County commissioner candidates debate about land use, job growth

BAYFIELD – Two La Plata County Commissioner candidates faced questions about everything from climate change to the comprehensive land-use plan during a candidate forum Monday night that was one of the first of the election season.

Julie Westendorff and Harry Baxstrom, who are running for the District 3 commissioner seat, were in the spotlight at the forum hosted by the 4-Corners Liberty Restoration Group, a grass-roots conservative group focused on reducing government and restoring individual constitutional rights.

Westendorff, the Democratic candidate, said if elected, she would prioritize job growth in the county, responsible budget management and the unique issues in the southern and eastern parts of the county. Westendorff is a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker, a former Southern Ute Tribal prosecutor and a former Bayfield town judge.

Baxstrom, a Republican and longtime Bayfield veterinarian, said he would focus on educating county residents about future projects such as the now-rejected comprehensive and Climate & Energy Action plans. The county needs a comprehensive plan, but it should create a new document that relies more on residents and less on consultants to produce, he said. The county also needs to better distinguish between quality-of-life initiatives that are sustainable and those that are subsidized, he said.

Both candidates agreed about the need to reform the county’s planning process and to create a comprehensive plan. Westendorff argued there were many valuable components of the previous comprehensive plan that shouldn’t have been scrapped when commissioners decided to dump the plan in December.

Economic development needs to come from the private sector, but the county can help by creating a welcoming environment to businesses, both candidates said.

A business park is much-needed to foster economic vitality in the region, Westendorff said. The county also should encourage efforts that would add well-trained employees to the workforce, she said.

Both candidates agreed that a person’s individual property rights should take precedence over neighbors’ objections. As long as a person isn’t harming the health or well-being of the neighbors or the environment, the candidates agreed the “me” should supersede the “we.”

Both candidates also acknowledged that several questions asked at the forum did not address topics that fall under the county commissioner’s purview. Climate change, illegal immigration and the Affordable Care Act were a few of the issues the candidates would have no control over if elected.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story