Q&A with candidates for ERBM’s board of directors

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By TIFFANY JEHOREK

Special to the Herald Times

MEEKER | The HT asked 10 questions of the four individuals running for two seats on the Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Park and Recreation District. The election is May 5. If you have not requested and received an absentee ballot, voting will be conducted in-person, following public health guidelines, at the Meeker Recreation Center from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The responses to the questions below are presented in alphabetical order by candidates’ last names.

Questions:

1. Why are you running for the ERBM Recreation and Park District Board?

2. Partnering and finding ways to leverage tax dollars with the budget is an excellent way to complete projects. Do you have ideas on how this can be done (that is not already being completed?)

3. During this time of financial crisis, knowing ERBM receives a 5.699 mil, and knowing the center has not been open nor will open for an extended time, do you think the budget should be trimmed and portions of the tax money returned to taxpayers?

4. The pond project is over budget (it was $335K, now just the construction is $424K which does not include any of the fees.) During this time, and even though money has been spent, should it be put on indefinite hold to trim the budget?

5. Managers in the past have completed evaluations for the executive director on his job performance. Do you find that valuable or does it undermine his authority?

6. Colowyo is shutting down within the next 10 years, and nearly 50 families in Meeker will be losing their primary income and either finding a new job that is potentially less pay or moving. Do you see that in the future ERBM should work on economic development for our community? If so, do you have any ideas?

7. Sticking with the knowledge that Colowyo is shutting down and COVID is impacting our economy, do you have any ideas how ERBM could help the community outside of what they are already doing?

8. There are now yoga studios in town that did not exist when ERBM was formed. Do you think ERBM should still hold yoga classes given members have to pay a fee to use the center?

9. Membership fees: do you think ERBM should collect them? Are they too high or not high enough? Please expand as to why you think this.

10. Working parents have a hard time getting to classes, especially morning classes as they must get their kids ready. Evening class are virtually non-existent. Do you feel there is a population not being served, and if so, what should be done?

Chris Lockwood

CHRIS LOCKWOOD

1. ERBM Recreation and Park District is entering a new era. The District’s aging infrastructure and ambitious Capital Improvement projects, coupled with economic downturn, will necessitate an adjusted approach to budgeting and project management. My experience as a small business owner in construction will be beneficial in all phases of projects. Publicly funded expenditures must be transparent and accurate; and they must deliver completely effective outcomes. If elected, I would be the sole board member not currently employed by, or retired from, some form of government. It is my opinion that this board needs representation from local small business.

2. ERBM, the Town of Meeker, Rio Blanco County, CPW and others have been doing an excellent job of collaboration. It is great to see local organizations working together to eliminate duplicative efforts, leverage funds, and realize beneficial results for the community. I would like to see the District expand its role in the pursuit of grant funding for both collaborative and District specific projects.

3. Given the volume of repairs needed at the Recreation Center, I view the closure necessitated by COVID-19 as an unexpected opportunity to address maintenance issues. I believe the District should make budgetary adjustments. I do not believe that a “tax holiday” mill levy adjustment is warranted at this time. Given these volatile and uncertain times, a mill levy adjustment cannot be ruled out in the future.

4. It is very unfortunate that the pond project has experienced “budget creep”. The problem appears be due to the number of entities involved and an incomplete planning process. I would like to understand why contracts were solicited- let alone awarded- without a clearly defined project scope. At this point, we need to determine if the monetary loss of not moving forward with these commitments would prove unacceptable.

5. The United States governing system is founded upon checks and balances. Sound management solicits and considers feedback. I believe every  District employee should be given an opportunity to provide input.

6. The District’s current mission statement does not include taking a lead role in economic development; nor should it. The hospital district focuses on health. The fire district focuses on public safety. Makala Barton at RBC and  Stephanie Kobald at the Chamber of Commerce are doing a great job leading our economic development. ERBM should focus on excellence in parks, recreation, and cultural opportunities. If all special districts strive for excellence, they will naturally amplify economic development by creating amenities conducive to local prosperity. All entities should continue to seek opportunities to collaborate when appropriate to bolster their respective efforts.

7. The District is an important community supporter and employer. It has demonstrated an ability to respond and adjust to the needs of the community. I anticipate that tradition will continue and I would promote innovative thinking and responsible community service.

8. The District should not compete with local business. Yoga classes, camping fees, etc should not be competitive with local business. However, if there is a definitive community need (such as early morning yoga) not being served by local business, the District should be responsive.

9. I believe membership fees are necessary from a budget perspective and currently appropriate.

10. It is incumbent upon the District to monitor community needs and respond appropriately, whether that be in programming, maintenance, or management. I believe they have done an excellent job and I would promote continuing awareness of underserved segments of the community.

TRAVIS MOBLEY

1. I am running for the ERBM Rec Board because I feel that I have accomplished a great amount in the time that I have been on the board and I enjoy providing for the needs of the community through the Rec Center.

2. No, I think we have leveraged the tax money we have received and collaborated with other partners in the community on projects.

