Campaign stickers, pamphlets and advertisements are beginning to circulate in Steamboat Springs, and all three were on display Wednesday inside the Routt County commissioners hearing room.
All seven Steamboat Springs City Council candidates and six of the seven Steamboat Springs Board of Education candidates attended Wednesday's First Impressions of Routt County board meeting, which featured the first candidates' forum of the election year.
First Impressions, whose mission statement is to ensure that children be provided adequate resources and quality programs to promote healthy development and school readiness, called the candidates together to introduce them to the organization, Director Renee Donahue said.
"It's just one of those opportunities when people could come to our meeting and learn about us," Donahue said.
The candidates' forum followed a brief discussion on the roles First Impressions plays in Routt County as well as issues facing the organization. Each candidate was given about three minutes to introduce themselves to the audience in the hearing room.
Candidates were encouraged to discuss their thoughts on early childhood education, and most did.
Paul Strong, who is running unopposed for the council's District 3 seat and is the co-chairman of the First Impressions board, said early childhood education affects all of the community, regardless of whether an individual is the parent of a young child.
"We all have a vested interest in this topic," Strong said. "We're literally talking about our future."
Steve Ivancie, who is running unopposed for the council's at-large seat, echoed Strong's statement.
"You either pay now or you pay later. Let's invest in our children earlier rather than later," Ivancie said, referring to statistics that reveal money spent on early childhood education prevents greater expenditures down the line on things such as juvenile detention and prisons.
Ken Brenner, who is running against Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer and Marcus Williams for the council's District 2 seat, cited his past experience on the First Impressions board and as a City Council member as examples of his dedication to early childhood programs.
"Even though I've been out of office for a couple years, you haven't seen my commitment to early childhood education change," Brenner said.
Maintaining the health, safety and welfare of the community should be the primary goals of the council, Meyer said, and children are a big part of that responsibility.
"There's no greater fear in everybody's life than quality child care," Meyer said, referring to worries she experienced two decades ago when she was the divorced mother of a 3-year-old.
Williams described himself as the "tough candidate" in the race.
"I'm going to be there to make tough decisions on our city government," he said.
Sue Dellinger, a former city employee who is challenging Bud Romberg for his District 1 seat on the council, said maintaining a small-town quality of life is important, but the community must provide the means for Steamboat children to be part of today's advancing technological society.
Dellinger said she would push for more telecommunications in Yampa Valley so "our kids don't get behind the eight-ball."
Romberg, who has lived in Steamboat for 32 years, said he is concerned with the overall financial situation of the community. People who work in Steamboat must be able to afford to live in Steamboat, and child-care costs and health care expenses are an important part of that dilemma, he said.
Unlike the City Council elections, all of the School Board races are contested, including a three-candidate race among incumbent Pat Gleason and challengers Robin Crossan and Jerry Kozatch.
Gleason, who was appointed to the School Board two years ago to fill a vacancy, said the next quantum leap in education would come from early childhood education, not incremental improvements with the existing public school format.
Crossan, the parent of a Steamboat Springs Middle School student and member of the Education Fund Board and its Capital Commission, said she put her name into the race with hopes she can positively affect the district.
"I didn't want to be a complainer," Crossan said. "I've decided to get involved in a more positive manner. It is very important to move forward and look to the future."
Kozatch, a small-business owner and member of the District Accountability Committee, Education Fund Board and Educational Excellence Commission, said his experience on school district committees has prepared him well for a seat on the School Board.
"I've got a pretty good idea of how all the processes work," Kozatch said. "I think this is really an exciting time (for the district), having a new superintendent and new board members. I think I can add something to the process."
Mike Skov, the father of three children, including a kindergartner and a newborn, said he wants to take an active role in his children's educations. As a School Board member, Skov will focus on getting the community more involved in the district, particularly through better board communication.
Mike Loomis, who is running against Skov for the School Board's Director District 5 seat being vacated by Tom Sharp, shared Skov's desire for more community involvement in the schools.
"One of the things I'd like to see is to get the community involved, but not just during a crisis," said Loomis, who is a member of the Fund Board's Educational Excellence Commission. "The community needs to be involved with positive issues, as well."
Colorado Mountain College professor Jeff Troeger, who is running against Brian Kelly for the School Board seat held by Paul Fisher, said he has attended more than 20 School Board meetings and study sessions over the past year.
"The more I went, the more I was intrigued by the possibilities," said Troeger, who was an original member of the Fund Board's Technology Commission and was one of the community members on an interview panel used during the recent superintendent hiring process. "I think I'm an idea person. I think that's one of the things that would be really beneficial in the school district."
Kelly was not able to attend Wednesday's forum.
Candidate forums are extremely valuable for voters, council member Romberg said.
"There are probably a lot of people who don't know about the candidates running," he said. "The more people learn about the candidates, the more of an opportunity for an informed view when voters go to the polls."
Wednesday's candidates' forum was the first of several forums being planned by community groups and organizations.