In anticipation of Tuesday’s primary election, in which only the Republicans will vote for contested races — sheriff and commissioner — the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum Wednesday, June 11.
The forum, which lasted nearly three hours, was held at the request of the Archuleta County Republican Central Committee.
Mary Beth MacAuley, LWV voter services chair, moderated the evening’s event, at which she provided multiple warnings to the audience to be respectful.
As is customary, the evening began with opening remarks from each candidate before delving into LWV-created questions.
The four candidates participating in the forum were Carl Smith (sheriff), Rich Valdez (sheriff), Ray Lattin (commissioner) and Dennis Spencer (commissioner).
Smith was the first to deliver his opening remarks, detailing his law enforcement background throughout several agencies, including 24 years with the San Diego Police Department.
“I am running for sheriff because the last seven and a half years, there ... has been no effort by the current administration to initiate a relationship with the people it is sworn to serve and protect. The current sheriff’s office is only a reactive department; it waits for problems to appear and then addresses them as they occur. It is the same law enforcement services that have been offered here for many, many years. This type of law enforcement service is antiquated,” Smith said in part, stating it does nothing to foster a spirit of cooperation with the community.
Smith suggested using a concept called Community Oriented Policing (COPS) to unite law enforcement and the community.
Valdez spoke next.
“I have a speech prepared and I opted to push it aside and just speak from my heart. ... I want to tell you exactly why I’m ready to be ... the next sheriff of Archuleta County. So why am I ready to be the next sheriff of Archuleta County? Because of my education, my experience, my leadership skills and my vision to take us to the next level. I’ve proven that I’ve been committed to this community. I’ve proven it time and time again. I’ve proven it by being a true police officer and a professional officer; I’m dedicated, I’m committed. I’ve proven it by getting twenty-eight commendations. I’ve shown it by putting my life on the line for this community.”
Valdez further stated that he is consistent, has maintained a position in the department while working up and is part of a family that has been in the area for generations.
Commissioner candidate Lattin was the next to speak.
“I’m running for county commissioner because I have the experience and the knowledge that is useful to the county,” Lattin said, stating that his background in equipment would be useful to several county departments before continuing. “Being a rancher, born in the ranching business and still in the ranching business, I can tell you what the agricultural people need.”
Lattin continued by stating some concerns of the agricultural community — water and building — and adding that agriculture is the county’s second-largest economic sector. “So it’s of vital importance that we cooperate with these people and keep them in here,” Lattin stated.
Lattin further discussed his business experience, including supervisory experience, and that business owners do not need additional taxes, rules and regulations.
“I know what mistakes have been made in the past ... just the mistakes that I can look back on and definitely not do again — that’s a good start,” Lattin said.
The last candidate to give his opening remarks was Spencer, who began with a quote about liberty and power.
“The number one problem we have here in Archuleta County, and you even said it, is a big-government mentality, where our government wants to control, control, control,” Spencer said before giving examples of “too much red tape and bureaucracy.”
“What I’m running for is ... to help protect peoples’ rights, which is ... what my oath of office will all be about. You see, I want to eliminate red tape and the thousands of laws that go against liberty,” he said before quoting Thomas Jefferson. “I’m running for a principle of less government. Less government means more freedom for you, which in turn will mean more prosperity for all of us.”
Spencer stated that there currently aren’t local private property rights, but that that could change.
“I think it’s time to vote for someone with a backbone. I have that,” Spencer said before concluding, “We need change. I represent change.”
The first LWV-created questions of the night were given to the commissioner candidates, with those questions urging the candidates to expound upon ideas they had previously expressed in campaign materials and in the June 5 edition of The SUN.
• In response to a league question involving public trust and the county’s previous 1A measure, Lattin further discussed his experience with large equipment and how he believed that knowledge could help the county save money.
• Expounding on his endorsement of less government, Spencer said there is a lot of bureaucracy that needs to be eliminated, such as the planning and building departments, adding that there would be more money coming into the area if it were designated a “Liberty Zone” because of added businesses that would locate here.
Lattin disagreed with Spencer on the topic, speaking to the importance of zoning and a potential lack of ability to have a house financed if it were not built to code.
In rebuttal, Spencer said the free market should decide what happens, adding people could choose to have their homes inspected privately.
• In response to a question on responsible funding in government, Spencer said in any business or government you’re going to find excess, such as fueling trucks on the opposite side of town than where the county shop is located.
Lattin suggested locating diesel at the county shop to refuel trucks, but added that he felt supervision was missing and that the county needed experience, not big changes, to complete roadwork.
• The league asked Lattin to expound on three things he felt the county residents wanted and needed based on his time on the planning commission, then asking Spencer to name three things he felt county residents wanted and needed.
Lattin said you have to respect the diversity among parts of the county, further using that to point out differences and desires between each community within the county.
Spencer also noted the diversity in the county, said people want good roads and that people he talks to want liberty.
League questions: sheriff
In the same manner, the LWV asked the sheriff candidates questions that concerned statements the men had previously made throughout their respective campaigns.
• The first question concerned the top priority of each candidate upon election and how they would proceed in accomplishing that with budget cuts.
Smith said his top priority will be creating a working relationship between the community and sheriff’s office so that the community members would have a way to come to the sheriff’s office with a problem. Too, Smith spoke of the need for a presence from deputies in areas of the county such as Arboles, to create trust and a relationship.
Valdez said his priority was staffing, which was already in the works. Valdez said the department currently employs nine deputies, with the department fielding 4,323 calls last year.