3. Due to the hard times the world and our community are going through, the ERBM is already planned on doing a discounted membership for the rest of 2020. We still have to maintain our outside facilities for the community to enjoy during this time.

4. We have added additional amenities to the pond project and we are holding off on phase two of the project to gain more buy-in from other community members and organizations.

5. I believe the evaluations are valuable because the board members are not able to be present daily so, we have used evaluations in the past to help us see the inner workings of the ERBM’s daily operations.

6. I do not think economic development is part of our mission as the ERBM. I believe the economic development needs to come from Meeker’s government or the Chamber.

7. It is the ERBM’s mission to promote outdoor recreation for the community. I think community projects related to recreation could be created and I feel the ERBM would be a great partner in these potential projects.

8. I believe having new Yoga studios in Meeker is a great addition to the town to provide more opportunities for fitness. The fees paid to use the center offer more benefits than just specific classes, so having additional classes such as yoga can only add to the ERBM’s program diversity.

9. In general, yes I believe membership fees should be collected because they help us to run more programs and the ability to organize them and interact with the community. We offer the Blitz at the beginning of the year, which helps reduce the price of memberships. We are very competitive with any other rec center on the Western Slope. During the 2020 membership year, due to COVID, we will be reducing membership fees for the rest of the year to help our community members continue to use the rec center.

10. I believe if there are enough people that would be interested in evening classes and came before the program organizers, then evening classes could be obtainable. An important part of people being in programs is the end of the program surveys which can help the ERBM evaluate what they need to work on and possible changes we can make to improve or add to our programs.

Chance Walker

CHANCE WALKER

1. I believe I can bring fresh perspective and a unique frame of reference to the board.  I value the insight I gained working for the district in the past and I feel I have a good understanding of our community’s wants and needs. It is very important to provide great resources and programs for residents, but the district must use tax payer dollars responsibly in order to remain sustainable for future generations. At the same time, it’s important to provide a healthy and safe workplace for staff, with long-lasting career opportunities.

2. I believe the board of directors and ERBM staff ultimately work for the taxpayers. In my experience, district staff do what they can to stretch every dollar and conserve as many resources as possible.

3. I would propose the board take a look at the true cost of operations to ensure transparency and accuracy. The board should continue to pursue strong partnerships with other community entities, while also allowing those entities to take the lead on some projects, instead of having ERBM as the primary financier. I feel that at times, ERBM puts more into projects around town than into keeping district infrastructure maintained. For instance, the Circle Park pond project (on Town property) is occurring at the same time two emergency repairs on the center are in the works. Reallocation of resources to maintain ERBM’s buildings and infrastructure would ultimately serve the community better in the long run, without creating additional financial strain on the district and taxpayers.

4. Additionally, the District should take a hard look at programming. Underperforming programs should consistently be eliminated or replaced. Citizens are the biggest partner of the district, and should be given ample opportunities for their voices to be heard. Continuing programs and projects that serve a wide range of community residents and partners will help sustain the district in harder times.

5. My answer is yes, with the caveat there are a lot of legalities and logistics to sort through when trying to trim a budget or return taxpayer dollars. Changes in our community, including the Colowyo closure and worldwide shifts in oil and gas, will have permanent effects on the community and therefore the district. We owe it to our citizens to be extremely mindful of purchases and projects all the time, but especially during times like these. The sustainability of the district and the community should always be at the forefront of the board’s decision-making process.

4. I think this project should be put on hold during these uneasy times (unless the district is already too far in and would end up wasting significant taxpayer dollars on the legal aspect.) I believe the board should put all nonessential projects on hold – the ‘accessories’ of the district, one might say – and should instead focus on sustaining current operations and facilities. Prudent spending is always important, but with a global pandemic and swirling economic uncertainty, it is paramount. Conserving district funds now to better serve the community later on would be my preference. As an aside, I feel it was financially irresponsible to invest to such an extent in a project on property belonging to the town, without equal buy-in from other partners. I feel district monies are more impactful if smaller pieces of the proverbial pie are dispersed to a wider variety of community entities/projects and are also allocated to district infrastructure projects that meet specific community needs, like expanding the usefulness of the recreation center (i.e. adding a gym, expanding the weight room, or offering different hours of operation.)

5. I think it should be an equal playing field for everyone. A study completed in Australia by Applied Psychology showed 360 degree appraisals increased work performance. Supervisors should also be able to provide feedback on their interactions with other staff, managers and the executive director. In a healthy work environment, everyone should be able to have a say without fear of repercussions. In my mind, if you are doing the right thing, why would a 360 appraisal be an issue? Done correctly, this could really benefit employees across the board, whether they’re management or frontline staff. I also believe this is the only way for the board to get an accurate picture of executive director performance, instead of relying solely on financial numbers, reports and one-on-one meetings with board members.

6. I believe ERBM should support equal opportunity partnerships to shore up the community. I do not believe, however, it is the sole responsibility of ERBM to financially support or boost Meeker’s entire economy. The district can cut back on spending during hard times and conserve taxpayer monies, ensuring the future of ERBM 10 to 20 years from now.

