Local elections matter, and this year is no different for the Town of Erie. The stakes may not seem as high as they are for presidential elections, but local elections are consequential. Voters have the opportunity to elect candidates that can vastly improve the conditions of the town’s infrastructure. And the campaign stances of each candidate are the earliest sign of who is willing to do the work.
Erie’s municipal election is on April 5, 2022. It will be conducted as a Mail Ballot Election. The ballot drop-off location will be Town Hall located at 645 Holbrook Street, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. Voters will have the opportunity to choose three trustees, a new mayor, and decide on a slate of issues that could impact the town’s future. Some of the issues include expanding the town’s economy, making sure the town’s budget stays balanced, and making sure Erie’s continued growth doesn’t overwhelm the town.
Yellow Scene Magazine put together our annual elections guide to help introduce voters to this year’s candidates, some of whom have probably knocked on your door already. We asked them the same set of six questions sourced from you, the voters. The questions covered topics such as oil and gas operations; masks in schools; and diversity, equity, and inclusion training. We also asked the candidates about how they will continue Erie’s economic development and whether the town should become a home rule municipality.
YS is not endorsing any candidate or any of the views presented here. We have earned a reputation for asking the hard questions and know that community journalism is committed to keeping our democracy intact.
Candidates who chose to participate in this process sat for an interview with YS staff. Their responses to these questions have been condensed from their original transcripts for efficiency of space and should not be taken as a total representation of a candidate’s views. They are instead meant to provide a broad overview of how the candidates answered each question.
Justin Brooks – Mayor
Background: Brooks is running for mayor. He was appointed to the board of trustees in December 2021 to fill a seat left vacant by the resignation of Bill Gippe in October. He has a professional background in defense and aerospace engineering and holds a master’s degree from Penn State.
Economic development: I’ll continue existing partnerships that serve to reinvest in the businesses that are already in Erie. I’ll also work with the town’s economic advisory board, as well as the local downtown Erie Business Association and the Erie Chamber of Commerce to support business mentorship and resource sharing so that new businesses can grow and thrive. One issue I have consistently heard from startups is that navigating the permitting and licensing processes is challenging. So I will work to make them more efficient, including making some of them electronic. I also support increasing mixed-use developments around downtown to help curb the recent growth in the prices of commercial real estate for businesses. We need to find creative ways to make space more available. Part of that solution is providing more affordable workforce housing so folks can live near the places they work.
School masks: I think the governing bodies of schools should be able to set their health and safety standards. For public schools, that is the school board and the county health department. For private and charter schools, that is the board of directors. I also think that parents that send their kids to those schools can make their own decisions about what it is they like for their children. However, I don’t believe they should be allowed to exempt themselves from any local laws that are on the books.
DEI: I support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training because I believe that having a more diverse workforce, government, or team at any level, leads to a more positive outcome. Diversity creates solutions that are representative of more people, all of whom come from different backgrounds and cultures, and so on. I also believe that providing equity training pulls back the veil of understanding on some of the divisions we see in our community today. The bottom line is it comes down to how we’re willing to treat one another if we’re willing to respect one another. And we’re really willing to truly invest in one another as humans.
Oil and gas: Erie have always been a resource town in the sense that we were a coal mining town, then later we added natural gas and farming, and now we’re shifting more into a residential and commercial area that happens to sit on top of these oil and gas operations. I think the town has also taken meaningful steps to address this issue as well, including updating our Uniform Development Code and adding air quality monitoring systems. But oil and gas companies do have rights to extract resources from our soil, just as the residents who purchase their homes have the right to live safely in their homes. And so we have to work hard as a government to create a balance where both can coexist.
Home rule: I support Erie becoming a home rule municipality. It will give Erie voters the ultimate say about whether our town provides any variance from the state’s laws and standards. As a town that has grown significantly in the past few years, I think it is important for Erie to take control of our own fate. Becoming a home rule municipality could also help us benefit from special excise taxes like a lodging tax or recreational marijuana excise tax. But, the process requires a lot of participation from the voters, and if they don’t engage then they could end up with a result that they feel is out of line with their expectations.
