Breckenridge Town Council candidate forum gives voice to current council members and newcomers
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to state that council candidate Kristen Stewart is a former board member for CASA of the Continental Divide.
BRECKENRIDGE — Candidates for Breckenridge Town Council and mayor faced off Tuesday, Feb. 18, at The Lodge at Breckenridge ahead of the municipal election in April. The forum, which focused on growth in the community, was hosted by the Breckenridge chapter of the Summit Chamber of Commerce.
There were eight candidates at the forum who are running for four open Town Council seats, including Dick Carleton, Kelly Owens and Jeffrey Bergeron, who are running for reelection, and newcomers Emily Wahl, Dennis Kuhn, Harold Vatcher, Kristen Stewart and Jennifer McAtamney. Michael Cavanaugh was not in attendance.
All three candidates who are running for mayor were present: Mayor Eric Mamula, Nate Nadler and James Manella.
The forum began with each candidate introducing themselves and stating their experience and priorities, beginning with Mamula, who joked that he moved to Breckenridge in 1986 for a month and ended up staying “a couple extra days.” He noted that he has served on several local boards, the Breckenridge Planning Commission and Breckenridge Town Council.
“We’re in the middle of some great projects right now, including a parking structure and a water plant, and I would like to see those things through,” Mamula said.
Candidate Manella went next and shared his motivations behind running and his respect for the current council.
“I’m here because I believe that democracy demands that the citizens be given a choice when they vote,” Manella said. “It’s not easy to sit here next to Mayor Mamula, who I have a great deal of respect for and who I think has done a tremendous job.”
The final mayor candidate, Nadler, who introduced himself as Nate Dogggg Nadler, spoke to his 22 years in Breckenridge and gave props to the current council.
“As a true local, I wanted to become part of this and lead, not as a business owner, but as a true local that can have a voice for us little guys,” Nadler said.
Mayoral candidate questions
Mayoral candidates then were asked three questions, the first about the biggest challenge the town faces as the population grows and what they have done to address such challenges. Nadler said it is difficult to find a happy medium between visitors and the workforce, and he stressed the importance of mitigating traffic at peak times. Manella said the challenge is to keep community character and said parking and transportation ties into that. Mamula said there is not just one challenge to the community but there are several, including housing, child care and transportation.
Candidates then were asked about their leadership styles. Mamula said his has evolved to become a manager of council rather than a leader of council and that he has learned to not push his own agenda. Nadler drew on his experience as a chef and said he has learned to lead by example rather than with an iron fist. Manella said he is a good listener and has the ability to think critically about other people’s points of view.
The final question asked what candidates think the town can do to further support year-round residents and business owners. Mamula said that this is always top of mind for council and gave examples of what council has done for locals, Manella said that the town is in the business of tourism and is very successful in this but is doing everything it can to manage crowds and Nadler said that tourism is here, but the town needs to work on figuring out where to put people and get them to town happily.
Town Council candidates
Bergeron was the first council candidate to speak, sharing that he served eight years initially on council, took four years off, has served another four years and is running for reelection. He talked about his past career in the hospitality and media industries.
“Through it all — as a waiter, a bartender and then later as Biff — I was always active and outspoken in local issues,” Bergeron said, adding that he was a pioneer in advocating for limits on development and noting his work with the town’s Open Space & Trails department.
Carleton spoke to his 40 years in the county and community involvement volunteering for events, organizations and serving on several boards and committees, including the child care advisory committee and the police advisory committee. He also highlighted the importance of striking a balance with events, town developments and growth.
“After the last two years of serving on council, it’s really hit me just how important the work that we do is, just how important it is that we have a real depth of knowledge of the community to do it, and a willingness and ability to wear a lot of hats in doing so,” Carleton said.
Kuhn said that the issues that are front and center for the town are workforce housing, child care, parking, traffic, short-term rentals and the “feeling of many residents that we’re bursting at the seams.”
“My focus as a council person would be to maintain our small town sense of community and livability,” Kuhn said. “As we continue to grow, and grow we will, it needs to be smart growth because we only get one shot at it, and we need to get it right.”
McAtamney, who previously served an eight-year term on Town Council, spoke about her eight years on the child care and housing council task force as well as her work with sustainability on the original Sustainable Breck committee.
“I realize that while I have this incredible work that I am doing with my other time,” McAtamney said, referring to her role as executive director of Building Hope, “I more than anything want to do stuff for the people in my community. I want to make sure that families can live here. I want to preserve open space. I want to make sure that we balance growth and development. I want to make sure that we balance congestion.”
Owens discussed her work with council over the past year as well as her 10 years of experience “analyzing impacts of recreation on communities.” She noted that she has been on the board of Little Red Schoolhouse since 2014, became a member of the Summit County Planning Commission in 2015 and still serves on both boards.
“We have a big focus for their master plan on wildfire and wildlife habitat as well as short-term rentals, and so I’ve been a part of those conversations, which have been very helpful for my last year in council, and I hope that I get another four years to continue to provide my voice,” Owens said.
Stewart said she was formerly the head of public relations for Breckenridge Ski Resort as well as the Breckenridge Tourism Office and now owns a small consulting business, works in retail and at a ticket office. She added that she was formerly on the board for CASA of the Continental Divide, works with Building Hope and teaches a class for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“Today, I’m speaking for myself and others like me who are kind of the hustlers in town,” Stewart said. “I want to help people live this dream that we live here and live it well.”
Vatcher shared his involvement with the town, including attending council work sessions for the past seven years, being involved with the lift ticket tax initiative and serving on several boards and committees. He pointed out that he has a technology background to bring to the table.
“I’m an independent candidate,” Vatcher said. “I don’t own a business. I don’t own a real estate office. I don’t own anything. I’m just going to be one of those unbiased people that has an opinion, but it won’t be because I own a business. I’m retired. I’m available. I have the time.”
Wahl opened by stating her passion for being on Town Council and sharing bits of her childhood as part of an immigrant family. She said she went to Cornell University before entering the technology field and has spent the past few months meeting with residents and the workforce to get a “good handle on the issues of this town,” which she said include housing, health care, child care, fair pay, growth and environmental issues.
“I bring tremendous experience to the table,” Wahl said. “I’m compassionate. I’m committed. I’m a capable leader.”
The moderator introduced Cavanaugh, who was not in attendance, by saying he became a permanent Breckenridge resident in 1972 and has since been involved in town projects, including restaurants and buildings, and has served as a ski instructor, trustee for the town of Blue River and on the board of directors for the Breckenridge Finance Authority. He is also the longtime owner of the Historic Brown and Fox’s Den.
Council candidate questions
Each council candidate was asked about pressures on the town from growth, the most pressing issue and what they would like to address if elected.
- Wahl said that climate and managing the growth of the town are most pressing.
- Vatcher said the town should revert to the recommendations made by a consulting group hired by the town about four years ago to make recommendations to mitigate growth and congestion, which he feels have been largely ignored.
- Stewart said it is important to change the habits of locals and tourists to be more sustainable.
- Owens said the “sense of place” is changing and the sense of community needs to be prioritized by creating workforce housing and child care.
- McAtamney said the most pressing issue globally is climate change and that the community has the ability to make a difference.
- Kuhn said maintaining livability and a sense of community is most important.
- Carleton agreed climate change is most important globally while maintaining a sense of community is most important locally.
- Bergeron said the town needs to continue to allocate funds to make Breckenridge a livable community.
Candidates then were asked for their opinions on events. Bergeron said he thinks there should be fewer events, Carleton said the town needs to continue to invest in the Breckenridge Tourism Office, Kuhn brought up the issue of event fatigue, McAtamney pointed out that locals want fewer events, Vatcher noted that events drive tourism which creates funding for major projects, and Wahl commented that the town needs more family-friendly events.
Council candidates also were asked about their favorite characteristics of the town. A sense of community and the unassuming and caring nature of locals were resounding themes.
After the initial questions posed to mayoral and council candidates, the group was asked a series of questions to which they were allowed one-word answers, though some gave phrases.
The first question asked candidates whether they would support an increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour.
- Mamula: depends
- Manella: yes
- Nadler: depends
- Bergeron: considering it
- Carleton: properly
- Kuhn: possibly
- McAtamney: considering
- Owens: data
- Stewart: data
- Vatcher: information
- Wahl: properly
The second question asked candidates whether the town should ban plastic bags and bottles.
- Wahl: absolutely
- Vatcher: yes
- Stewart: yes
- Owens: immediately
- McAtamney: yes
- Kuhn: yes
- Carleton: yes
- Bergeron: yesterday
- Nadler: yes
- Manella: yes
- Mamula: yes
Candidates then were asked if Breckenridge needs another child care facility.
- Mamula: eventually
- Manella: ditto
- Nadler: yes
- Bergeron: yes
- Carleton: yes
- Kuhn: yesterday
- McAtamney: half of one
- Owens: data
- Stewart: data
- Vatcher: information
- Wahl: information
Lastly, candidates were asked whether the town should give up open space to build more workforce housing. There were mainly “noes” and “nevers” from the group, aside from Wahl, who said “information” and Nadler who said “halfsies.” Bergeron said, “over my dead body.”
Candidates also were asked whether employers should be allowed to impose guest-facing surcharges to pay their employees more. Most candidates said it should be the individual business owner’s decision.
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