Recall elections usually result from a heated blowup over a single issue, rightly or wrongly. More often than not, they have little to do with an elected official’s overall performance.
Gwen Lachelt is a recall target today. She does not deserve to be.
Critics of La Plata County’s work-in-progress land-use code apparently feel they need someone to blame for all they see is wrong with it. Lachelt, in her second term on the board, is their selection.
It is a puzzle why.
The county is governed by three commissioners who draw from the abilities of a skilled staff and, occasionally, outside professionals. All three commissioners have equally advocated for an appropriate land-use code, and have put their ideas and energy into creating a new one.
The draft of the first module met with criticism from some vocal opponents when it was formally released three weeks ago, and adjustments are now being made.
That is as it should be.
A second, and eventual third and final, presentation – which will also allow for reactions – is forthcoming.
Lachelt’s past activities do differ from the other commissioners in one regard, one that has been important to rural landowners large and small. Lachelt has long been an advocate for surface owners and the environment since drilling for natural gas from the rich Fruitland coal bed formation blossomed in the 1990s.
Surface owners have Lachelt, among a few other leaders, to thank for increased, but realistic, well setback requirements, and well site noise and truck traffic limitations.
Individual surface owners, faced with dealing with much more practiced drilling companies, have greatly benefited from having local organizations, which included Lachelt, to turn to for advice.
The result is a more collaborative working relationship between drilling companies and the county and surface owners.
In La Plata County, in many cases, drilling rigs are less likely to be on visible ridges, multiple wells are more closely clustered and well site motors are quieter. What was created in La Plata County over the past several decades could be considered a model for Colorado’s other counties where exploration and drilling for natural gas occurs.
Lachelt was elected in 2012, and again in 2016, by the close margins that can result in this almost evenly-split unaffiliated, blue and red county. Commissioner terms in this county are limited to two, and she will leave office after the November 2020 election.
Lachelt has been participating in the multiple issues of leading a county, as expected. Her attendance at regular meetings is good, and within a couple of percentage points of the other commissioners, Brad Blake and Julie Westendorff. At related meetings, it may be better.
We suggest that the recall petition carriers, rather than gathering signatures, instead apply that time and energy toward working with the commissioners and the planning staff to build the best possible county land-use code.
That would be more productive than triggering a special election – costing thousands of dollars – against a single individual who has contributed to making La Plata County a more appealing place to live.
Gwen Lachelt is not solely responsible for the unpopular aspects of the much-needed land-use code. To portray her as such is misguided.