Election Guide 2013: John Fielding
October 16, 2013
Occupation: retired construction estimator and development project manager
Prior political experience: none
Hometown: I have made my home in Steamboat longer than anywhere else
Years in Steamboat: two years from 1970 to 1972, full time since 2002
Family: first family grown and gone, adopted another now in adolescence
Civic involvement: started two foundations, youth advocacy and community support
Q. List your top three priorities as a Steamboat Springs City Council member and talk about how you would go about accomplishing them.
A. 1.) Improve respect for the management of city government. Many citizens find their treatment has been unfair and disrespectful. I propose an office of the "citizens advocate" that will be the resource for listening to and taking action on citizen input.
2.) Change fee structures that inhibit business growth and improvements to facilities. Sidewalk connections wait for redevelopment and require the investment up front. They could be made immediately with costs assessed over many years. The tap fees place demands on a startup or expanding business. These could be spread out over the expected life of the improvement.
3.) Make returns to residents of the excess taxation that has been taking place the last few years. The prudent budgeting has proved that we are collecting more than is necessary to provide adequate services. I propose a tax rebate for groceries and occasional free attendance at city recreational facilities.
Q. This budget season, the city wants to bring some employees back to a 40-hour workweek and give market raises to some workers for the first time in years. After years of budget cuts and furloughs, what do you think of the city's current level of service and the state of employee pay? What changes should be made, if any?
A. The services level has been adequate to the reduced demand of the recession. The level of staffing should be increased as necessary to keep from substantial backlogs as demand increases but not until such a time as it is clear that demand is sustained. The issue of pay increases is more complex. We certainly want to pay our people reasonable rates, but how we determine that rate must be examined. We cannot only consider what municipal workers in other towns make, comparisons to private sector compensation are appropriate. In several sectors, direct comparison is easy, such as secretarial, bus driving or maintenance jobs. Productivity levels demanded should be included. Costs of contracting services must also be factored in; some former city employees now contract their services and have the benefit of self-employment with its many personal and tax advantages and opportunity to engage with other clients.
Q. For more than a year, the city has pursued a new public safety campus in a variety of locations. Staff is expected to come back with the latest round of potential sites for council to consider in December. What do you think of the process the city has taken so far? How would you direct staff to continue with this process?
A. It is difficult to express the level of dismay with what's been happening. I would direct staff to bring forth the data gathered and stop while it's reviewed. Meanwhile, I would ask that immediate needs be determined for police services and recommendations for interim accommodation options are made, suitable for at least three years. Then a re-examination of projected needs and solutions would commence, without any urgency, making sure to have active public participation through regular press briefings and community meetings, no secrecy. Every point of the process would keep multiple options under consideration, including at least three for use of the existing site and three for new construction at any given location. In particular, building plans that incorporate phased expansions would be required. We've been shopping for a new Cadillac when we need to just fix up our old Chevy. This is not the time to be extravagant.
Q. The city's recently approved rules for the sale and use of recreational marijuana are likely to be revisited in the coming years as Amendment 64 is implemented statewide. What do you think of the city's approved rules that zone pot shops out of the downtown commercial district and place restrictions on using the word marijuana in signs for businesses? Should marijuana shops be regulated like liquor stores?
A. Common sense would indicate that legal intoxicants be treated similarly. However, because of the high degree of emotion connected with this, it makes sense to just go slow until it dies down. When we look closely at similar regulation, we find that the marketing appeal to young people we want to avoid already exists with alcohol. Beautiful women, jet set party scenes, race cars, many things that appeal to underage consumers are used to promote drinking. We do not want to continue this into marijuana sales. But we shouldn't go overboard hiding it; eventually we should allow it anywhere package liquors can be sold, logically in the same stores. As for a name, I suggest the "Distribution of Pot Emporiums" or something with a similar acronym. The majority of the tax collected should go to constructive youth activities to prevent drug abuse, education and rehab programs.
Q. How will you vote on the current council's recommended spending of the lodging tax? Explain why.
A. If it's defeated by the voters and I am elected to council, I will support a shorter multiyear funding commitment of the proposal. But being asked to commit several million dollars to 10 years of funding just for new construction raises some concerns. Unless some of it can be used to help with maintenance and expansion of the uses of the trails and accessory facilities, it contributes to an imbalance. Equipment and labor to allow using the trails in a Nordic skiing program is logical and fits concepts long promoted for tourist attraction. Facilities for very young, elderly and disabled should be included. Howelsen Hill improvements work as a hub for bikes and touring, some funds should be directed there within 10 years. I will vote for it if it contains enough flexibility to include such expenditures. If not, I will propose we recall the law to the voters for modification.
Q. The city has in recent years implemented a new microgrant program. It also provides funding to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. What should the city's role be in promoting economic development?
A. The microgrant program should be examined for propriety. Zero-interest loans may be better, accepting risk of loss by funding where banks will not in order to get something started that the community broadly benefits by but does not presently have. Moderate funding for marketing Steamboat as a four-seasons tourist mecca is appropriate, and it supports the community's economic interest via increased sales and lodging tax. Perhaps the contribution should be earmarked for that purpose specifically. The most appropriate role for the city government is to identify and revise the policies that impede economic development. To this end, I propose a commission be created for that purpose, its members recruited from a broad spectrum of business interests, tasked with reviewing the entire body of municipal code. The new office of the Citizens' Advocate would also be active in bringing suggestions forth for consideration regarding beneficial revisions to burdensome regulations.
Q. In recent years, the city has taken a conservative approach to budgeting and has built up a substantial reserve by doing so. As sales tax revenue here continues to show modest gains in the wake of the recession, what are your budget priorities? How should the city use reserves?
A. The conservative budgeting has been wise and served the people well. It has demonstrated that we can hold ourselves to a sustainable standard. But it is a continuing challenge; there is no end of opportunities for spending on worthwhile projects. We must stay the course, the recovery from the recession is still tentative and many things could cause a rapid drop in economic activity. Hence, an increased reserve is a valuable protection that we should maintain. But we should not leave a large portion of it in unrestricted status, subject to be spent without specific voter approval. It is too great a temptation to indulge in a grand project or purchase. My priorities are targeted returns to taxpayers, infrastructure maintenance and improvement, especially at the Howelsen complex, and to make a modest improvement to the downtown public safety facility, while a new fire station is built west of town.
Open-ended statement: My commitment to serve in city leadership has its basis in doing things differently. Not to say throw out the system and start over, only to make common-sense reforms to create a positive experience for the citizens in their relationship with the government of their town.