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Meet the trustee candidates

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On April 5, Carbondale residents will have elected three candidates to serve four-year terms on the Board of Town Trustees. Additionally, current trustee Ben Bohmfalk is running unopposed for the mayoral seat. Materials submitted by the nine candidates have been edited for length. Learn more about each one at the forum hosted by The Sopris Sun and KDNK on March 16 at Town Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. The forum will also be live broadcast and streamed on YouTube.

Ben Bohmfalk (mayoral candidate)

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I am a lifelong educator and public servant who is ready to lead Carbondale as your next mayor. I moved to Carbondale with my wife, Megan, in 2002 to start our teaching careers in local public schools. We immediately knew we had found a place to call home, and we thrive on the deep sense of community we have built here. In almost 20 years as a Roaring Fork Schools teacher and instructional leader, I’ve honed my skills in facilitation, listening, leading and learning. I’ve served as chairman of the Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission, mayor pro tem and trustee. I spend my free time playing music with friends, skiing with my 14-year-old son and enjoying Carbondale’s events, trails, rivers and local businesses with my family.

Why are you running?

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I’m running because I care deeply about Carbondale’s future and I believe I have the experience, temperament and skillset to bring people together to build on our strengths and address our challenges for the next four years. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in the six years I’ve served on the Board of Town Trustees, and I look forward to continuing our work toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

The role of the mayor is less about my policy agenda and more about my commitment to a fair and inclusive public process that will lead to good policy outcomes for the town as a whole. The best decisions are made when every voice is heard and every idea is considered. I will do everything I can to ensure that our entire community can be informed about and involved in the decisions we make over the next four years. We will continue to enhance our communications strategies and get creative in how we engage the public. I will lead public meetings with an open mind and respect for all points of view.

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2022 presents an historic opportunity for Carbondale to build on its strengths and address its challenges. The Comprehensive Plan Update will give us clear guidance on specific strategies we can implement now. Town revenues are still modest compared to other communities in the valley, but are stronger than ever, enabling us to do things we were unable to do before. The Town Center land donation and new state funding for affordable housing provides the means to do something concrete about housing. With a relatively new town manager, mayor, and chief of police, we have leaders open to new ideas with a drive to make progress toward our goals. As mayor, I will seize on these opportunities so we can look back at this moment and be proud of what we accomplished together, as a community.

You can find out more about me and my positions on specific issues at www.benbohmfalk.com

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Erica Sparhawk (incumbent)

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I was born and raised in Carbondale, graduated from Roaring Fork High School and first ventured into the wider world by attending Colorado State University. I traveled and worked in South America before taking a job in Montana with the Northern Plains Resource Council, a nonprofit that fights to protect land and water from the impacts of coal bed methane development. 

In 2009, I moved back to Carbondale with my husband and daughter to be closer to family and work at Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), where I’ve spent 12 years promoting energy efficiency and alternative energy in the area. In January 2022, I became the CEO of a new company founded with my brother, Forrest Fulker, and long-time friend, Jake DeWolfe. My work on the Climate Action Tax ballot initiative in 2016 and experience with local governments supported by CLEER compelled me to apply for appointment to an open seat on the Board of Town Trustees. After being appointed in February 2017, I went on to win the election in 2018 for my first full term as a trustee. I find rejuvenation coaching soccer, hiking, mountain biking and going on river trips with family and friends.

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Why are you running?

We need to continue to tackle the big issues by protecting the climate, identifying ways to add more affordable housing units within and around town limits and fighting to keep Carbondale the funky, welcoming place we all love. Growing up in Carbondale and now raising my daughters here, I bring an important perspective to the board. A lot of the best ideas come from our community members, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with them to find solutions. It’s important for the town to look for innovation and creativity when tackling tough issues, and that we listen to our residents and the expertise they bring.

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Photo by Summers Moore

Luis Yllanes (incumbent)

I was born in Miami, but raised in Lima, Peru, before returning to Miami when I was seven years old. I attended college at Rochester Institute of Technology, where I earned a BFA in Fine Art Photography. My career began at the Miami Art Museum (now the Perez Art Museum). I also served as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Twelve years ago, I moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to work at the Aspen Art Museum, where I was promoted up through the organization and most recently was their chief operating officer. Late last year, I was hired to lead 5Point Film Festival as its new executive director. Since moving to the Valley, I have volunteered with various organizations including KDNK, English in Action and Carbondale Arts. I was appointed to the Board of Town Trustees in August 2017 and was subsequently elected to a four-year term in April 2018. In my free time, I enjoy snowboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing and gardening. I currently reside in Carbondale with my wife and two children.

