In forums for the upcoming City Council elections and in interviews the Herald editorial board conducted to see who we thought might be best to fill two seats, one of the four candidates was not like the others. That would be Marcos Wisner. He is not really young at 31, but we have become so used to much older people filling local offices that Wisner seems like an emissary from Durango Future.
Wisner is a local boy making good. After stints at high-end restaurants, including in New York, he came back to Durango and, with his father’s help, opened the 11th Street Station, a bright spot on Main Avenue. Now he’s ready for City Council, he says, which is a coincidence because we are ready for new energy and ideas.
Each of the candidates is distinct in other ways. Jaime McMillan, a financial advisor, has big dreams. He envisions turning Durango into a world-class pot destination, with cannabis consumption lounges and THC cocktails, like a leafy Disneyworld. “If we don’t create the experience, someone else will,” he told us.
Barbara Noseworthy brings a background as a strategic consultant to high-powered enterprises and says she wants to lend that expertise to City Council so it can better plan for its needs, and Durango can be a place “that is resilient,” she told us, “where your kids can live here and you can stay if you want.”
Kim Baxter came to Durango 10 years ago and got involved with local government, serving on the city’s Planning Commission, among other posts. Durango is a vibrant community, she says, and she aims to keep it and its economy that way. She prizes clear, logical communication and seems drawn more to ideas than ideologies.
We tried to pin down each of the candidates on a few questions, starting with the half-cent city sales tax increase to pay for road improvements, which has been the subject of a lot of discussion in our pages, with some letter-writers and columnists firmly for it and more who are adamantly opposed, primarily because they believe the city has failed to plan for its needs.
Wisner supports the tax. He doesn’t want the city to have to cut other services, he says, and he thinks this hike is affordable. Baxter is careful to say she is not advocating against it, but adds, it will not solve most of the city’s needs and a sales tax increase is not necessarily the right way to address them. She wonders whether parks maintenance from the general fund could be temporarily diverted or whether a departmental expense freeze might be in order. McMillan is firmly opposed to a sales tax increase. “Let’s work with our budget,” he told us. Noseworthy says she does not support it, “because the city hasn’t given voters enough information about the budget and choices.”
The city manager, Ron LeBlanc, is accountable to the voters through City Council. We asked the candidates to grade his performance. Wisner said the community would give him a C or a C-, which is what matters. “I think he’s actually starting to feel some humility,” he added. “I think he has potential to be A+.” Baxter said she could not grade LeBlanc. “There’s a lot more efficiency and effectiveness that could occur,” she said. “His skills may not be in interpersonal communications, his skills may be in another area, and I think both are necessary.” McMillan said, “I don’t have the foundation for that.” Noseworthy said, “There are some things that he has done very well, such as enterprise zones, but the general fund doesn’t support the infrastructure” – and gave him a C+.
We asked the candidates what they wished to do about the city’s sit-lie ordinance, aimed at getting the homeless off downtown streets, which the Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has called absurd and indefensible.
Wisner said he does not think the ACLU understands Durango and “our personal complication with the homeless.” He believes the solution lies in more permanent shelter. Baxter said the ACLU is “a huge organization” with which Durango has a David-and-Goliath relationship, and that she wants ideas for the homeless that work from other cities. McMillan said he thought Durango had been “unfairly treated by the ACLU,” and that stakeholders need to be brought in to address homelessness. Noseworthy said she, too, wants to seek solutions to homelessness in Durango with partners.
We asked what the city could do to grow the economy. Wisner said he hopes his business could be an example of the kind of innovation Durango needs, along with business space-sharing, reducing regulations, land-use code changes and bike-path connectivity. Baxter said Durango can enhance its character as a multi-generational community. McMillan touted plans to make the city a pot-oriented destination, and Noseworthy said we need to plan locally for climate change and maintain the character of the community.
Our plates are more than half full. Still, we find the chance to bring someone relatively young, with business experience and enthusiasm, into our government irresistible, and we are drawn to one candidate’s thoughtful and direct style.
We choose Wisner and Baxter.
The tax questionLast fall, when the city had a more ambitious package of tax increases, we were a vote against. We wanted a clearer plan for how the funds would be used and how the city would budget in the future. The new proposal has been scaled back to just a sales tax hike for 10 years, to only address roads.
We are well aware that there are many who think City Council has been heedless in even pushing for this. Their lack of faith in local government may be justified. It is also alarming. More must be done by the city manager, the mayor and the council to rectify it, and we are hopeful that, with two new councilors, that may occur.
At the same time, we are not opposed to all taxes in principle and we do not doubt the specific need that this addresses. Roads are a basic function of government. The city has an opportunity to use the additional funds in a way that is transparent, has concrete results and builds more good faith for the future.
We vote YES on city ballot question 1A, for a half-cent sales tax raise.