Bipartisanship: We are far more similar than we are dissimilar. Sadly, we have seen recently, things that are not really political arguments turned into political arguments. Things like the mask mandates and what to do in the face of a pandemic became political when it really should not have been. And I think that the left versus right politics really comes down to decency and kindness. If you’re willing to be decent, you’re willing to listen, and you’re willing to voice your opinion, then people usually arrive at some level of common ground.
Kelly Zuniga – Mayor
Background: Zuniga is running for mayor. She currently chairs Erie’s Planning Commission and is a parks and recreation planner for the city of Loveland. She also holds a PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder in urban planning and helped Erie organize the Kenosha Farm Community Garden in 2014.
Economic development: Diversifying Erie’s economy is incredibly important to the long-term wellbeing of our community, and when you talk about supporting existing businesses, I think of attracting primary employers. If you think about the kinds of experiences for the towns around us that have strong commercial centers, you have a primary employer that draws all the people to it. Just look at how Google benefitted Boulder. While Google is a lot bigger than the kind of companies I think we should be attracting, we have a lot to offer like our educated workforce and amazing location. We also have to preserve our commercially zoned lots for businesses rather than eating away at them with multifamily and mixed-use developments. These lots are invaluable for Erie businesses.
School masks: The decision whether to set school safety standards or force students to wear masks is generally not something that is in the purview of a town government. While I love the idea of schools setting their own standards, that is above local politics. I will add that mandating the things that people have to do feels like an overstep to me. It’s not because I don’t think that people should wear a mask. It’s just that it’s none of my business whether they wear a mask, and I think that people will make good decisions for themselves and for their families.
DEI: I think that DEI begins with people knowing each other and the struggles that we’re having. But it can be difficult to get to know your neighbors in a quickly growing town like Erie, especially when so many people spend a lot of time outside of it. I also think this has to do with some people saying we are divided when we really have disagreements of opinion. I also don’t think it is one of the roles of government to be teaching people how to think or speak.
Oil and gas: I think we’ve already resolved this. Based on Senate Bill 181 and other recent updates to our Unified Development Code, we won’t be seeing much oil and gas in Erie. But I want people to realize that having energy diversity is a really valuable thing. Many people have natural gas furnaces, stove tops, and water heaters. These can help you cook your food and keep your pipes from freezing when the power goes out. As far as future residential development goes, there are regulations like the drilling setbacks in place to protect households from future oil and gas developments. But we do have to think through the implications of our policies and our programs and our legislation. We have to allow options to exist. There are already regulations in place, and adding another layer is unnecessary.
Home rule: The decision to go home rule should not be based on the size or the number of residents. It has to be based on our town’s maturity. I think the biggest disadvantage to adopting a charter is that it would give elected officials and administrators too much power and that bypasses citizen consent. We would be giving additional power to people who are already making decisions based on what they want, not what the residents think is best. Before we move toward home rule, we need to adopt regulations for town staff, especially those in the finance department and create a stronger economic base.
Bipartisanship: I think we need to understand that the mayoral position as the trustees positions are nonpartisan. I think we don’t need to take extreme positions on issues, we need to look at what the real problem is, we need to consider the implications of any policy program or legislation that we’re introducing, both for current residents and for future residents. We need to talk openly without defensive or dogmatic discussion. An educated public can make much better decisions than when it doesn’t know what’s happening in town government.
Christiaan van Woudenberg – Town Trustee (incumbent)
Background: Woudenberg is an incumbent candidate up for re-election to Erie’s board of trustees. He is the editor-in-chief of Erie Protectors, which keeps the community up-to-date on local oil and gas activities. He also holds an advanced degree from the University of Colorado Denver in computational biology.
Economic development: The key to attracting and bolstering downtown business presence is the downtown Urban Renewal Authority. Now that we’re getting additional revenues into that URA from the Erie Commons building and other developments, they’re able to do things like help Birdhouse, 24 Carrot, and 105 Wells get into their buildings and make the improvements. By the time we start building up from the ground in Town Center, we will have a healthy and thriving economy down Briggs Street, and frankly, Kattell Street as well. That’s really going to cement that downtown area as an entertainment district where you can go grab a coffee and have dinner and attend the concert. We also need to invest in business incubator programs and work to improve our airport. It’s a very multi-pronged approach.
