County Commissioner candidates address citizens’ questions, concerns
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Mail-in ballots are out, early voting has begun, and Election Day is only 13 days away (Nov. 2), meaning the process of choosing Archuleta County’s next addition to the Board of County Commissioners is well underway.
Throughout the campaign season, concerns have surfaced over candidate qualifications, campaigns, business practices, and backgrounds.
On Monday, The SUN spoke with commissioner candidates Bob Hart (Republican) and Michael Whiting (Independent) about concerns pertinent to them brought forth by members of the community.
• Concerns regarding outstanding bills owed to subcontractors.
At the time of the interview, Hart admitted to having a past-due balance owed to a subcontractor for work on the Community United Methodist Church remodel, involving what Hart called a “conflict” over charges by the framing subcontractor.
Hart said a month after the job was completed, the subcontractor turned in a bill for things that Hart believed were already in the contract. Hart said he could have fought the charges, but decided to make payments to the subcontractor instead.
Information provided to The SUN Tuesday indicates that the balance has been paid in full.
Before paying the remaining balance, Hart said his company had been making payments to the subcontractor, though the payoff took longer than anticipated.
“I don’t know many people in this economy that aren’t having cash flow problems,” Hart said, adding, “To me, this is something that should have never come up in the campaign. It’s a business issue.”
•Concerns over a possibly illegal residence in the Cloman Industrial Park.
Hart Construction purchased property in Cloman in 2005 and shortly after, began building a commercial and office building on the site.
Under the Cloman protective covenants, amended in 2005, a single residence is allowed when directly attached to the main business, either above or behind the main part of the building.
“It is absolutely legal,” Hart said, adding, “We went to great extremes to verify that was even legal before we bought the property.”
• When management of Hart Construction would be transferred to Bobby Hart and possible legal reasons preventing such a transfer.
Hart said he intends to transfer management to his son as soon as he’s elected, though Bobby Hart has served in a managerial role for over five years, primarily for the last six months.
“Bobby’s always been in management; we’re not changing the management,” Hart said, adding, “I’m not transferring management, really, it’s just that I won’t be doing it.”
Hart indicated that it is stated in his divorce decree that ownership or management of the business cannot be transferred to a third party.
When asked to define the first two parties and who would constitute a third party, Hart responded, “I don’t know. I don’t feel like it’s a matter of public concern.”
While Hart said, in the decree, the first two parties would be the husband and wife, he believed the business would be a party because it is a separate entity.
“I would take that to mean that you can’t hire someone to come in and take over the business,” Hart said.
Hart also provided a statement on the subject, saying, “Divorce is a difficult personal issue that should not be a concern in any way to this election.”
•Concerns that previous statements made about never declaring bankruptcy are untrue.
When asked if claims he had never filed bankruptcy were true, Hart replied that he never said he had not filed bankruptcy.
At the September Home Builder’s Association candidate forum, however, Hart and Whiting were asked if they had ever declared bankruptcy or been involved in a lawsuit and Hart responded, “I’ve never filed bankruptcy." (See video below.)
When asked about the discrepancy in answers, Hart responded, “At the builder’s forum, I was assuming he was talking about Hart Construction ... which has never filed bankruptcy.”
Hart said the question at the forum followed on the heels of discussion over conflicts of interest with Hart Construction, leading to his assumption.
Hart told The SUN that, in 1988, he went through a reorganizational bankruptcy in Texas in which all of his debtors were paid off and that he has “restored perfect credit for the last 20 years.”
• Concerns regarding work history and management experience.
While living in Denver, Whiting was involved in the start of Wildernet, a company that manufactured adaptive sports equipment and wheelchairs. Over time, the business converted into a nonprofit, with the for-profit portion of the company administratively dissolved after five years.
“The market was not sufficiently large enough to support the manufacturing end of our business,” Whiting said of the unusual business conversion. “In the years that we were manufacturing, the other part of the business, the outreach and the programs began to grow, so we focused on where we could do the most good.”
Whiting added that the company had zero debt when it dissolved in 1999.
After Wildernet, Inc., Whiting said he worked as the Corporate and Foundations Campaign Manager for the Colorado Symphony, where he said he wrote the majority of the grants and did all of the corporate fund-raising, which accounted for about one-third of the $12 million budget. Whiting said he served as part of a team of six in the position.
Next, with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Whiting said he was in charge of an entire department as the development director.
Whiting then took the position as executive director of the Southwest Land Alliance locally.
“Most of my managerial experience was way before,” Whiting said, citing that he was a restaurant and night club manager during college and while his wife attended law school, and that he managed 30-40 people in high-pressure situations.
Whiting also noted that he was responsible for 11 subcontractors and 100 volunteers between the U.S. and Japan and Fortune 500 companies during his work with Wildernet.
• Whiting’s involvement in the Dry Gulch conservation easement with the Laverty family and possible conflicts of interest due to Mely Whiting’s role as an attorney for Trout Unlimited.
The SUN asked Whiting to define his role in the controversial Dry Gulch Reservoir easement, a project that was fought by Trout Unlimited over concerns of water rights and the size of the proposed project.
“I guess the best way to describe it is that the water districts were preparing to force a sale of the Laverty ranch, negotiated by Fred Schmidt,” Whiting said. “I saw that that was occurring and proposed a solution that would allow the Lavertys to keep their ranch and the water districts to flood the land if the project went forward, avoiding eminent domain proceedings and saving the districts $500,000.”
Whiting said that his specific role was negotiating the easement between the two parties.
When asked to clarify the relationship of his work with the Southwest Land Alliance and Mely Whiting’s role as an attorney with Trout Unlimited, Whiting claimed that his wife had nothing to do with the project and that her contract with Trout Unlimited allows her to refuse work in Archuleta County.
“She had nothing to do with Dry Gulch from a Trout Unlimited perspective or local perspective, period,” Whiting said.
• Concerns over the amount of out-of-county campaign contributions.
“More than one-third of the taxpayers in Archuleta County are from outside Archuleta County,” Whiting said.
Whiting said that his in-county and out-of-county contributions are well balanced, calling an Oct. 14 Letter to the Editor “grossly inaccurate.”
Tuesday night’s League of Women Voter’s forum held at the Archuleta County Extension Building highlighted another concern of the community — jobs.
At the forum, Hart said he was skilled in job creation, having started 11 businesses in 38 years.
When asked about specific plans for jobs, Whiting said he hoped to extend the moratorium on impact fees until it could be determined as a community what fees need to be charged for development to pay its own way. He also pushed hiring local contractors and businesses for government work and supplies.
Hart spoke of making the community business-friendly with tax relief for businesses.
Whiting also noted later that economic development and diversifying the economy would help with currently struggling businesses by bringing in more people to patronize local service industries.
Hart again mentioned tax rebates for businesses.
Whiting and Hart were also questioned about their own business backgrounds at the forum and were asked to detail their involvement with two businesses.
Whiting mentioned the Colorado Symphony and Wildernet, which he also discussed in his interview with The SUN.
Hart mentioned his 11 businesses, specifically detailing Hart Construction and a previous business that he started and ran from 1978-88 in Houston, Texas — the Longhorn Fence Company — which he said was profitable to the tune of $2 million a year prior to his selling it in 1988.