Lake County residents will vote on two county commissioner seats in November’s election. Jeff Fiedler, Democrat, and Hanna Waugh, Libertarian, are running for Lake County Commissioner, District 3. Sarah Mudge, Democrat, and Ezekiah Lujan, Republican, are running for Lake County Commissioner, District 2.
Below are questions posed by the Herald Democrat and the candidates’ responses. Lujan declined to participate in the Q&A.
1. What educational, professional and personal experiences have contributed to your decision to seek this office?
I am seeking this office because Lake County needs forward-looking and engaged leadership to build a thriving community and restore trust in local government. My primary reason for running is that I am genuinely excited to provide leadership from the county government as Lake County faces multiple challenges with incoming growth. While recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a priority, how we address growth pressures will shape the county for a generation to come.
My second reason for running is to restore trust in county government. We cannot afford to waste time and energy making unforced errors. We need to treat county staff with respect and provide consistent and professional management. Mostly we need to earn back the community’s trust making decisions transparently and with full opportunity for citizen engagement.
I would bring significant local and professional experience to this office. I am in my third year on the School Board, providing a county-wide view, oversight of a $12 million budget, and strategic and capital planning experience. I was the board representative on the Facilities Master Plan and co-chaired the successful bond campaign for the new West Park pk-2 school which is under construction and on time and under budget.
I also serve on the Board of Lake County Build a Generation (LCBAG). I appreciate the work they do tackling big challenges facing Lake County and developing systemic approaches like the Youth Master Plan, Senior Master Plan and the work of the Lake county Housing Coalition.
Professionally I have worked for over 25 years advocating for climate change policies at the state, federal and international level. This experience includes extensive policy analysis and development, drafting legislative and regulatory language, working constructively in partnerships and managing large teams. Throughout I have developed a reputation for professionalism and an even-keeled temperament.
I understand what it takes to keep our community stable while also respecting the unique community that is why many of us live here. I seek the office of county commissioner to give all community members input on how their government is run and how their community should be moving forward.
My decision has been based on my lifelong ties to Lake County and the feedback I have heard from a wide variety of residents who believe that political parties are no longer representing their needs in the community. In working with volunteer organizations, religious organizations, and having the opportunities to meet and learn from long-time and new residents about how they want to be represented. I spend countless hours listening to people in our community who come from all different backgrounds and I am prepared and eager to represent everyone — not just one group.
In addition to my passion for my home and my willingness to work with every citizen, I also have an MBA and years of experience managing government regulations, multi-million dollar budgets and making hard decisions while maintaining transparency and integrity. While I never imagined seeking public office, I have been better prepared to serve our community and look forward to stepping up to every challenge presented while being an example of respect, transparency and integrity for all who reside and visit Lake County.
Many activities experienced in Lake County contributed to my decision to seek this office in 2016, and now in 2020. The experience gained from my first four years in office is invaluable to continuing great work during a second term.
Throughout my first term as commissioner I have appreciated the mentorship of hard working individuals in this community. I have enthusiastically learned from many interactions and trainings locally, regionally and statewide to better approach the work of the county, not only from my role, but how to support and improve public service across the organization. I continue to learn and support improvements in infrastructure planning, social equity, fellow elected leadership, recreation and open space management, water, finance, land use and more.
From delivering mail or sewing at Melanzana, to participating in school activities with my children, I have grown to know our community and built different skill sets personally. I appreciate the many facets of a community, or an organization, and each job that it takes to get hard work done.
Through my time on the City Planning and Zoning board and working at Build a Generation, advocating for Safe Routes to Schools (which improves access across all ages), I learned quickly that there was much more to consider regarding thoughtful design of our infrastructure. We are challenged in the ability to afford the planning and construction of important infrastructure, and there is great importance of building an understanding between partners and the community.
Also, I am an outdoor enthusiast. I enjoy snowshoeing, navigating Colorado rivers, hunting and more. Maintaining the health of our natural environment, wildlife, and our human experience is extremely important to me. Managing the impact on our environment is more important now than ever with as much activity as we’ve seen through 2020.
2. Lake County is growing. How would you define “good growth” as a county commissioner?
Lake County faces real challenges with incoming growth. On the one hand, we want to keep the small community feel, affordability and open space of this amazing high mountain county. Unchecked growth has permanently changed other mountain towns and made family and workforce housing unaffordable. We want to minimize these negative aspects of growth. On the other hand, growth is an opportunity to catch up on decades of deferred maintenance and capital investments and help backfill the tax base we will lose when Climax mine shuts down.
