on the topic and how it would impact Rio Blanco County as a whole. I’ve actually as the emergency manager got the opportunity to go to the capitol and testify on wildland fires. I got to see the interaction with the board of county commissioners, AGNC and then myself. I think if you have that bond, that relationship with AGNC, maybe it’s not a Rio Blanco County Commissioner going all the time, maybe it’s another commissioner from another adjoining county that would go handle that. 

Q: Anything else?

I believe at one of our forums that we had, but one thing I don’t think we’ve really touched on from the economic standpoint is the hospital tourism. I think there’s an another opportunity there to really capitalize on what the hospitals are already building and have implemented. There’s some opportunity there that we can also capitalize on.

 I have been asked why would I leave a job that I can retire from. My wife and I had to do a lot of soul searching but I felt this is the right move and the next step.