Why are you running?

I am running for re-election because this is the best community I have ever lived in. I know that may sound simplistic, but it is truly how I feel about this town. While it may not be perfect, and there are a myriad of issues and challenges ahead, it’s amazing to see how passionate the community members are in their pursuit of wanting the best for Carbondale. Having had the honor of serving one term, I have a better understanding of how local government operates and where I can truly serve the residents of the town in the best way possible. The recent donation of land to the town inspires me to want to serve a second term, to assure that we leave a legacy of diversity and equity to keep the spirit of Carbondale alive for years to come.

Chris Hassig

I moved to Carbondale in 1991 at age four and have a picture of my grandfather on top of Pyramid Peak from 1937. I share my grandfather’s love of the Elk Mountains — in flower, foliage or snow. I’m extremely privileged to call Carbondale and these mountains home and to feel such rooted gratitude toward a place and community. I have made a living as an artist here for the last ten years and have always looked for ways to engage with and contribute to our amazing community, whether that’s at First Fridays, through Dandelion Days, Mountain Fairs and Potato Days, at KDNK Community Radio — where I currently serve as the board’s vice president — or at S.A.W. (Studio for Arts + Works), where I currently have a studio. I hold a BA in Architecture and Environmental Studies from Middlebury College in Vermont and have long had a passion for sustainable, human-centered design. I will bring knowledge, resourcefulness, humility and deliberation to the role of representing the people of Carbondale as we work together as a community to ensure a resilient future.

Why are you running?

I care deeply about the unique character of Carbondale and feel called to meet this moment for our community. I have a long-term perspective on our town’s development history, governance and culture. I am realistic about what the town can do with a limited budget, but I believe that the prime challenges of our time — climate change, corporate predation and social discord — become reality at the local level and require both a more visionary and practical response. I look forward to helping the town protect our environment and core values, addressing problems that affect our vulnerable community members and expanding upon the foundation of creativity and diversity that give our town its unique and wonderful identity. We have threats and opportunities before us — how the town responds and takes initiative is important to our long-term resilience.

Photo by Siri Raitto-Rochowiak

Zane Kessler

I am best known in Carbondale for my work as executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, where we advocated on behalf of local ranchers, environmentalists and recreational users to protect the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale. I now work as the director of government relations for the Colorado River District, “to protect West Slope rivers and keep our water on the Western Slope.” I have nearly 20 years of experience working with boards and commissions on local, state and federal policy issues, including seven years as a United States Senate staffer, where I managed policy and outreach initiatives in the agriculture, infrastructure, energy and natural resource arenas. My wife, Lucy, and I can often be found chasing our toddler around Sopris Park or enjoying a drink on Main Street after a mountain bike ride.

Why are you running?

I have had the pleasure of visiting all of Colorado’s 64 counties over the course of my career and I’ve never found a community like Carbondale. My wife and I often remind ourselves how privileged and blessed we are to be raising a family in such an amazing place. But we also recognize that maintaining a community takes work. Carbondale is also facing many significant challenges that we will need to address in the coming years. My work running the Thompson Divide Coalition taught me that when we come together, as a community, no challenge is too big for us to tackle… so long as we tackle it together. I would be honored to continue working for Carbondale’s land, water and people as a trustee. If elected, I commit to working with all community members to find unique solutions that bring us together.

Colin Laird

I’ve been a Carbondale resident since 1999, raised two kids here and engaged in many community and regional initiatives throughout the years. These include: affordable housing and transportation, coaching soccer, serving as a planning and zoning commissioner for Garfield County, co-founding The Sopris Sun and co-founding the Third Street Center.

Why are you running?

1. To create more affordable housing at the local and regional levels.

2. To ensure the ongoing livability of Carbondale. New development needs to be done as wisely and sustainably as possible to preserve the quality and livability of our unique community.

3. To increase the resilience of our community. We need to be doing much more to improve our resilience and plan ahead on issues such as drought, wildfire, climate and the economy.

