Dillon council loses longtime member
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
DILLON ” When Ben Raitano and his wife, Flo, bought their house on Dillon’s West LaBonte Street in 1990, they could sit on their porch and look north toward Ptarmigan Mountain at an expanse of undeveloped land owned by the Denver Water Board.
“You’ll have a great view,” Raitano recalls being told. “They’ll never sell that land.”
Today, that parcel of land holds one of the busiest commercial areas in Summit County ” the Dillon Ridge Marketplace. When the Water Board realized it could monitor water levels in the Dillon Reservoir by satellite, it no longer needed the terrestrial vantage point located on its Dillon property. The land was sold, and, before too long, City Market moved in.
The development of Dillon Ridge is just one of many changes Raitano has witnessed since he moved to Summit County in 1982. And this spring, for the first time in nearly two decades, he’s watching these changes from the perspective of a private citizen.
The term limit law finally caught up with him.
Since 1988, when he was elected to the Town of Dillon’s Board of Trustees ” there was no town council in the days before Home Rule, Raitano has spent a total of 17 years on Dillon’s governing body. Elected to several four-year terms on the Town Council, and appointed to a number of partial ones, he said the law now requires him to stay off the Council for at least four years.
So, for now at least, Town government will have to move forward without Raitano’s stabilizing presence and knowledge of historical context.
“I’ve always looked to him for explanations of why previous councils did certain things,” Dillon Mayor Barbara Davis said. “He’s been a tremendous asset to the council.”
As important as his voice has been during the last two decades, Raitano said he fell into politics initially more by accident than by design.
Originally from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Raitano met his future wife, Flo, at Creighton University in Nebraska, where he majored in psychology. When Flo ” a Colorado native ” attended veterinary school in Colorado State University, he followed and trained to be a master electrician while she studied. Flo eventually came to work at the animal hospital in Dillon, and the couple found their way to Summit County.
Raitano remembers the Dillon of the early 1980s as a town with an uncertain future.
“The streets were still dirt when I first moved here,” he said. “There was even talk of the town becoming unincorporated.” At the time, the marina was operated by a private individual who spent little on maintenance and development, and with no Dillon Ridge, the Town didn’t collect much in the way of sales tax revenue.
By 1988, Raitano and his family were living in the apartment attached to his wife’s veterinary practice and Flo was serving as mayor. He ran for his first elected office ” that of Town Trustee ” at Flo’s urging.
“My wife didn’t like any of the other candidates and she talked me into it,” he remembers. “She’s very persuasive.”
One thing led to another, and, except for a short hiatus in the early 1990s, Raitano has been a fixture on the Town Council ever since ” and had a front row seat to watch the one-horse town move into the 21st century as a prosperous municipality.
With characteristic modesty, he takes little personal credit for his electoral longevity.
“They weren’t getting too many people that wanted to be on the council,” he said.
“And I didn’t have any particular agenda. That’s why people liked me.”
Serving on the council for so many years has given Raitano a unique and knowledgeable perspective on some of the major changes in Dillon.
On City Market’s move from Silverthorne to Dillon: “Silverthorne says we stole them, but we didn’t. They’d already signed the contract to move when we heard about it. They were coming, whether we liked it or not.”
On the U.S. Post Office relocation from the town center to Lake Dillon Drive: “We didn’t want it to go there. We thought it was a terrible space, but they were talking about going out to Summit Cove. The post office was what brought everybody into town. When it moved, it really hurt the downtown.”
On suggested revitalization plans for the town core: “We need a developer that can do several things at one time ” more than just one business. We need foot traffic. With new building owners there are things coming up now. There may be a chance for change.”
On the character of Dillon’s population: “We still have the same mix. There are people who want to improve things, and then there are people that don’t want to change anything. They moved up here and they don’t want anybody else to.”
On 17 years in public office; “It’s been an enjoyable time: good people to work with and a lot of strong personalities. You have to have a thick skin. Maybe it helped that I grew up in a family of nine kids.”
With his Tuesday evenings now free, Raitano reckoned his position as chief engineer at the Great Divide in Breckenridge will keep him plenty busy for the time being.
“I think I’ll take a little break (from municipal government),” he said with a smile.
When asked to make a final comment about his years of public service, he directed his remarks to his fellow citizens.
“I would encourage anybody who’s interested in the future of their town to pay attention to what the town government’s doing,” he said. “You don’t have to run for office ” just find out what’s really going on.”
While expressing the hope that Raitano will eventually agree to serve Dillon in some other capacity, Davis admitted the soft-spoken councilmember’s departure has been a loss for the town.
“We always learned from Ben,” she said. “We’ll truly miss him.”
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