Steamboat Springs Ken Solomon plainly stated his take on a common Steamboat Springs expression about growth and new residents coming through Rabbit Ears Pass.
"Is it fair to close the gate? No," he said. "Do we need to put out the welcome mat? No."
Spoken Thursday at his home on Ridge View Drive, Solomon's comment said a great deal about how hard he worked to acquire the house around the dining room table where he sat. Large windows overlooked Spring Creek and - on a clearer day - Old Town. A canary named Mike chirped in a cage in the living room. Dog-agility obstacles lay on the front lawn for a golden retriever named Jasper and an alert Belgian Tervuren named Dewar.
Solomon, 63, said he moved to Steamboat in 1970 as a logger "with a broken-down pickup, a chain saw and $2,000 in credit card debt. : My first home had wheels on it."
He and his wife, Susan, bought the house on Ridge View Drive about 36 years later, just three years ago this month, for nearly $1.2 million, according to Routt County assessor records.
"A lot of people have unrealistic expectations of what their housing should be," Solomon said. "I'm not saying that everyone doesn't deserve home ownership, but it's not going to be three bedrooms and a two-car garage on a quarter-acre right off the bat."
Now self-described as "semi-retired" after decades in the local building industry, Solomon is running against Kenny Reisman for a District 2 seat on the Steamboat Springs City Council. The proposed Steamboat 700 annexation - and its much-debated potential to provide affordable housing - looms over the race. For Solomon, the work he put into his own equity frames his feelings about the city's role in facilitating housing for others.
"My vote would have been 'no,'" he said, referring to City Council's initial support of Steamboat 700 on Tuesday. "The bottom line is that the deal, as written, is not in the best interest of the people of Steamboat Springs. : Does Steamboat Springs have a carrying capacity? How many people can we accommodate in this valley and maintain the quality of life?"
Solomon questioned Reisman's views on the development. In August, Reisman told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that "based on everything I know, I would vote for (700)." He hedged that position at a Friday forum, saying City Council was correct to ask developers for changes to the proposal.
"I think that's after he's finally read the annexation agreement," Solomon said. "You have to read before you make decisions."
At that forum and in earlier public appearances this fall, Reisman's natural exuberance has stood in contrast with Solomon's measured speech and demeanor.
Solomon's supporters see that deliberation as a positive trait.
"I worked on the tax advisory committee with Ken," said longtime local Audrey Enever, referring to a city-sanctioned effort to analyze local taxes in 2004-05. "He's not quick to make a decision - he really thinks things through. He may seem a little ponderous at first, but he was very reliable and very thoughtful. : It's very easy at a time like this to make quick decisions about things, and he will not do that."
Local financial consultant Scott Ford was an adviser to the tax advisory committee, of which Solomon was a co-chairman. Ford said he has contributed financially to Solomon's and Reisman's campaigns.
"I felt Ken (Solomon) did a really good job. : I saw Ken do well in his facilitation of that group," Ford said. "He was really good at having everybody's opinion come out and then synthesizing it. And that's a challenge."
Ford said Solomon ably engineered and managed a shift in the committee's goals.
"Ken was very clear that we could not look at taxes without also looking at city expenses," Ford said.
That perspective, Ford said, went contrary to the views of Paul Hughes, then Steamboat's city manager.
"It's no secret that I didn't think much of the tax policy board's work," Hughes said last week. "Their findings had almost nothing to do with tax policy -
it had to do with city finances and financial reporting."
Hughes said the committee's report stated that current sales tax policies were working and did not need to be changed, a view he thought "was extremely short-sighted."
Solomon, five years later, said a city property tax could be necessary.
"If the citizens believe that we need to save the budget while providing basic services, then a property tax may be in order," he said Thursday.
Solomon said the primary difference between the District 2 candidates is experience. The separation in age, at least, is hard to miss.
Reisman, 40, was born in 1968 - two years before Solomon moved to Steamboat as a young man. Reisman lived in Steamboat in the early '90s and returned in 2007, but Solomon said he didn't know Reisman very well because Reisman is "new to town" and lacks public service experience.
Reisman said Friday that his most valuable experience is as a parent, teacher, coach and youth mentor.
In addition to his work with the tax committee, Solomon served for 12 years on the Routt County Board of Adjustment and for four years on the Timbers Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors.
Solomon said many people in Steamboat know him as "Solo," a nickname stemming from his tendency to forgo business partners after a bad working situation in the '70s.
Several longtime locals described Solomon as a talented, meticulous builder.
"He's very good with financials," said John Munn, former owner of Vista Verde Ranch. In 2006, Munn moved into a house Solomon built and has since remodeled.
"He doesn't spend money he doesn't have," Munn said.
Julie Green, former president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and a City Council member from 1987 to 1989, said Solomon has done several renovation projects on her commercial properties.
"I've known Ken since I moved here about 30 years ago," Green said. "He is meticulous; he's very intelligent; he's extremely responsible. He's the kind of contractor that when he works for you, he's on the job the whole time. : He's there looking after every detail."
When asked about similarities between him and Reisman, and about the campaign, a little bit of Solomon's native New Jersey slipped out.
"We both love dogs, sunsets and walks on the beach," Solomon said with a grin. "But I think it's just a matter of experience."