The race for La Plata County commissioner in District 3 pits a local rancher against the former mayor of Bayfield.
In May 2019, former Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka announced he was running for District 3, which includes the Bayfield, Ignacio and Vallecito areas. Salka moved to Bayfield in 2000 and started an information technology company and a pest-control business.
Before running for commissioner, Salka, a Democrat, was on the Bayfield Board of Trustees. He also was the secretary for the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance and previously served on the Bayfield Planning Commission.
In September 2019, La Plata County resident Charly Minkler announced he was running as an unaffiliated candidate. Minkler moved to the county from the Denver area in 1982 and started a construction business, and through his wife, got into agriculture.
Minkler is former president of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado and serves as president of the La Plata County Farm Bureau. He also served on the La Plata County Planning Commission.
The seat for District 3 is held by Julie Westendorff, who has reached the term limit allowed for holding the office. The entire county may vote on all three commission districts.
The keys to unlocking affordable and attainable housing have been a reoccurring platform for both candidates throughout the election.
Minkler said the best solution is to close the wage gap for residents. That is done, he said, by making it easy for businesses to either get started in the county or move here with well-paying jobs.
“For many years in our county, we’ve just paid lip service to economic development, and not done constructive things to help it,” he said.
Salka said he would push for local organizations, such as the Durango Chamber of Commerce and the Durango Business Improvement District, to come up with a comprehensive plan that would attract new businesses to the region.
“I feel like we have all these great organizations that are all working hard on the common goal of attracting and retaining businesses,” he said. “But what are the possibilities of a coordinated (effort)?”
Minkler said, if elected, he would be “on the forefront” in supporting economic development areas, an aspect of the county’s new land-use code, by which areas with appropriate infrastructure can be designated for streamlined growth.
Minkler also said county codes need to be flexible and allow ways to make development work.
“We do not have a creative way to get to ‘Yes,’” he said. “We’re all about saying ‘No.’”
Salka said he wants to hear more from developers and business owners about how to keep companies in the county, which has a high cost of living and expensive infrastructure requirements.
“A lot of businesses come here for a little while, then get the heck out,” he said.
Minkler said the new code has to allow for increased opportunity to develop high-density projects.
“What everyone wants is affordability, but you have to have density to make that happen,” he said. “If we don’t do something different in our county, our children and grandchildren won’t be able to afford to live here, and that’s a travesty, I think.”
Minkler has said he is running unaffiliated because the county commission should not be about politics.
But Minkler has made it clear throughout his campaign he is a moderate conservative who, if elected, would help bridge the urban-rural divide that has some rural residents feeling disenfranchised.
The current La Plata County Board of County Commissioners is made up of Democrats, and District 3 specifically, which is mostly rural and agricultural land, hasn’t had a farmer or rancher on the commission for years, Minkler said.
“It upsets people,” he said. “I can bring that perspective into the whole mix.”
Salka said he has the most well-rounded experience of the two, having served in municipal government.
“I am the one with government experience and a track record,” he said.
Both candidates said they would drop any other job to serve as a full-time commissioner. Minkler said his ranching duties are limited to evenings or weekends.