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Park County Republicans face strong challenge

Article by Daniel G. Jennings

1996 election – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Democrats could get majority on Park County Commission

by Daniel G. Jennings

Although Park County is traditionally Republican, there’s a good chance two Democrats will be serving on the Board of Commissioners in 1997.

Two of the three commission seats are up for election this year and both are in the Bailey area where most of our county’s population lives. In District Two incumbent Eunice Takatloglou, a Republican, lost the nomination at the Republican Party Convention in April, but was able to get on the primary ballot by petition. Takatloglou came in third in the primary behind Steve Benninghoven and Rosie Wiley.

Benninghoven, owner of Park County Guns, now faces Democrat Lynda James, co-chair of Save Park County, and an outspoken critic of the present regime. James had to beat off a challenge by fellow Democrat Larry LaDue in the primary.

No one in Park County knows how this race will turn out. There seems to be a lot of support for Benninghoven who appears to have the backing of the county’s Republican establishment. James, however, has campaigned heavily, and there is a lot of anger at the commissioners who are all Republicans — over a variety of issues.

In District One, Richard Trast, an incumbent, a popular Republican, and a former principal of Platte Canyon High School is facing challenger Melanie Trent. Trast seems to be popular, but I’ve heard a rumor that some Republicans are so angry at Trast, they plan to vote Democratic. Trent has campaigned heavily, but so has Trast. I think Trast will probably win this race, but it may be closer than some people expect.

Now onto some issues.

Land Use Regulations are a big issue this year. The commissioners have been promising Park County a new set of Land Use Regulations for about five or fifteen years, depending on whom you talk to. New regulations were on the commission agenda for October 17, then were taken off, then put back on again when someone looked at the calendar and saw how close election day was. Thus New Land Use Regulations will probably be law by election day.

Another issue is the 1041 Regulations, which Park County needs to stop the City of Aurora’s “South Park Conjunctive Use Water Project,” a plan to pump water out of underground aquifers near Como. The County Attorney said that 1041 regulations might be here in May. Last month he said they would be here in October. Now the rumor mill is promising them in December. This issue could hurt Trast if someone starts bringing it up. The commissioners may be moving slowly because Park County’s last set of 1041s was so badly written that a committee set up to study them found them unenforceable.

Another big issue is lawsuits. Last year a lawsuit filed by the People for Responsible Airport Planning won a lawsuit in which District Judge Kenneth Plotz ruled the commissioners had repeatedly violated the Sunshine Law in special meetings about the now defunct Central Colorado Regional Airport. Over the summer this lawsuit became active again when a new motion alleging that the commissioners, and new county administrator J.R. Schnelzer, were again violating the Sunshine Law.

The District Court also ruled the commissioners had violated state law and county regulations by rezoning a 35-acre parcel in the Warm Springs development south of Fairplay for Commissioner Doug Walters. This action prompted a prominent Republican to call for Walters’ resignation at the Republican County Convention.

In a third lawsuit, filed by the developer of Forest Ridge (an unpopular subdivision proposal for the Crow Hill area that commissioners voted down last year), the commissioners were ordered by Judge Plotz to produce evidence backing their decision.

In a fourth suit, the organization that ran the Silverheels Gliderport near Como is challenging the decision of the County Board of Adjustment to deny a conditional use permit for the gliderport. Both county attorneys Dave Kanigel and Donna Worley excused themselves from the case.

For controversy beyond the lawsuits, there’s the matter of County Administrator J.R. Schnelzer. Park County Commissioners hired Schnelzer in May to modernize county government and end conflicts of interest. In September, the commissioners fired Schnelzer, just a few weeks after giving him a contract which raised his pay and gave him six months severance pay with full benefits. Before Schnelzer was fired he gave the Park County Republican and Fairplay Flume an interview in which he stated he wanted to create a code of ethics for every county employee and end conflicts of interest.

Schnelzer got $11,000 severance pay. The reason given for his firing was a “conflict of philosophies” between him and the commissioners. Rumors are now flying around the county about the “real reasons” for J.R.’http://s departure. Before he left he told the Flume that the commissioners were not ready for an administrator yet, and that he’d been misled by the commissioners when they hired him. The rumor mill has it that Schnelzer was going to clean house and get rid of a large number of department heads and others. He did have plans for restructuring the county government.

Another issue is Rural Health Services, an agency set up to provide medical care in Park County. This group ran two clinics and is esteemed by some Park County residents. The commissioners recently ended a number of contracts with Rural Health Services and started charging them rent. Rural Health Services was investigated by the federal government for Medicare violations, and over the summer it started losing money, fired its doctor, and closed its Bailey clinic. Rural Health supporters backed Takatloglou’s defeats, and may go against Trast’s bid for reelection.

Another issue this year is the new jail. Two years ago, the commissioners built a new jail with Western Corrections, a private company. The jail houses several dozen prisoners from the state. In early October, a guard was arrested for selling marijuana and tobacco to prisoners, and there have been persistent rumors of mismanagement. Although the County receives money for housing state prisoners, this jail is not popular, and neither are the commissioners who approved it.

There is also the issue of code enforcement. Park County has long been lax in enforcing its codes and zoning. Basic things like requiring homes to have septic tanks and stopping businesses from operating in areas zoned residential have not been enforced. There’s been a lot of anger over the refusal to enforce codes, and the commissioners recently hired a code enforcement officer and have vowed to crack down on code violators, but there are now so many violations that ending them may take years. The voters are very impatient about this issue, as are homeowner associations.

Park County voters will also vote on three ballot issues. The first is a routine debrucing measure asking the voters for permission to spend excess revenues. The second is a 1% sales tax to raise money for the Road and Bridge Department (this lost by 20 votes in 1995). Park County has no sales tax right now, and there is opposition to this tax, mainly among people who feel Road and Bridge is wasting money and resources.

The third issue will raise the Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District’s mill levy so it will have $100,000 or $200,000 a year to fight the Aurora water project in water court. There is no organized opposition to this vote, but there are rumors that the district will not use the money to oppose Aurora, and there is a crowd out there who will vote against any tax. Passing this issue will be difficult because the District also includes parts of Jefferson, Teller, Clear Creek, and Douglas Counties. Aurora has also sent speakers here to oppose the measure.