Learn more www.colinlairdforcarbondaletrustee.org

Frosty Merriott

My wife, Carly, and I moved here with our four-year-old daughter, Shiloh, in 1998 from Silverthorne. Shiloh attended Roaring Fork High School and is now a nurse in Denver and worked two years at St. Anthony’s during the COVID crisis. My wife is the office manager for J. Frost Merriott CPA, which is now in its 24th year of operation. We attend the Orchard Church.

Having always been a community activist, my first public service was on Carbondale’s Environmental Board in 1998. I later served on the first elected River Valley Ranch Executive Board and was appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission for four years while serving on the Carbondale Economic Roadmap Group. I was elected (not appointed) to the Board of Town Trustees in 2008 to complete a vacant two-year term. I was later elected two more times, serving until 2018, when I was term limited. I am currently a member of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Executive Board and the Town Environmental Board.

Why are you running?

I want to keep Carbondale the special, even spiritual place it is. My concern is that we are overburdening our infrastructure and we are not providing housing for our key workforce. I believe that every policeman, fireman, teacher, town employee and City Market employee who works here should be able to afford to live here. I’d also like to see the Climate Action Plan and Environmental Bill of Rights factor more substantially into development decisions with a focus on sustainable growth. Also, there needs to be someone on the board with financial expertise to match the wit of developers. Let’s continue to work to keep Carbondale the special place it is, and not a Willits 2.0.

Colin Quinn

I moved to Carbondale with my family in 2016 to be closer to my wife’s family in Basalt. Previously, we lived in Mozambique for almost three years. I was working with the U.S. Agency for International Development to help coastal communities prepare for climate change. We were excited to move back to Colorado and become part of the Carbondale community. Professionally, I lead the Climate Change Team for the Africa Bureau for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In Carbondale, I have served as chair of the town’s Environmental Board since 2017 and, through volunteer work, helped establish the Mountain West Climate Services Partnership with the Aspen Global Change Institute. I received a PhD in plant ecology from Colorado State University and an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. I enjoy traveling with my wife, Erin, and have had the opportunity to live in several great places and countries, such as Fort Collins, Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Mozambique, Panama and New Zealand. I enjoy time with Erin, our two kids, Wyatt and Ruth, the local recreation and lifestyle offered in the Roaring Fork Valley and our town’s uniqueness and strong sense of community. 

Why are you running?

I want to make sure that as Carbondale grows and changes it keeps the small town character that makes it special. I don’t want to look back in ten years and not recognize where we live. We must have a community where the people who work here can thrive and afford to live here. This means evaluating development and change to fit the characteristics and values of Carbondale. We also need to be prepared for climate change and natural disasters. Lastly, we live in a multicultural town, with people from many backgrounds living and thriving. This makes our town a vibrant and a great place to live. We need to have the gender, age and cultural makeup of our town represented on decision-making bodies, as entrepreneurs and in leadership positions.

Jess Robison

I was raised in the Roaring Fork Valley and attended public school in Basalt from Kindergarten through 12th grade and then went on to the Front Range to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. After college, I returned to the Valley and settled in Carbondale with my family. I am a Carbondale homeowner and business owner, raising two children with my spouse. I have spent many years volunteering for local organizations and have over a decade of board experience — municipal advisory boards, HOA boards and preschool boards. I am a Roaring Fork Leadership graduate and am active in our community. I own a local construction consulting and general contracting business and am passionate about how to solve development and land use challenges. Carbondale is my home and this community holds my heart. 

Why are you running?

I am running for local public office because I want to serve my community. I also want to show my children what it looks like to step up into positions that aren’t always easy. I believe that the political discourse, locally and nationally, has shifted in the last decade to one that breeds division. My hope is to encourage a political narrative in our town that fosters engagement, moderation, equity and inclusion. I have watched politicians pack up their personal agendas and sell them to the public in order to get elected. This doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that our democracy was built on a foundation of public service, rather than personal agenda. My goal is to be a conduit from the public that I serve, to the government that serves them. I want to hear what Carbondale residents hope for in their community.

Tags: #Ben Bohmfalk #Board of Town Trustees #candidates #Chris Hassig #Colin Laird #Colin Quinn #election #Erica Sparhawk #forum #Frosty Merriott #Jess Robison #KDNK #Luis Yllanes #Zane Kessler
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