7. Frontline staff are doing a great job working to improve morale in the community. I’d like to see continuous opportunities for community feedback put in place, whether in the form of mailed or digital surveys, feedback forms on the website, etc. This is especially important when the community is going through a difficult time. There are a variety of changes happening that will undoubtedly impact what the community views as important. What do the people really want from their district right now? Regular feedback would benefit both citizens and the board’s decision-making abilities. I don’t think anyone wants to see an increase to their tax bill right now. Responsible, targeted spending is the smartest thing for everyone.

8. In regard to all classes (not just yoga), competition is generally good and helps improve the quality of services by all parties. The recreation center operates current classes to meet a board-approved cost recovery standard. ERBM offers many services to the community for free and I believe the taxes and fees the district charges (well below fees in other districts) are reasonable. In order for the maximum amount of businesses and people to survive current circumstances, we all have to continue to support each other to the best of our ability. I believe the fees ERBM charges are fair. If ERBM cut all programming offered by other entities, the community would be underserved as a whole, especially lower-income families.

9. I believe the fees are fair for what you get out of a membership. I do think different prices should be discussed for out-of-town visitors/reservations to help with cost recovery. I am not talking large increases, but locals with a vested interest in district longevity should get a better deal than those who don’t pay the tax bill.

10. I do believe there are underserved populations in Meeker. However, in my experience, when the staff has tried to guess the desires of those citizens, programs and events are poorly attended. This is why I feel it’s so important to have consistent community feedback, and that feedback should be reviewed at the highest level (board members). Board members should then prioritize what they are hearing from the community over nonessential projects, programs or events.

I also believe community involvement in not only ERBM’s board meetings, but all local board meetings, is crucial for growth and improvement. I would love to see citizens and ERBM staff members attend meetings regularly, but understand that is not always possible.

If elected, my primary objective will be to ensure your voices are heard.

Kent Walter

KENT WALTER

1. I am running for the ERBM Board because I want to be of service to my community. I strongly believe in the mission of the ERBM Recreation and Park District, it enhances the quality of life and cultural opportunities for the people of Meeker and those who may visit Rio Blanco County.  I have many years of managerial and supervisory experience, managing large and complex organizations, developing annual budgets and workforce plans, being fiscally responsible and working collaboratively with members of the public, partners and other government entities. I believe this experience provides me with the skill and ability to be an effective member of the ERBM Board.  This my sixth year as a member of the Board and I have demonstrated my ability to work effectively with the other ERBM Board Members to produce desired results.

2. Being fiscally responsible and leveraging our taxpayer dollars is a strategy that the Board has implemented and has pursued for the past several years. As an example, for the Circle Park Pond and Park project, the ERBM Board is leveraging dollars from State and Private donors to help fund the project. If re-elected, I will ensure that this strategy continues and will look for other opportunities to ensure that the taxpayers of Rio Blanco who support and fund the ERBM Recreation and Park District are getting their money’s worth.

3. The ERBM Board is continually looking at ways to reduce expenses while providing quality customer service, outstanding facilities and parks, a diversity of programs for everyone and being an employer of choice. During this unprecedented COVID19 pandemic, the Board approved sending refunds to patrons in an attempt to help offset the fact that the facility is closed.

4. The ERBM Board has been fiscally responsible in its long-term strategic planning for all Capital Improvement Projects, including the Circle Park project. With that said, I support the project moving forward. With the completion of the project, it will provide additional recreational opportunities for individuals and families and enhance the quality of life and economy for our community.

5. I support a 360 degree evaluation for the Executive Director because it gives the Board valuable feedback on the day-to-day performance of the Executive Director which the Board does not have the opportunity to witness. The Board is ultimately responsible for the supervision and performance of the Executive Director, so having a complete and thorough picture of the performance of his duties ensures the Board is able to effectively supervise, council, develop and provide direction so that we are getting the very best out of our Executive Director. 

6. The ERBM Board fully understands the nexus between the services and facilities the ERBM Recreation and Park District provides and the economic development opportunity for our community. That is why we partner with the Town of Meeker and others so that we are working together as partners to ensure we are meeting the current and future needs of our community.

7. While we have been closed because of COVID19, staff have been creative and providing virtual classes and programming for our youth and members to help during this very difficult time. ERBM will continue to look into creative ways to make this difficult time a little less impactful.

8. I believe we provide a service to our patrons in a way that is not meant to compete with the private sector but rather provide people a greater choice.

9. I believe we should continue to have a fee structure for services. We research other   and their fee structure and will continue to ensure that our patrons are receiving a quality product at a fair price.

10. There are many opportunities for morning, mid-day and evening classes that serve a very large and diverse demographic. Child care or Tot-Spot is offered and feedback is always welcome from the public if there is a need for additional classes, types of classes or child care.  The Board, management and staff at the ERBM Recreation and Park District want to provide the highest quality of service and products to our community, we are there to listen and take feedback and suggestions as we plan for the future.