In March of 2020, Republican Carrie Couey was appointed to serve as Garfield County’s treasurer after Karla Bagley resigned. Aron Diaz, running as a Democrat, asserts the appointment of Couey, former county chair of the Republican Party, was “partisan cronyism” and he aims to unseat Couey this November.
Key duties of the county treasurer include tax collection, tax investment and running the public trustee office. The Sopris Sun spoke with each candidate individually; this article weaves between their responses to the same basic questions.
Couey, a Valley resident since 1989, has lived most of her life in Western Colorado and has six children. Her experience includes “a significant amount of cash management,” bookkeeping for construction and estimating work proposals for construction. Couey has an accounting degree and a master’s with a specialization in public and nonprofit management. She has served on state-level commissions and boards and helps operate a family-owned cattle ranch.
Aron Diaz is a fourth-generation Garfield County resident who, after graduating from Rifle High School, studied at the University of Colorado and initiated a career in public policy as an intern for Republican Russell George at the Colorado General Assembly. Diaz went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration. Other work experience includes as executive director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, public sector services representative for Waste Management, launching a marketing and multimedia company in Rifle and his own political consulting business.
Diaz has been endorsed by both Karla Bagley and Georgia Chamberlain, the two past elected treasurers with over 30 combined years of experience in that office. He has experience working with both the state Republican and Democratic parties and was a town trustee in Silt from 2014 to 2018 where he was chair of the Silt Urban Renewal Authority and the town’s representative to the Colorado Municipal League.
Since her appointment, Couey said, her favorite thing is working hands-on with the public: “To make something that’s not necessarily a tax payer’s favorite thing (paying taxes) as comfortable as possible and less confusing.” She counts among her achievements the “seamless” recovery of $5.8 million in back property taxes with Ursa Resources declaring bankruptcy. “We recovered every penny and managed to keep relationships with the companies that were involved intact,” she said.
Diaz disputes that Couey can take credit for that. “As part of their bankruptcy filing, [Ursa] listed Garfield County as its number one creditor,” he explained. “That would have had to get cleared up before Ursa could sell to Terra [Energy Partners].”
Couey also managed the office during COVID, “when there were really no answers to the questions,” and her brief stint has coincided with “the highest number of releases of deeds of trust on record” while maintaining “very good cash management and very good audits and also very high collection rates.”
“Both Georgia and Karla were getting close to 100% anyway,” continued Diaz. He is motivated to serve as the county’s treasurer in large part because he doesn’t agree with the appointment of Couey. “I think it was a wrong decision,” he said. “I think there are other people that would have been more qualified.”
In response to Diaz’s claims of cronyism, Couey said “there were a few applicants for the job, there were three chosen to be interviewed… I have deep respect for the other two people… I know they also know all three commissioners. … Ultimately, I was chosen because I have a degree in accounting… not sure if meeting qualifications is a partisan issue.”
Diaz considers the accounting degree “a misplacement of what the job duties of the treasurer are,” which, he explained, is primarily an administrative office. “I’m running on four main things,” he continued: to end partisan cronyism, to increase transparency about the treasurer’s duties, to improve the customer service experience, to implement best management practices (with a massive change in the way people are looking at work, post-pandemic).
If elected, Couey would continue her work to move all foreclosures online, a process she plans to begin in November. Also, improving payment options with text reminders to pay bills, online statements and more payment options like Google Pay and Apple Pay. She considers the greatest challenge facing the county whether foreclosures pick up or not. Moreover, a tighter economy may pose challenges “not just for the treasurer’s office, but for all the offices countywide.”
Wise investment will be paramount, said Diaz, who is frustrated to see how advisor managed assets and county managed assets are being allocated, with “as high as $12 million not gaining interest” in a Wells Fargo account last year. “She’s taken money out that should be reinvested,” said Diaz, understanding that while that may have been the strategy during COVID, it “needs to adapt.”
In regards to divisiveness, Couey said, “From my particular position I don’t care what somebody’s personal set of beliefs are, when they walk in the office I treat them the same regardless… I think we need to model that behavior.” She concluded by saying, “I would like people to know they can call the office if they have questions… we’re happy to provide answers… we want everyone to feel comfortable using our services.”
“My political conversion has happened over a long time,” Diaz told The Sopris Sun. “Russel George was a great Republican, he had people’s interest at heart. … Over the years, I’ve seen that party grow more and more extreme to where policy didn’t matter.” In 2016, Diaz ran against Garfield County Commissioner John Martin in the Republican primary, “to give Republicans another option.” He later ran a coordinated campaign with the GarCo Dems in 2020, unaffiliated at the time. “I’m not going to let partisanship dictate my positions,” he said. “I do believe government should be as small as it needs to be to effectively serve the community it’s meant to serve, and it should do that as efficiently as possible with the best trained and best supported staff as possible.”
Learn more about Carrie Couey at www.carrie4garco.com
Learn more about Aron Diaz at www.diaz4treasurer.com
Outside of her work for Garfield County, Carrie Couey and her husband operate a nonprofit that takes veterans hunting and fishing. She also loves and adores her family “beyond anything.” Courtesy photo
Aron Diaz is a self-proclaimed movie buff, liable to chip in with famous one-liners during conversation. He has done stand-up comedy, likes to travel and “get really nerded out about history.” Courtesy photo