ALAMOSA — Candidates for contested Alamosa County treasurer and commissioner races fielded a few questions during a forum in Alamosa on Tuesday.
All candidates were asked what they understood the duties of their job to be if elected and why they decided to run for office; treasurer candidates were asked about using the local newspaper for publishing notices; and commissioner candidates were asked how they would improve education and deal with the opioid crisis.
Valley Courier Publisher Keith R. Cerny moderated the forum at Society Hall in Alamosa on Tuesday evening, with the Courier and Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce sponsoring the event and Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Wright assisting.
Present at the forum were: House District 62 candidates incumbent Donald Valdez (Democrat) and Scott Honeycutt (Republican); Alamosa County Commission District 2 candidates incumbent Michael Yohn (Republican), Arlan Van Ry (Republican) and Edward Vigil (Democrat); Alamosa County treasurer candidates Amy McKinley (Republican), Jerald Montoya (Republican) and Donna Griego (Democrat); and currently uncontested candidates incumbent Alamosa County Clerk and Recorder Melanie Woodward, incumbent Alamosa County Assessor Sandra Hostetter, incumbent Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson and Alamosa County Coroner candidate Trace Larson.
Only the candidates in races in which there is a Primary Election contest were asked specific questions after all of the candidates who were present gave introductions.
Duties of their job
Asked what they understood the duties of their jobs to be, candidates responded:
Amy McKinley — Certifying the tax roll, manage tax notices, collect property taxes, act as a bank for the county to invest county funds to make sure they are safe and producing the best yield, and as public trustee perform the duties laid out in state statute. “We are in a very good position in Alamosa County because Lois (Widhalm, current treasurer, who is retiring) has her staff trained very well. Obviously any of us would have to go in and learn from the staff.”
Donna Griego — Collect, invest and distribute county funds, be accountable for all cash functions, distribute taxes to taxing authorities in the county, be the fiduciary of the county, care for the county assets, manage the treasurer’s office, be responsible for the tax roll, know tax law, be involved in the budget process and work with the county commissioners, be compliant with state statutes and policies as public trustee and provide customer service and resources to the public.
Jerald Montoya — Be responsible for tax funds and distribute them to schools, city and others who receive a portion of the tax revenues, reconcile accounts, as he does currently in his position with the Alamosa County Department of Human Services, perform the public trustee’s duties as governed by the state and assist property owners. He said the staff is very well trained, and the new treasurer would learn from the staff.
Michael Yohn — “The duties of this job are absolutely everything,” he said. The duties include land use and zoning issues, ordinances, managing the approximate $32 million county budget, which now is about $62 million including current building projects, and act as the overseer of the jail and airport and county board of health. The commissioners must also abide by county, state and federal laws.
Edward Vigil — Since Colorado is a locally government state, the commissioners serve as the legislative body for the county, he explained. That involves many types of ordinances and resolutions, holding hearings, listening to constituents and working with other officials such as the sheriff. As a certified peace officer, he has worked with sheriff’s departments in the past and understands what resources they need. The commissioners are responsible for allocating those resources for the sheriff and many others.
Arlan Van Ry — Serving on the school board has given him insights on what it means to serve in office. The commissioners are responsible for the budget, making sure money is allocated in the right places and not overspent. The commissioners must also make sure they are serving the people who elected them in the way the constituents wish them to represent them, even if it means making decisions the commissioner might not be comfortable with. The commissioner must also rely on common sense and his own beliefs to make decisions.
Arlan Van Ry — He said he has served in the Army and on school board and wanted to take that commitment to service at a new level.
Edward Vigil — He said he has been a public servant his whole life and believes he still has a great deal to offer, especially in light of his past service in the district attorney’s office, county and state offices. “I have a passion for service,” he said. “I really love the community of Alamosa.” When he served in the state legislature he helped bring millions of dollars to the city and county of Alamosa and he wants to continue working for the community and county.
Michael Yohn — Giving back to the community is important to him, Yohn said. Although the demographics have changed, there was a time when he knew pretty much every family in Alamosa through his business. He said he had a very successful business life, appreciated that, and he wants to continue to see the county prosper. He said he wants to help create opportunities for young people to remain here. He added that although he has been halfway around the world, he returned here because this is home, and he loves the quality of life here.
Jerald Montoya — He said this is the perfect time for him to seek this office now, given his education and experience. He also wants to serve as a role model for other young people to show them if he can do it, so can they. “I feel I could bring a lot of energy to this position, a lot of energy to the political role.” He said he wanted to help Alamosa County and believed with his financial background and accounting experience he could do the job well. Currently working for the county is also a plus, he said, as he is responsible for a large budget currently.
