After nearly four years on Durango City Council, Councilor Kim Baxter, 66, announced she will not run for reelection in April.
In her personal newsletter, Baxter said that after bringing “a lifetime of experience in finance, management, and analysis to my four years as a City Councilor” it is time to shift her focus to friends and family.
Although Baxter was elected to City Council in 2019, she spent the previous decade involved with city boards, including the Natural Lands Preservation Board, Multi-Modal Board and the Planning Commission. During her time on council she served as mayor and currently serves on the Economic Alliance Board and the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County Board.
She is a small-business owner and a walnut farmer with a career and education in finance, a city news release says.
On Thursday, she said the last four years have been “really interesting” with the hiring of a new city manager, José Madrigal, an embezzlement case against the city and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her first two years in office were, in particular, filled with items that needed attention, including city finances, she said. The budget wasn’t balanced and spreadsheet totals didn’t total correctly.
The city has come a long way and has had “incredible” advancements in the realm of budgets and finances, she said, calling improved financial transparency one of the best things to happen for the community. Baxter credits city staff members, including Cynthia Sneed, finance director, and Devon Schmidt, budget and strategic planning officer, for working on the budget and OpenGov, the city’s online public finance platform where residents can track city spending for themselves. She also gave kudos to City Council for supporting staff efforts.
“We have an incredibly transparent system,” she said. “Everything balances, everything does what we want it to do.”
She said Madrigal’s focus on customer service and interdepartmental coordination with staff has shifted the city in a positive direction. The city has developed a good sense of collaboration between departments and the implementation of executive leadership is providing staff mentorship and training to become strong leaders.
Baxter said the City Council and staff’s focus on attainable and workforce housing is exciting, although there’s more work to be done. When she ran for City Council, one of the important subjects on her mind was building a multigenerational diverse community.
“I don't think you can have that without housing for all income groups,” she said. “And I find it very exciting that we’re focusing on that, that we’re putting money and effort and good thought into it. Working with private-public partners, all those kinds of things.”
She said it is hard to pinpoint one project she is particularly proud of, but the city’s strategic plan is one of many that comes to mind – and it is connected to all the other projects. Past councils hadn’t relied on a strategic plan, which guides the city’s policies, projects and budgets while keeping Durango’s “big picture” in mind.
Housing and transportation are high priorities in the strategic plan. But all of the city’s projects, big and small, are guided by the bigger picture captured in the strategic plan.
For example, the Animas River Trail – the “backbone of our community” – is vital to having a healthy and vibrant community because it connects residents with each other, she said.
“We have a way to get across 32nd Street. That’s beautiful, it’s really fun to do,” she said. “We have, I think, two sections of river trail to work on and (one of those) will be done this year.”
Getting the city’s finances in order was a great challenge in Baxter’s first two years on City Council. Addressing the city’s housing crisis has also proved challenging, but she said the work will ultimately be rewarding.
“We want to have the people who work here be able to live here, the people who support our safety,” she said. “Fire, police, teachers, city workers, managers, restaurants. I mean, every person you can think of.”
She said the core services expected of cities such as sewer and water services, law enforcement and the like have “significantly improved” in the last few years. City engagement with the community has also improved, but it remains a challenge.
“There’s so many emotional topics and people get emotional,” she said. “I would love to have people ask me more questions, ask staff more questions, ask council more questions, to be better informed. It is a hard job, whether it’s a councilor or a city employee. It’s a difficult job and we do our best.”
Baxter said some of the qualities she wants to see in future City Council candidates are thoughtfulness and critical thinking. She likes to research future city topics of discussion months before they come up at City Council meetings so when they do arise, she has a strong, informed background on the subject and how it stands to impact Durango.
Baxter said interaction with many residents and businesses is needed to be a successful and effective councilor. She takes phone calls from people who want to know what’s happening with the city on a daily basis. Meetings with boards and commissions also come with the job.
“I mean, you can easily do it without spending all that time, but you’re not going to be as effective,” she said. “And you're not going to be, I think, the kind of leader that the community deserves.”
Baxter plans to do more traveling with her husband and dogs. She also plans to spend more time fly fishing, mountain biking, and enjoying the company of friends and family.