Something is stirring down the valley. From the rising stakes of current events to migration, Eagle and now Gypsum are reporting high rates of participation in municipal government.
More civic engagement in local government is undoubtedly a good thing, and could reflect the fact that residents of Eagle and Gypsum no longer see their towns as “bedroom communities” that provide housing for working people. in the upper valleys, local officials said.
“It’s good that people want to serve and make that connection,” Eagle Town clerk Jenny Racow said. “To me, it’s community service, serving on the board…it’s like a civic duty.”
Racow has served as Eagle Town Clerk for seven years. Prior to that, she held the same position for Gypsum City for a decade. For a long time, she felt lucky to be able to live and work in the lower valley, as she saw many others making long journeys and bus transfers in order to maintain employment and affordable housing, a- she declared.
Now things have changed, she says. Certainly in Eagle, but also in Gypsum.
Historically, municipal elections in Eagle and Gypsum have been a bit mixed, Racow said. Sometimes the municipal elections called for a good harvest of candidates; other times elections were called off after cities received only as many nominations as there were open seats, she said. This was the case for the town of Minturn ahead of its upcoming spring elections.
Gypsum and red cliff will hold elections in odd years on April 5 this spring.
According to Eagle County Clerk Regina O’Brien, spring municipal elections and special district elections are not conducted by Eagle County, but rather by cities or districts under their codes or laws. . However, these elections still use the same voter registration lists maintained by the county, so she urged voters to check their voter records to make sure their information is up-to-date.
In Gypsum, five candidates are running for three seats available this spring, according to City Clerk Becky Close.
Incumbents Lori McCole and Bill Baxter are up for re-election. Scott Green, David Fiore and former Council member Marisa Sato are seeking three seats.
More notable, however, is that Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver is being challenged for the first time in more than 20 years, Close said.
“People are showing up to board meetings more,” Close said. “I think the pandemic has given us all a lot of time to think about where we live and our communities and what changes we want to see. And I just think coming out of the pandemic, people are hungry to get to work.
“Gypsum is full of hard working people. So if people want to see something change, they go for it,” she added.
Rakow said she was ‘not really sure’ why local participation in government was trending up, but speculated it might be an increased level of allegiance and commitment. community.
In other words, more than ever, residents consider Eagle and Gypsum their hometowns – not just the places they call home, but places worthy of their time and investment.
“I think people really like the lower valley experience,” Racow said. “I think they really do, and I think they want it to continue.”
That’s not to say this investment didn’t exist before, because it did, but perhaps cities are achieving an ideal blend of the wisdom of longtime residents and the renewed energy of newcomers, said Racow. At least that’s the case in Eagle where the opinions of seasoned veterans like Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed or City Council Member Mikel “Pappy” Kerst outweigh those of new residents like City Council Member Janet Bartnik. .
“Relationships here have grown to the point where (new residents) are bonding with the people on the board and maybe talking about it too, ‘you should do this, you have some great ideas,'” Racow said.
Gypsum’s slate of candidates is full of candidates who have been in the city for a long time, Gypsum Town manager Jeremy Reitmann pointed out, leading him to believe that population growth has not had a direct impact on their decision to show up.
“Everyone who runs, to my knowledge, has been here for a decade or more or their entire lives, so I don’t see any participation from people new to the community,” Reitmann said.
Tina Medina, the mayoral candidate facing Carver, spent part of her childhood in Gypsum but lived elsewhere for much of her adult life before returning about seven years ago.
“I think Mayor Carver has dedicated 20 years to this position, and that’s absolutely admirable, and I think he’s an incredible person, and I have the utmost respect for him,” Medina said in an interview with the Vail Daily. “I’m just coming from a vantage point where I just feel like a new vision of how I can help facilitate and connect the growth of my community through increased community engagement and involvement of our community , while also bringing diversity.”
Medina acknowledged Gypsum’s history as a “dormitory community”, but said “it’s time for a change”.
“I think Mayor Carver and I are very aligned that way. We really want to try to create more jobs in Gypsum so that the community can work, live and play in Gypsum and not have to travel to Vail to work, to Avon to work,” she said.
The wheels of this change have been in motion for at least the past 10 years, according to data from the 2020 US Census.
During the last decade, most of Eagle County’s growth has been downriver, while towns in the east end of the county reported reductions in population size, the data showed.
Eagle and Gypsum populations increased by 15.4% and 24.1%.
“Eagle and Gypsum are growing,” said Amy Keeley, who manages Eagle County’s geographic information systems department. “There have been developments since 2010, new neighborhoods.
This was evident in the municipal elections in Eagle last fall when nine candidates ran for four vacant seats on the city council, many of whom had migrated to the city over the past five years or so.
When it comes to that level of civic engagement, “we’ve pushed hard for it and it’s finally happening,” Racow said.
She, along with Reitmann and Close, were hesitant to draw a straight line between this trend and the immense population growth the regions have experienced over the past 10 years, because many other factors are at play.
With the pandemic, it can come down to “the simple fact that people have had time to read. People had time to read the paper and get involved in local affairs,” Close said.
“Gypsum would like to create more of a 9-to-5 atmosphere where we have a workforce that stays here locally, shops here locally and eats here locally…” she said. “We want to grow responsibly and we want to grow so that we can serve everyone effectively.”
Regardless, population growth and increased civic engagement are positive signs that both towns will continue to emerge from their former identities as bedroom communities, Racow said. Her hope is that the two trends will feed off each other in a way that creates new possibilities for the whole region, and she uses her role to make sure that happens.
“A lot more people work and live here, so they see more. They have more time to do it,” Racow said. If commutes are getting shorter and shorter for more of the population, “that gives you more time to stop by town hall, go to a meeting, or watch a meeting. And then you might even think, ‘Hey well, I can do it, I can attend a few meetings a month.’
“It’s a little harder to do if you go home from work uphill at 6 p.m. when the (city council) meetings start,” she said.
Eagle has seen more people come forward, not only in the last election cycle, but also for the last two city council appointments after the death of Adam Palmer and Andy Jessen in February 2021.
The two open seats solicited 19 applications last year, although Racow said the city generally sees more candidates for nominations because the process is not as intensive as running for office.
This increase in the number of Eagle residents participating in their local government has manifested itself not only at the level of the mayor and city council, the city’s only elected officials, but also through interest in other city committees. .
Entities such as the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Advisory Committee on Green Spaces and Recreation or the Advisory Committee on Marketing and Events have received more applications than ever before. Candidates for these committees are reviewed and then appointed by the city council. Advisory committees help city council members make decisions by weighing in on their respective areas of expertise, Racow explained.
“I would consider most (committees) of great interest,” she said. “They even increased the number of people on these just to include more people due to interest. I mean, it’s hard to say no to someone who wants to participate in local government.
“We want to hear their voices because the worst thing that can happen is decisions being made and people saying they didn’t know or didn’t have a chance to give their opinion,” she said.
Close and Racow encouraged residents of both towns to contact them to learn more about the different ways they can get involved to bring about change in their communities.
“People feel empowered,” Close said. “We are blessed to live in a democracy and this is real democracy at work at a small town level.”