'I'm not perfect'

A lengthy criminal past focuses attention on Oak Creek's new mayor

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— The new mayor of Oak Creek admits to using marijuana and cocaine, driving under the influence of alcohol and wrestling people who provoke her.

Her police record in Routt County dates back to 1991 and includes more than a dozen arrests.

Yet Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman captured 64 percent of the vote in last Tuesday's municipal election to decisively defeat incumbent Mayor Deb VanGundy.

"I'm sad about the record, but there's just nothing I can do about it," Rodeman said. "I wish it wasn't there, but it is."

She would have appeared in court the day after the April 2 election had the charges against her not been dropped.

Rodeman said she didn't want to get into the fight at a local bar in early March that led police to charge her with intimidating a witness. She said the man she wrestled to the ground provoked her to retaliate.

She wouldn't think twice about taking anybody else to the ground, she added, if they did the same thing.

She wouldn't think twice, either, about not admitting her mistakes, she said.

Her constituents deserve honest answers about her run-ins with law enforcement, she said.

"I don't minimize my behavior," she said, "but I am not a bad guy."

The most recent charge of intimidation rounds out a list of misdemeanor and felony charges on Rodeman's record that includes DUI, eluding an officer and possession of cocaine and marijuana.

But she wants to set the record straight.

Rodeman doesn't deny the list of charges that appear with her name, but she does defend her actions as often misinterpreted or maligned by people in positions of authority.

"Nobody just looking at this (police record) could know what I did and didn't do," she said.

She lumps herself with the other "undesirables" of Oak Creek that find themselves in the bad graces of the police.

"It's the whole group they (the police) want to get rid of," she said.

Rodeman's victory stunned residents who assumed someone with such a notorious past could not be elected mayor in the town of 800.

Bill Paxton, re-elected to the Oak Creek Town Board, said he did not think she could carry the vote by such a large margin.

He said the election results put Oak Creek on the path to becoming a second Georgetown, the small Colorado community thrown into the national spotlight thanks to the scandalous actions of Kolleen Brooks, the former mayor ousted in an election last week.

As a public official with a criminal background, she would be held to a high standard of performance, he said.

"If she's going to be in and do the job, she had better do it pretty well," Paxton said.

Rodeman said she intends to hold herself to a higher standard.

Her 2-to-1 victory margin in the election should at least hold some weight with her critics, she said.

"They voted for what I believe in, not for my record, not for my run-ins with cops," she said.

Indeed, most of Rodeman's supporters are well aware of her criminal past.

In a small town, everyone's actions are laid on the table for everyone to see, said former trustee candidate Bob Dresden.

"Your wash is hanging out in the backyard," he said.

Voters in Oak Creek know about Rodeman's scuffles with law enforcement, but they voted for her anyway, and that decision must be respected, Dresden said.

Name recognition often determines the winner in political races, and Rodeman held that recognition among voters, he said.

Despite her criminal history, he said, "There's no such thing as bad press."

Rodeman knows that while some people in Oak Creek love her and some people love to hate her, they will have to live with her and her colorful past.

She said she has no plans to leave the place she has called home for 30 years.

"I love the town," she said. "Apparently, they like me OK. I've made my share of mistakes. I'm not perfect.

"But I don't judge others. I don't think I'm better than anyone, but I know no one's better than me."

Although Rodeman admits to using marijuana and cocaine, all charges dealing with the possession of either drug have been dismissed.

Anyone in her age group who claims never to have tried marijuana, she said, either lived a sheltered life or is lying.

"I'm a baby of the '60s and the '70s, but I don't do it (marijuana) anymore," she said.

She was most recently charged with drug possession in July 1999, when an officer stopped her for speeding in Oak Creek.

A blood test showed her to be driving under the influence of alcohol, and a quick search through her car turned up a small amount of marijuana and rolling papers.

Rodeman denied smoking marijuana that evening.

The drug charges were dropped, but she had to complete alcohol education classes and therapy.

She went through the same therapeutic program in 1991 after she was arrested on DUI charges, which were lowered to driving while ability impaired charges.

In October 1996, a year in which she went to court 30 times, an officer with the Routt County Sheriff's Office stopped her for speeding. Because she was driving with a suspended license at the time, officers had to search her vehicle.

Working off information that Rodeman had, the summer before, unknowingly informed an undercover narcotics agent about hidden compartments installed in her car, the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team obtained a warrant to search the vehicle.

No hidden compartments were found, and Rodeman denies ever talking to anyone about their existence.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, through chemical analysis, identified several suspicious substances recovered from Rodeman's car as marijuana and cocaine.

She denies the presence of cocaine in her car at the time of the search.

"I didn't have it," she said. "I'm guilty of what I'm guilty of, but they can't make it up."

Charges were eventually dropped when the search was found to be illegal.

She recognizes the lethal qualities of cocaine, she said.

"I am not saying never in my life have I done it, but it's been a hell of a long time," she said. "I hate it."

As for marijuana, Rodeman said, she would not smoke the illegal substance through the duration of her mayoral term.

"It's not that important to me," she said.

Her biggest mistake, she said, came with her decision to drink and drive.

Rodeman's critics say her run-ins with police discredit her intentions to downsize the Oak Creek Police Department.

She said she wants to deflate what she sees as an unnecessarily inflated police force in town.

Rodeman merely wants to rid the town of any type of authority, said Oak Creek resident Calvin Morrow.

Morrow, who lost his bid for mayor a few years ago, said her election and her intention to minimize law enforcement would only discredit the town.

"This has just labeled us as the scum bucket of the county," he said.

Rodeman said she would like to cut the police from three full-time officers to one part-time, on-call officer.

She intends to talk with Routt County Sheriff John Warner about Oak Creek relying on the Sheriff's Office for backup when one officer could not handle the calls, she said.

A smaller force could present a problem if one officer could not respond to more than one call at one time, said Routt County Undersheriff Dan Taylor.

Municipalities are not mandated, however, to maintain a certain number of officers per townspeople, he said.

Oak Creek Police Chief Tom Ling said the new mayor's intentions would not affect his department's ability to do its job.

He and his men have no control over future decisions, Ling said.

Staff cuts won't likely end at Ling's office door.

Rodeman said she did not see the necessity of a town manager for a town the size of Oak Creek. She preferred to look at both cuts as ways to save the town some money that should be slated for other projects, she said.

Town Manager Ray Leibensperger, who submitted a letter of resignation March 12, said he does not know what the new mayor might mean to his future with the town.

He said he has not yet spoken to Rodeman but welcomes any insight she might give him.

"My door is open," he said. "But I'm not going to chase her down."

Rodeman said the final decision lies with the Town Board.

The board meets for the first time Thursday evening to swear in new trustees and the new mayor.

"I am counting on the board to make common sense, monetarily right decisions in both those areas," she said. "They can look at the numbers and look at the facts."

Rodeman said she expects an uphill battle dealing with the negative public perception about her well publicized criminal record.

When she first considered running for mayor, she said, she knew she would need to account for her behavior.

Voters had to ask themselves if they wanted Rodeman as mayor, said David Stordal, who was elected last Tuesday to the Town Board.

Enough people believed in her candidacy to support her with their votes, he said.

Despite her mayoral seat, he added, she is still only one voice in town government.

Like many longtime Oak Creek residents, Robert Hageman understands Rodeman's history with the police. Outsiders scratching their heads over Oak Creek's decision to elect someone with a reputation for tangling with law enforcement may never understand the reasons why, Hageman said. The voters clearly stated their preference for one candidate, he said.

"What else can you say?"

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