School masks: I don’t think schools should have the authority to set their own health and safety standards. I think that belongs squarely with the public health department. And that brings up the unique but slightly different composition of Erie where we are splitting between Boulder County and Weld County. I think that some of the divisiveness that we’ve seen over the past two years has really been about Boulder County taking some very protective measures up until recently and Weld County doing the opposite. So I really do feel that boards of health in the county are responsible for the health and safety of all of us whether we’re working at home or at school.
DEI: I vigorously support the DEI efforts that the town has undertaken. It is such an important thing that really came to a boiling point with the Black Lives Matter movement and is a very present topic. Representation matters. And it’s so important for us as a society to recognize where we have our privilege to dismantle those power structures so that we can have an equitable and just participation by people from all races, religions, colors, and creeds. By having candid conversations, we can learn to treat each other with kindness.
Oil and gas: There really is no balance between oil and gas or residential development. I tell every developer when they come to the town of Erie that they have a choice. Either they can operate in the oilfield, or they can help build a thriving community. They cannot have both. Without exception, every single developer now offers to plug and abandon all of the producing wells on their site before a single home is sold. And that, to me, speaks very much to the change in the conversation and an understanding of the cumulative health impacts of oil and gas development. We have to aggressively move toward a just and equitable transition to renewable’s future.
Home rule: I’ve recently become more hopeful about the process of becoming a home rule municipality. Where I am today is that 93% of Coloradans live in a home rule municipality, so if you moved from somewhere else in Colorado to Erie, then you probably came from a home rule municipality. We also need to dispel some of the myths around home rule such as it being a power grab by the current board of trustees. Home rule is not a mechanism designed to raise taxes but is a mechanism whereby we can recognize what makes us different and celebrate that and charter destiny as a community that will ultimately be 70,000 people.
Bipartisanship: For me, it’s about leading by example. It’s about being true to my oath of office, to represent the residents of the area, and to do what’s right. And the struggle sometimes, most often, to separate the loud voices from one side or another and really incorporate that into what you know to be true for the bulk of Erie residents. And that really is a nuanced conversation. Being a scientist at heart, I really embrace that notion that you’re allowed to change your opinion when presented with new evidence. And that’s such an important thing for me to hold true. That is, in no small part, why I ran for office to begin with and why I’m running for re-election.
Dan Hoback – Town Trustee
Background: Hoback is running for a seat on the board of trustees. He has a long and storied professional background in international finance management and holds a master’s degree in the subject from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Economic development: I think developing the town and its businesses should go hand in hand. Many businesses are compatible and work well together. So, it’s not about attracting new businesses to the detriment of existing ones. I don’t think bringing in additional businesses is preempting us from working with existing businesses. Instead, I’ll work to improve the application and permitting processes and reduce fees. There is also limited commercial space downtown, so we also need to expand on that and refurbish what we can.
School masks: School districts have always had the right to set their health and safety standards. These districts also span multiple jurisdictions, multiple towns, and multiple counties. I think they have to have some of their own rules, and I don’t see a problem with that.
DEI: I support DEI being trained in schools, businesses, governments, and other institutions. The company I work for requires us to go through the same training every year. I think it’s very important to an increasingly divisive society, and we’ve got to bring everyone together, and DEI training is a part of that.
Oil and gas: I think a big step was taken last year when Erie updated its Unified Development Code. There’s currently very little planned as far as drilling or fracturing operations. So I don’t see it as being a particularly large issue in the near future. I think the reverse setbacks will also accommodate whatever it is that comes our way. I honestly think it’s an issue that’s largely going away. But we’ve got to make sure our neighborhoods are safe to the greatest extent possible. This includes stripping the land, removing old equipment, and that sort of thing. Oil and gas companies need to be held accountable to restore land to original condition as much as possible.
Home rule: For a while, I was on the fence, but I am in favor of transitioning to home rule. I think it’s time, and there are benefits to coming out from under the wing of the state. Erie voters could define our town and set new land use and tax rules. We’re getting to the point where we might have a hotel and could possibly have a lodging tax associated with that. I just think it’s time. We’re big enough. I’m not aware of any compelling pitfalls to becoming a home rule municipality either.
