Jefferson County natives Casey Tighe and John Odom faced off Sept. 27 at an election forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, debating everything from development to budgets in their race for county commissioner.
In an event at the Evergreen Fire/Rescue auditorium, incumbent Odom and challenger Tighe illustrated their differences: Odom is a Republican, Tighe a Democrat; Odom is a businessman, Tighe a longtime state transportation agency auditor and former lawyer. They also have similarities: Both are life-long Jeffco residents and family men who live in District 2.
Odom would like to retain the post he was appointed to after Kevin McCasky resigned in 2011 — and keep his watchdog role over the county purse strings. Tighe believes that, if elected, he could do better.
Odom and Tighe arrived in Evergreen about an hour late because they were attending an earlier forum the same night in Wheat Ridge. The format consisted of brief introductions followed by a series of questions and answers from the league and from the audience. Time limits were strictly enforced, and applause was discouraged. Karen Knutsen of the League of Women Voters served as moderator.
Tighe introduced himself as a graduate of Green Mountain High School, a law school graduate and a CDOT auditor for 24 years. “It was a great team. We were making sure the citizens got the best deal possible. We tried to be friendly to business, be more efficient and make recommendations how to reduce paperwork,” he said.
He said that five years ago former commissioner McCasky asked him to help form the Jeffco audit committee, a group of unpaid volunteers who met periodically to monitor county accounting policies.
“One of the goals was to change the tone. At the time there were a lot of issues, and it was hard getting issues resolved. Each year the audits got better and better, and the county audit turned out pretty good this year,” Tighe said.
Odom agreed that the county is in good shape accounting-wise, based on the favorable conclusions of an outside company hired to perform a comprehensive audit. He said the county also received high bond ratings from both Moody’s and Fitch.
“That’s our main function. We make sure the budget is well managed,” Odom said.
“The No. 1 question people have is, ‘What is a Jeffco commissioner?’ They know what a mayor and a city councilman is, but not what a commissioner does,” Odom said. “It’s actually a very interesting job. We represent the county at large, even though we are elected from a geographic district. That’s so you don’t get three commissioners from Edgewater, for example.”
Odom grew up in Jeffco. His wife is a substitute math teacher, and he has an 8-year-old who plays soccer and takes karate lessons. The family lives in Applewood. Odom said that for most of his career he has been a businessman and entrepreneur. He is part-owner of Blue Sky Medical, a Wheat Ridge medical-supply distribution company.
Odom has been involved in some controversial zoning decisions in the last couple of years, including one in which the county commissioners gave a church on Lookout Mountain approval to expand from 9,000 to 30,000 square feet in a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes on large lots.
The first question concerned the role of zoning regulations versus the rights of private property owners.
Tighe said zoning is necessary and doesn’t have to be in conflict with property rights. Zoning is what helps people get along, he said. “The key is to listen to the neighborhoods. Develop a good long-range plan and create consistency so people know what the plan is for the neighborhood,” Tighe said.
Odom said planning and zoning is one of the most important functions of county government. “Occasionally the commission has to make a big decision, but most matters are taken care of at the staff level. We get the most contentious ones. I believe in private property. It’s what makes America great. If they can show how the property can be legally rezoned, more than likely they will be,” Odom said.
The budget outlook
Odom said he didn’t see any large cuts coming up in the county’s 2013 budget. “This year and last year are the same. This year we may do a little more cutting. There might be a few increases in mental health. Human services may get a little more. We aren’t quite there yet,” Odom said.
Tighe complained that there is no longer a citizens budget committee to give advice to the county commissioners on budget matters. He said county government needs to take care of the county employees and make sure they have good salaries and benefits. “They are the backbone of the county,” Tighe said.
In response to a question about community involvement, Odom cited a new county website expected to debut early next year with different forums where people can post suggestions and ask questions. One way to reach people is through new technology, Odom said. For example, the commissioners conducted a virtual town hall in which 7,000 people participated on Sept. 24.
“People don’t feel they have access,” said Tighe, who has been walking the neighborhoods and knocking on doors. “People want the same things: a safe community and good roads. But they don’t feel they have access. We need to find more ways to get citizens involved.” One way would be to add two commissioners. “We need to think if three is enough. We are a big county. What would five be like? How can we do it in a way that makes sense?” Tighe asked.
The Jefferson Parkway
When a question came up about development along Colorado 93 between Golden and Boulder, Odom said this: “The truth is, there is not going to be much development without new roads. I would like to see the Jefferson Parkway completed. If there is one thing we could get done that would bring some economic development, it would be completing the parkway.”
Tighe said it’s important to focus development on under-used and abandoned properties rather than push into unbuilt areas. “There is a Target store in my neighborhood that has been vacant for years … . We need to figure out a way to take advantage of the infrastructure we have built instead of moving farther west and taxing our land resources.”
Change and precedent
Another questioner addressed the commissioners’ willingness to go against the advice of the Planning Commission and the planning staff, which it did with the recent approval of the Ken Caryl Business Center apartment complex and the Activation Ministries International church expansion.
“The staff job is to follow policy from the previous administration. We changed that policy. Current commissioners aren’t tied to what previous commissioners have done,” Odom said. “The reason we overruled was it was usually a case of something on the margins and the edges.”
Tighe took issue with that stance.
“If you are going to deviate (from the previous policy), you better be able to articulate why. I look at history and the long-range plan. Sometimes you need to change things. But using precedent is how people make decisions,” Tighe said.
The commission’s makeup
Republican Commissioner Faye Griffin, who has been in office for four years, is running unopposed in District 1. Commissioner Don Rosier, also a Republican, has two more years to go on his first term.
In addition to the commission candidates, the Evergreen audience of about 40 people heard from the candidates for state board of education, University of Colorado Board of Regents and state representative from District 25.
The general election is Nov. 6, but early voting starts Oct. 22 and ends Nov. 1.
Contact Vicky Gits at 303-933-2233, ext.22, or Vicky@evergreenco.com.