We need to find a common-sense approach that balances the opportunities and challenges of increasing development in Lake County. If we plan ahead we can have growth on our own terms, avoiding the hard economic “bust” cycles of the past and creating more quality jobs in-county, without fundamentally changing what makes Lake County special.
As commissioner I would prioritize two elements. First, that we aim for a diverse economy and tax base that is resilient in the face of future economic downturns. Second, that we prioritize county infrastructure spending to support vibrant private investment and business activity, while avoiding infrastructure that we cannot afford to maintain over time.
As a county commissioner, good growth is having a prosperous residential and business community, providing the county with a stable tax base that can be relied on, rather than continuously having our elected officials ask the community to raise taxes to make up for poor budget management.
This would require the coordination of various county level committees and the commissioners themselves to work towards the specific goal of supporting our residents and businesses alike. To support good growth, we will need stable long-term housing, a business friendly community, a reliable tax base and a good partnership with our zoning and planning committee.
Interest in Lake County to live and work is growing. With so much of our county public lands, there is only so much physical space to grow, or develop. It is important for local decision makers on every level to improve and understand the tools and processes that we can use to direct and manage growth that benefits the community.
Good growth leverages opportunities to meet community needs through each process. This may be thoughtful utility alignment through residential or commercial development, the prevention of certain uses in certain areas, or managing recreation impacts on our natural environment. As a community we must leverage partnerships to help grow our capacity to address these items, and continue improving and maintaining a quality of life and safety across the community in projects such as fuel mitigation to address forest health and developing a shared philosophy across agencies.
When we have the best relationships that foster information sharing and an understanding across decision makers (long term strategies, opportunities and impacts) combined with communication from our community members to help inform decisions as they are made, and report on how those decisions in place are impacting daily life, we will have good growth.
3. How should the Board of County Commissioners support Lake County residents throughout the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic poses serious health risks and economic challenges to Lake County residents. On health risks, I have seen first-hand from my role on the school board that the public health department and community partners have been a solid source of advice on preventing and responding to COVID-19 cases. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) should continue to ensure that public health has the resources it needs to provide public information, conduct contact tracing and continue advising the school district and other organizations. Keeping community infection rates low is the single most important action for minimizing the need for economically costly COVID-19 public health orders.
COVID-19 has created severe economic challenges for many businesses and households. My approach will be guided by the principle that it is far better (and less expensive in the long run) to avoid businesses failing in the first place than to try to replace businesses after the fact. Similarly, eviction or financial strain for households too often leads to a cascading series of problems (e.g. job loss, children’s school performance). I support the city and county efforts to date to support households and existing business through loans, grants and other efforts.
This strains local budgets so the BOCC should advocate for additional state and federal COVID-19 relief funds.
The job of the BOCC is to be representatives of the citizens of Lake County to the state and to support the residents and businesses that are here. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen our residents and businesses struggle.
As a commissioner, I believe that we should be reviewing the mandates and information that comes from the state and seeing how we can better adapt these mandates to serve our community. I would look at requesting Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment exemptions based on the facts to best serve our county. Additionally, the BOCC must provide clear, fact-based guidance based on public health information to allow citizens and businesses to do what is best for them, neighbors and loved ones. I believe in doing our due-diligence as citizens to protect and respect all members of our community during this unprecedented time.
The Lake County commissioners should continue to support our local partners, such as the Lake County Community Fund and the Unmet Needs Committee, to directly assist those individuals and families effected by the pandemic. The commissioners should also look at long term strategies to make systemic changes and incentivize stable social and economic factors for our community.
As a commissioner I will continue to focus on the long-term work that must be done to maintain revenues for the county in order to maintain services for our community members. This includes supporting wise economic growth and efficiencies in functions across the county.
We will continue to support services to provide food and shelter to those in need, as well as safe social interactions to reduce potential negative effects of isolation across all ages. We continue to work with our partners to advocate for transportation to remain in place for commuters, and will continue to inform the regional conversations as we move forward into the winter season. Providing connections to resources and small protective gear has been appreciated by the business community and we must continue supporting the school district through this school year as well.
4. Earlier this year, the Boar d of County Commissioners voted to fund a new justice center through a certificate of participation. Do you support the current board’s decision to utilize this funding mechanism? Please explain.