Bipartisanship: I don’t find political ideology to be part of true government, at least on the level of a town like Erie. I try to treat everyone with respect to speak, to speak respectfully, and return kindness with kindness. I also expect people to revert back to figures and actual data as opposed to beliefs and ideologies when pursuing something that’s going to impact the rest of us. Being on a town board is not about me. It’s about what is best for the constituents and what they say they want.
Emily Baer – Town Trustee
Background: Baer is running for a seat on Erie’s board of trustees. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Front Range Center for Assault Prevention for 16 years and is also on the board of trustees for the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans.
Economic development: I love the charm of our downtown and want to make sure that we maintain that character. I also think that the business owners who are already down there are the experts on what’s next and how we can enhance the downtown experience. Hopefully with some practical thinking, we can do a lot of things in downtown. I’m also excited to work with the Downtown Erie Business Association and the Erie Economic Development Council to see what things have been planned and what ideas they have. I think there’s a lot of pressure on our small business owners right now, and Erie needs to do better to attract larger employers to town.
School masks: School districts already have set health and safety standards, like requiring students to be vaccinated by kindergarten. And even when my daughters went off to college, they had to get a hepatitis shot to be up to date on everything. So yes, I do think that these safety standards should be required in order to maintain our health and safety.
DEI: I support DEI training because I think it’s important for the general community. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I think DEI can help us better understand our neighbors, our community, and our implicit biases. I think DEI can make us better neighbors and better employers. It’s really important.
Oil and gas: Oil and gas in Erie is here, I hope that the steps that we have taken have ended neighborhood drilling because we have seen that there are serious health impacts from neighborhood drilling. My family was impacted by oil and gas development here, and I think the updates to our Article 12 and the air quality monitoring agreement the town entered into are important steps to protect our residents. We have to continue to be planful and thoughtful about future housing developments as well. That’s why I support increasing air quality monitoring around new homes.
Home rule: I support Erie becoming a home rule municipality. I think it’s an important step for us to be able to have a sustainable budget and to be really on our own and make choices that make sense for our town. I’m excited about the prospect of having a resident-elected commission that writes a resident-written charter that addresses things that are important to residents here in Erie. I would also like to see additional support put in place for our town staff as we mature into a home rule municipality. This would really help them tackle the different challenges that come with the new responsibilities.
Bipartisanship: It’s really important to me that we are creating a culture in Erie where people feel safe, seen, heard, valued, and respected. That is a bedrock for me in my life. I have a lot of compassion and patience for people and understanding that we’re all coming from a different angle. And really leaning in and hearing people is important to me. I want the people of Erie to feel valued enough to want to invest in the town, and I think we do that by creating spaces where people feel like they can engage with the town in a civil manner.
Jeff Haverkate – Town Trustee
Ryan Kenward – Town Trustee
Background: Kenward is an Air Force veteran and program management professional with deep experience in executing national defense programs. He also spent time abroad earning his MBA in South Korea while studying international business.
Economic development: As someone once told me, Old Town is the heart and soul of Erie, and I couldn’t agree more. But a few stable businesses have closed recently, which leads me to believe that Erie can do better for its businesses. We have the potential to create a tech center like the ones in Louisville and Lafayette. We also have a lot of budding entrepreneurs in Erie. So we need to focus on building the right kind of environment for them rather than hitting them over the head with costs and fees. The goal is to diversify our economy by bringing in more businesses to help the town grow sustainably.
School masks: I don’t really have an opinion about whether schools should set their health and safety standards because they operate under the jurisdiction of the state and local health departments. I would like to see us come back to make parents equal stakeholders in their children’s education and the environment that they’re in all day. As for the mask mandate in Erie, I honestly think that the best thing would have been to just stay neutral on that and let each county decide. Instead, the county imposed Boulder’s restrictions, and it created a divisive environment.
DEI: I think the intention behind DEI is good, but I’ve noticed there seems to be a lack of focus on diversity of thought. When I think of diversity, I think of incorporating a wide range of views and making sure that everyone is heard, and no one is marginalized. You can have all sorts of people, but if they all think the same exact way, you haven’t really achieved the diversity that is meaningful in a company or in a community to challenge each other. I think we need to get back to that point where we can compromise again and remember that we’re all neighbors. We don’t need to be hostile towards each other.