Valdez said the priorities are calls on health and safety, but that he is working to move money around in the budget to increase staffing levels.
Smith rebutted by stating that there was not need for more staffing if the county were split into areas of responsibility, to which Valdez noted that it was rare to have three deputies working at one time.
• The LWV asked, in light of an increase in shootings by unstable persons, how each candidate would prepare officers and the community to handle situations such as shootings without a loss of life.
Valdez said area law enforcement agencies are working collaboratively on a regional response to such situations, so that each department responds in a similar manner.
Smith noted that the closest cover in terms of other agencies was about 35 minutes away, noting the need to address the situation immediately instead of planning.
Responding, Valdez clarified that while all the agencies are training collaboratively, the local law enforcement would immediately take action to stop the threat, stating the department has completed active shooter trainings.
Valdez also added that he is working to have a school resource officer present on the school campuses.
• The league asked about the conundrum of drug enforcement with the legalization of marijuana.
Valdez said the department was working with the Board of County Commissioners on legalization in the county, but that his goal was to have a drug enforcement officer in the schools and to educate.
Valdez further stated that meth is the biggest issue in the county.
Smith stated his belief that educational programs like DARE are a failure and stated that the county has the “distinction of being known as a premier drug community.”
Both discussed funding for drug enforcement efforts.
• The league questioned Smith about being proactive instead of reactive within the department, with Smith discussing the COPS concept and Valdez noting that the county’s solve rate for burglaries is three times higher than the national average.
Smith then questioned the county’s conviction rate, which Valdez said he did not know at the time.
Audience questions: sheriff
• Audience member Dolores Butler asked the sheriff candidates about a pledge the candidates have been asked to sign to uphold the Constitution (Valdez has declined to sign). Specifically, Butler asked Smith what the pledge was about and why he signed it.
“I signed it because it’s a pledge and all it does is bolster the fact that, as a peace officer, ... I take a constitutional oath to uphold the legal laws that are based on the Constitution. The pledge just enumerates some of those things that are ... contained in the Constitution and it’s just an emphasis that I will do that and that you have my pledge that that’s going to happen,” Smith said, adding that no one would come into the county and take guns away while he is in office because that was a right that could not be infringed upon, also discussing being safe in one’s own home.
Butler then asked Valdez why he did not sign the pledge.
Valdez stated, “The reason why I didn’t sign this pledge is for several different reasons. The first reason is, is that when I take office in January of 2015, I’m going to sign an oath and that oath to office states that I will uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state of Colorado. Period. The second thing is, is that ... Dennis Spencer says it best in his pamphlets here that says, ‘A government is best that governs least.’
“I feel it’s a situation here where you’re talking about bureaucratic red tape and the continuous extra stuff being put on us — why is it necessary for me, is it OK for extra stuff to be put on me to sign when it’s not OK for them as well? ... I support the Constitution one hundred and ten percent,” Valdez said before being interrupted by Butler.
“And the last thing is, is that, I’m not going to get into a situation where I’m going sign an oath over and over ...” Valdez said, ending by stating he will take an oath of office upon election that upholds the Constitution.
• Audience member Sean Padilla asked Smith why he didn’t previously institute the COPS method while working in key positions in local law enforcement, to which Smith replied that his positions were not supervisory and that the departments were always victim-concentrated.
Smith noted, though, that he did introduce himself to numerous business owners in town upon being hired by the Pagosa Springs Police Department — a portion of the COPS program he felt was in his purview.
• Bill Gottschalk asked how the county could better use retired people in the community and expand its volunteer program.
Valdez said he hopes to increase the use of volunteers, and Smith agreed.
• Other audience questions accused the candidates of actions and incorporated recounting situations that could not be independently verified by The SUN by press time Wednesday.
Audience questions: commissioner
• Carl Mellburg asked Lattin what he was able to do while serving on the Farm Bureau and Archuleta County Planning Commission to create a stronger economy, and how that could be applied to being a commissioner.
Lattin responded by explaining that the U.S. 160 corridor on either side of Pagosa Springs is pre-zoned commercial to make development easier, and stated that “just about everything” done in the agriculture community has an affect, from water rights to advocating for personal property rights.
For the county commissioner position, Lattin said he would take his time to get a hold on county business, then he would like to come up with a way to even out the peaks and valleys of the tourism economy, suggesting the possibility of obtaining grants and building a convention center to house a convention authority.
Lattin ended his response by noting the county is “financially embarrassed” and cannot do a lot, but that others could take the initiative.
• Greg Giehl prompted the commissioner candidates to speak on the citizen initiative process and the 11 initiatives a local Liberty Zone group is aiming to land on a ballot.
Lattin stated he was “not a believer” in the process because it is being used too much, later stating he could work with local groups trying to push initiatives if he knew their goals, but that he disliked the initiative process.
Spencer noted that initiatives received three times the number of signatures required and spoke about initiatives as a way for people to initiate the law themselves.
Later, in response to a separate question from B.J. Jones, Lattin said he felt the initiation process is overused and that the standards for initiatives (the number of signatures required) should be raised.
• Dick Warring questioned Spencer on his idea of getting rid of the planning commission and rules and regulations.
Spencer replied that the concept works in Texas and, during an exchange with Warring, said the poor should not be discriminated against in terms of the housing they can afford to build.
Lattin noted that the building department in the town was established by a group of citizens because of bad construction practices, and discussed the situations that could arise if zoning were not in place.