Donna Griego — Griego also believed this was a good time for her to enter public service in this role. “My story’s not quite done,” she said. “I have a passion to help others. I strive to give back to my community. I have been blessed very much with many accomplishments and opportunities. I would like to give back.”
Amy McKinley — For five years she served in the accounting role that Montoya now has with the department of human services. She then had the opportunity to work for Adams State where she was responsible for payroll for the 600 paid staff and 400 students and passed every audit. She said she learned that she really loved local government, however, so she took a position with the City of Alamosa, which she currently holds. “I love my job. I love serving the people.” She said, however, “I started my career at the county. I would love to have the opportunity to finish my career there.”
Commissioners were asked what specific actions they would perform to improve education.
Edward Vigil — Alamosa is blessed to have higher education institutions in Adams State and Trinidad State as well as some of the finest schools in the Valley, he said, adding the local students are fortunate to have access to ASU and TSJC while still attending high school so when they graduate they already have a head start and less college expenses. “What I think we could do better is try to improve the conditions of teachers and conditions they teach in,” he said.
Michael Yohn — “Education is paramount,” he said. He also commented on how fortunate Alamosa is to have ASU and TSJC. He said his daughter was able to graduate from ASU in five years with a master’s degree. He commended TSJC for being creative in adding programs to meet the workforce needs of the area. For example, they may develop a drone pilot school. Yohn added that the county financially supports various educational opportunities ranging from 4-H to $10,000 to ASU every year and this year additional support for a scholarship program.
Arlan Van Ry — Alamosa is fortunate to receive quite a bit of support and have good schools and ASU and TSJC. More funding is always part of the solution to keep good teachers here and attract more good teachers to the Valley. The county can play a role in providing opportunities for graduates to remain here after they finish their schooling and to promote the great qualities of the area to attract visitors and new residents.
Cerny reminded the treasurer candidates that there have been attempts to do away with publishing public notices such as county salaries and delinquent tax lists in local newspapers and go to online methods of notification. He argued that many people in the San Luis Valley do not have access to the internet so it would be unfair for public notices to only be posted online. “As county treasurer, how would you protect the right for people to get information through their local newspaper?”
Jerald Montoya — “We definitely want to continue working with the Alamosa Valley Courier,” he said. “I think the Valley Courier is a very important part of the San Luis Valley.” He said whether or not notices are published in the paper might be decided at the state level and be out of the county’s hands, however. He said it is important to continue serving the needs of people who do not have internet access whether that is through information posted at the treasurer’s office or weekly seminars through the treasurer’s office. “Ultimately we would like to provide both the internet and local publishing,” he said.
Donna Griego — She also advocated usage of both the local newspaper and internet for posting information and said it is important to educate the citizens. She said another avenue might be the public library or other entities. She said she advocated the Courier is the best source for communications but believed the treasurer’s office also needed to consider other methods of communication such as the internet.
Amy McKinley — She agreed that the Valley Courier was extremely important in providing information and would not want to take that avenue away. That decision might not be up to the local county, she said. She said currently the county must publish in the Courier, and she would continue to support that. She would also support other avenues for people who do not have the internet, such as the libraries.
Commissioner candidates were asked how they would specifically address the opioid problem in Alamosa County.
Arlan Van Ry — In his drug testing business on a weekly basis he sees people testing positive for opioids and meth, so there definitely is a problem here. One of the ways the county commissioners can address this problem is by supporting the sheriff with the resources he needs such as drug dogs for example. “Whatever it is, we need to stop this as quickly as possible.”
Edward Vigil — As a former district attorney investigator and peace officer, he understands what the sheriff is going through. He said there definitely is an opioid problem and the county has already begun to address it. He suggested resurrecting the San Luis Valley drug task force and seeking state and federal resources to help address the opioid epidemic. He said the court system needs to treat addicts so they recover, rather than just being incarcerated. The restorative justice program is one way to do that.
Michael Yohn — He agreed the problem is real, and there is no escaping it. Commissioners want to do everything they can to assist with the solution, he said. One thing the commissioners have done is to join in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies, he said. “We are going to hold them accountable,” he said. There is the potential for some funding as a result of that, and those funds could assist in bringing a treatment center here, he said. He said Alamosa now has a methadone clinic, which is helping some, and law enforcement officers are carrying narcan, which has saved 15 lives so far. He added, “We need to focus on education and treatment.”
Above caption: As forum moderator and Valley Courier Publisher Keith Cerny asks them a question, Alamosa County treasurer candidates from left Jerald Montoya, Donna Griego and Amy McKinley prepare to answer during Tuesday’s candidate forum.
Below caption: From left are Alamosa County commissioner candidates Arlan Van Ry, Edward Vigil and Michael Yohn. At right is forum moderator Keith Cerny.