Oil and gas: First, we need to give credit to the work that’s already been done to regulate oil and gas in Erie via Senate Bill 181 and the updates to our Unified Development Code. I don’t feel like it’s a partisan issue that people don’t want that stuff in their backyard. But these companies are simply moving to unincorporated Weld County to extract the same resources, and we’re not capturing that revenue. Green energy is certainly a noble goal for our community, but the reality is that we’re not ready to fully switch over yet. We’ll get there, but in the meantime, let’s make sure we’re not cutting off our nose to spite our face.
Home rule: I think it could make sense to move to home rule but not right now. Erie hasn’t had very balanced growth recently. Residential growth has boomed, but our businesses have lagged. I think there are a lot of benefits that can come from home rule like setting our own taxes, but we can’t reap those benefits without a diverse business base. The other part that concerns me is the cost. We’re already maxing out space in town hall, so we would need to build a new building to house the larger government. And there are other associated costs, too. So, I don’t think it’s the right time to move to home rule.
Bipartisanship: I think that it’s important to remember that elected officials serve at the will of their constituents. That being said, it is a very divisive time. I think we really need to pull back some of that national division and get back to just focusing on Erie and doing what’s best for our town today. I’m from the school of thought that I don’t have to agree with someone all the time, that we can agree to disagree, or we can find compromise. I think there are a lot of people out there that think that way too.
Andrew Sawusch – Town Trustee
Background: Sawusch is running for a seat on Erie’s board of trustees. He currently serves as a planning commissioner for Erie and helped create Community Before Politics, an informational medium that helps business owners navigate the challenges created by COVID-19. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado Boulder.
Economic development: There’s the saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” So, if we are able to bring more businesses to the Old Town and downtown areas, everyone would benefit from the increased foot traffic. As a trustee, I would continue working with many of the business associations that focus on downtown to increase space for new businesses to move in. I would also work to simplify the application and permitting process, so new businesses can open much quicker and easier. We also need to bring down the price of commercial real estate in town. No matter where I’ve gone, I hear the same reprieve: It’s expensive to do business in Erie. Solving this problem will take a lot of community engagement, but it’s necessary to put our town on a path for future success.
School masks: The local health authorities are the only entities that have legal jurisdiction surrounding the health and safety policies of school districts. And that is exactly the only entity who should have the right to do so. However, just like the town, the school districts should be listening to their constituents, listening to the taxpayers, the residents in those areas to identify whether or not they agree with the measures being brought forward.
DEI: While I am very fortunate to call Erie my home, like Colorado as a whole, Erie is not the same diverse melting pot like where I grew up. DEI is important to Erie because it acts as a catalyst that provides others with the opportunity to share their insights and life experiences. As a town, we must ensure that every individual, no matter the reasons that uniquely make them who they are, is provided with the same opportunities to participate in town activities, to join in on conversations, and to share their own opinions or beliefs. So, in my eyes, the best way to improve our community for years to come is to create a forum for active dialogue to be open and receptive.
Oil and gas: The town has already addressed this issue over the last two years. Because of the updates to our Unified Development Code and Senate Bill 181, we have a clear-cut, defined boundary between oil and gas operations and occupied properties, whether that is commercial or residential. The expectations for developers are clear, such as the setbacks for plugged and abandoned wells and the reverse setbacks from existing operations.
Home rule: I do not believe we should move to home rule at this moment. The biggest reason that individuals will try to say we need to move to home rule is because we are the largest statutory municipality in the state. That alone, in my eyes, does not warrant whether or not we should or should not move to home rule. There are too many items that the town has not addressed under our current statutory powers that would warrant or necessitate us to move to home rule, and there is too much distrust currently in those at town hall as well as with the previous board of trustees. There are some benefits such as being able to levy our own excise taxes, but there are many items we wouldn’t be able to change because they are set by the state.
Bipartisanship: The individuals at town hall are the leaders of our town, and it’s important for the board of trustees to be the voice and the stewards of the residents. However, just like in everyday life, it is very common and very healthy to have different views or opinions on various topics. This is where teamwork does come into play. It’s about collectively discussing the pros and cons of various issues, coming up with solutions that are the best for the community. It takes speaking with all the individuals, the town staff, and all the various departments, so that everybody can be on the same page. And just as it takes discussion, it takes collaboration, and it truly takes a teamwork mentality.
First financial reports: