Rodeman's rocky road

Oak Creek mayor's first year has not been easy, but she's learned plenty

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After being elected in April 2002, Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman has, at times, been scared she was going to have a heart attack.

To prevent the possibility, she used to take aspirin before Town Board meetings because people frequently tried to put her down or accuse her of everything from wasting time to pursuing personal vendettas.

Her record of arrests -- which includes multiple drunken driving and drug charges -- didn't help the situation either. She said her opponents always used that against her.

She even saw a flier with a picture of herself behind cross hairs. Even though she didn't think anyone wanted to kill her, the sight of it -- combined with the bashing she received at public meetings, the resignation of the town treasurer three weeks before the 2002 budget was due, the departure of the town manager shortly afterward and "negative" articles about her in The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News -- were almost too much for Rodeman.

Almost.

"At times I got so overwhelmed," the 49-year-old mayor said. "But I never thought about quitting. The support from all the good people of Oak Creek got me through the hard times."

She has been in office for one year and one month, and for the most part, the negative criticism slowly has turned to praise.

"Every meeting started negatively," Rodeman said. "But it has finally begun to move beyond that. I still get phone calls every day, but they are all compliments."

Now more comfortable and confident in her job, she says being mayor has changed her for the better.

"I've never had a job so fulfilling," she said.

She spends many more hours in her office than previous mayors, Town Clerk Nancy Crawford said.

"Cargo has a lot of enthusiasm about lots of things," Crawford said. "She has the ability to tackle anything."

But Rodeman didn't initially have that ability.

Since the need for a new water treatment plant became urgent, Rodeman had to take on the job of grant-writer to secure funds for the planned $1.5 million project.

"Even though she didn't have the experience, she found out who to call and who would help," Crawford said. "She wasn't afraid to ask for help. She became acquainted with a lot of people who helped her out. Her personality is so nice, it's easy for people to get along with her."

"Town Hall is now a very pleasant place to work," Crawford added.

While town employees randomly pop their heads into Rodeman's office to say "hello," "goodbye," or just visit with her, Rodeman said she, too, enjoys the friendly work environment.

"Everyone gets along here," Rodeman said. "How lucky could you get?"

Since settling into office, Rodeman said she has seen the community become more unified, more proud of Oak Creek.

She hired a certified water and waste water operator; partnered with Soroco Middle School to clean and paint the hockey hut, paint curbs downtown and to build a deck at the Aspen Manor senior apartments; and carried on the work of former Mayor Deb Van Gundy's administration of improving water quality.

As part of the campaign platform that got her elected, she has worked to restructure the Oak Creek Police Department, hiring an entirely new force "that specializes in working with kids."

But more than six months went by with no police force at all, during which the Routt County Sheriff's Office agreed to police the town. That lead to a still-unresolved controversy over how much the town owes the sheriff's office for the interim services.

Rodeman said even though she has gotten more comfortable, her job isn't by any means stress-free. She still has her opposition.

Several people have come to Town Board meetings saying Rodeman has used her power for personal vendettas, particularly one against former Oak Creek police officer David Miller, who "disengaged" from the force last year.

Oak Creek Fire Protection District firefighter Kelly Lipsie said he thinks Rodeman ran for office to take care of personal issues: getting her property line extended, which happened shortly after she was elected, and resolving her personal problems with the police department.

Routt County Planning Commission member and Oak Creek resident Bill Norris said he also thinks Rodeman, like previous mayors, used political power for retaliation or personal gain.

"The mayor doesn't look at the whole picture," Norris said. "Her best interests don't always lie with the whole town but with one particular faction or grudge. Neither she nor the board use their power the way they should.

"Oak Creek is still the way it has always been. Drinking and drugs are still a problem, and I'm scared with the direction the town is taking. I think we're being led in the wrong direction."

Rodeman said she never had a vendetta against anyone, including Miller, even though she didn't agree with his methods of law enforcement.

With Rodeman still dealing with critics and the stress of day-to-day tasks, she has given up trying to quit smoking, even though she earlier launched a much-publicized "Quit with the Mayor" anti-smoking campaign for teenagers.

It could be the cigarettes or the fulfillment, but whatever gets her through the day, any of the people who work closely with Rodeman will say she's trying hard to get the job done. Some say she really has changed.

"In the beginning, I thought she was going to do a terrible job," Lipsie said. "But, now that I sit back and look at it, I've reassessed my evaluation, and I think she's doing a wonderful job and doing things a mayor should do."

"When I know I have a difficult schedule ahead, I have to face it with bravery and honesty," Rodeman said. "You know you have to face it, and to get through it, it takes a hell of a lot of bravery you didn't even know you had."

-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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