OURAY – Five candidates running for two open seats on the Ouray City Council staked out their positions on marijuana, home rule, gravel augmentation, the Ouray Police Department, the local economy and a variety of other topics at an election forum hosted by WISE (Women in Support of Education) at the Ouray School on Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Marijuana, always a controversial topic in Ouray, topped the list of topics that were up for discussion. Responding to the question, “Do you approve of marijuana businesses in town?” the majority of candidates said that they do not.
“There are more disadvantages than advantages,” said Ouray County Emergency Manager and city council candidate Glenn Boyd. He expressed concern that opening Ouray to the retail marijuana business could damage Ouray’s family-friendly tourism industry. “A lot of tourists say they will not come back” if retail marijuana comes to Ouray, he said, adding that it is still “federally illegal.”
Carl Cockle, a Ouray native who now works as a Realtor and property manager, agreed. “My vacation rental clients expressed deep concern,” he said. “They will leave if that (retail marijuana) happens. Marijuana is a no-win situation. It is not a revenue generator. I don’t think it belongs in the City of Ouray.”
Candidate Sara Sharpe, proprietor of the Secret Garden Bed & Breakfast, also said she is opposed to retail marijuana in Ouray, but added that it is out of the hands of council at this point. “It is coming up to a vote in 2014,” she pointed out. “At that time the citizens of Ouray will have to decide how they feel about it and then we as council members will be faced with following through.”
Speedy Scott, a fourth-generation Ouray native who owns a concrete business, injected a little humor into the discussion. “Thank you, Ridgway,” he quipped, alluding to the fact that the Town of Ridgway has already opened its gates to retail marijuana, thus giving Ouray a chance to learn from its neighboring community’s experience. “I don’t think it should be in Ouray, but there is money to be made,” he said. “Let’s see what goes on. If someone wants to smoke pot, go down to Ridgway and buy your God-danged pot.”
Incumbent John Ferguson reiterated the stance he has taken throughout his first term as a Ouray City Councilor. “I am an advocate for free enterprise and individual choice,” he said. “When Amendment 64 came to the ballot, it was approved by Ouray voters by a margin of 59-41 percent, and that seemed pretty conclusive to me. It will go to a vote in November 2014. We will see how the vote goes. It’s pretty much a done deal. For a year, Ridgway will get all the tax benefits.”
The topic of Home Rule, and the level of authority which the City of Ouray’s home rule charter grants to the city administrator, provided plenty of grist for the mill at Tuesday’s forum. Specifically, council candidates were asked, “Are you happy with Home Rule or should it be changed back?”
“I think it needs to be looked at again,” said Ferguson. “It would be prudent to form a committee to evaluate how effective it has been.” Ferguson said that he and other councilors “have been shocked” at the level of authority which the city’s charter grants to the City Administrator. “There are a lot of things we (council) cannot decide because it is in the hands of the administrator,” he said. “The level of trust and power in that position needs to be evaluated; when voters voted for Home Rule, they didn’t realize the power the administrator would have.”
Boyd agreed. “I believe the administrator has too much power right now. I don’t know that we need to get rid of (the Home Rule Charter] completely, but we need to really evaluate where go in the future,” he said. “Home Rule really does tie our hands on a lot of issues; a lot of citizens are upset with the way the Police Department and Public Works have been handled.”
Scott took an even firmer stance. “We should absolutely get rid of it,” he said. “I have been against it from day one. I knew the administrator had too much power. He works for us and we work for all of you; it needs to go.”
Sharpe did not speak to the city administrator issue, but pointed out that there are some benefits to being a Home Rule municipality, such as taking local control of sales tax collection, “that should be looked at.”
On the topic of gravel processing at Rotary Park (a possibility that was recently discussed at a council work session), council candidates universally declared it to be a very bad idea.
“I think we can find other places that are out of site and not being used,” Boyd said. “I do not believe Rotary Park is a place we should welcome tourists with gravel.”
“It’s a good park, and it needs to be used that way, not as a gravel pit,” Cockle agreed.
Ferguson said that gravel storage and processing has been an issue that has concerned council ever since he was appointed. “It’s a very valuable asset Ouray has,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how much comes down from the flumes. We need to find a solution to this.” Ferguson said his first choice as a location for gravel processing and storage would be at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. “I agree Rotary Park is not ideal,” he said.
Sharpe pointed out that “gravel is a very marketable commodity. I would like the city to find a place to process and sell it for money,” she said. But, she added, “I am against the idea of using Rotary Park as gravel pit.” Sharpe suggested that the city should instead embrace the potential of the park, and invest more money in developing a quality ice rink there. “With grant money and local enthusiasm, we could make it happen,” she said.
Scott was the last to weigh in on the issue. He lives in the Fedel Court neighborhood which is adjacent to the Bridal Veil Pit. “I hate it,” he said. But, he pointed out, Ouray does get inundated with gravel during flash flood events, and “We need an emergency plan” to deal with it.
Another question probed the candidates’ thoughts on whether the Ouray Police Department was adequately staffed. (Currently the department is funded for four personnel while in the past it has had five.)
Boyd said he believed the department is short-handed. “They are working long hours, and we are setting ourselves up for a liability situation,” he said. “Someone is going to get hurt.” Boyd also stressed the importance of getting the Ouray Police Department’s dispatch in sync with the rest of the county’s emergency services.
Ferguson disagreed. “In an ideal world, if we were flush in funds, five would be good, but reality, we need to get by with four, and have the Chief on rotation,” he said.
Cockle said that he recently talked to one police officer who expressed his concern that “the hours he is spending are way too long. They definitely need a rotation that works for them,” he said. “There is nothing worse than being overworked.”
Sharp agreed that it is “difficult to be alert if you are overworked. I know that the budget is a big issue,” she said. “It is obviously something I will need to learn more about when I’m elected.”
Scott, meanwhile, agreed with Ferguson. “I think we can get by with four,” he said, adding that more collaboration between the Ouray Police Department and Ouray County Sheriff’s Office might be in order.
All candidates agreed that Ouray’s economy could still use a boost, particularly during the shoulder seasons.
“Thanks to the mining community, the economy has gotten better,” Scott said. “But we need to look at how we do business in town; we need to make this a friendlier town, like it was. Codes need to change, so more people can afford to do stuff. A family cannot come in and build by the codes we have.”
Ferguson focused on the positive aspects of Ouray’s economy, such as the City of Ouray’s acquisition of a key parcel of land in the Ouray Ice Park from the U.S. Forest Service; the “new energy and culture” at the Wright Opera House, and the Ouray Chamber Resort Association’s exemplary marketing efforts which, he said, are “unprecedented in the history of Ouray. They are doing a superb job.”
Cockle concurred. “The Chamber has done amazing work in the last two years. I have seen my business double.” He added that there is more work to do, but “it’s not going to happen overnight.”
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