Yes, I support the BOCC’s certificate of participation funding decision. State law requires we have a county jail. Our current jail is so old that it is unsafe for officers and inmates alike and fails to meet current standards. This situation places the county in real legal and financial jeopardy. Sheriff Reyes was right in minimizing the use of the jail, even though it incurs significant additional expenses in the short-term. I believe the certificate of participation is the most reliable and fastest way to remedy this situation.
No, I do not support this. Voters made it clear in 2016 that they did not support a tax increase to pay for this and eventually, community members will have to come with the cost. I believe that there are ways to trim our budget to support a new justice center, without continuing to raise taxes. Other government agencies, such as the fire department, have had to seek grants and awards to pursue new facilities and we should expect the BOCC to do the same for all new projects. For a more in-depth discussion, please visit facebook. com/hanna4lakecounty.
I do support the approach to fund the justice center through a certificate of participation. The project needs to happen, or the state may force a plan and timeline on Lake County to address the issue. The justice center will afford community members greater services in addition to reducing county liability that can cost tax payers tremendous amount of money. I continue to work with colleagues to find savings in county operations and invest in efficiencies that will support the long-term organizational changes and health of the county so that this planning will be most successful.
5. If elected, how will you solicit input from Latinx residents living in your district? Do you speak Spanish?
I do not speak Spanish. In order to solicit input from Latinx residents I would start by staying connected with the Latinx leaders and community organizers that I have worked with in my board roles for the school district and Build a Generation. For example, I am familiar with the work of Lideres Latinos and value the work they do in the county.
As commissioner I would bring with me lessons from the school district’s efforts to create a welcoming environment for non-English speakers and different cultures. While certainly not perfect, the district has taken steps such as ensuring there are bilingual front office staff and that townhalls offer simultaneous translation. Steps like these help overcome practical and cultural barriers to community participation.
Finally, I would simply recognize that the Latinx community is not monolithic and therefore that soliciting input is not a simple “tick the box” exercise.
I speak conversational Spanish and, while that is not nearly enough, I have been working closely with members of our Latinx community to understand their needs and concerns in Lake County. The Latinx community has stood at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic; worrying, like the rest of us, about how they will pay their bills and educate their children. However, for some, English is their second language and they do not have the communication avenues to express their needs and concerns.
Our BOCC needs to work harder to translate meetings and meeting minutes into Spanish and have an on-call translator for all community matters so that our Latinx community members can have a stronger voice in the community matters. I will continue my work to have more direct input in every meeting from Latinx residents and create a place for Latinx residents to feel comfortable coming to their elected officials to address their needs and concerns in our community.
I count on local leaders in the Latinx community for me to reach out to, and always encourage feedback to the board and county staff. Through county department programs, I count on perspective being shared with me, and I will continue to encourage and ask for opportunities to hear from you. I also have encouraged and see new involvement in groups such as the Democratic Central Committee and the Lake County Planning Commission. I am sure to participate in programs such as the Family Leadership Training Institute to increase comfort in reaching out to local leaders and empower people by understanding more details of the systems. I know this is something that can always be improved upon and am happy to hear from you on how we can make it easier for the Latinx community to provide feedback to local leaders.
In addition,with an improved organizational structure at the county, commissioners will be able to shift more focus from internal day to day management and get out into the community to improve accessibility.
I speak very little Spanish and understand a little more than I speak.
6. What do you see as the single most pressing infrastructure project in Lake County? Please explain.
Maintaining the network of county and city roads (and bridges/culverts) is the most pressing infrastructure project. As a rural county we have a large mileage of roads compared to our population and tax base, presenting a daunting budget and prioritization challenge as many of our roads are aging and reaching less-than-satisfactory condition.
It is my opinion that the secondary fire station and wildfire mitigation is the most pressing infrastructure project in Lake County. However, it is not the job of the elected officials to make their own decisions without proper input from the community that they are to represent. Many citizens have expressed views on the infrastructure projects most important to them; for example: our roads, gas lines and judicial center. I would rather seek more public opinions if elected than force my opinion on the community and act as a servant to the community for their needs.
There are many important projects to continue. We’ve completed a road condition assessment for long-term maintenance planning. Projects for the administration of the Water Augmentation Plan are being completed. Investment in the Airport Industrial Park will increase revenues for the county long term. However, for the importance of our social infrastructure and health, one pressing project would be the justice center. The improvement in services through the justice system and supportive programing, is necessary. I believe that the project will have deep positive effects for this community, improving the quality of life and services to us all.