This November, Jefferson County voters have a decision to make on who will be part of the team that leads the county. Tina Francone, a Republican, is the incumbent. Running against her is Democrat …
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This November, Jefferson County voters have a decision to make on who will be part of the team that leads the county.
Tina Francone, a Republican, is the incumbent. Running against her is Democrat Lesley Dahlkemper who announced she would run for the seat in September 2017.
Both candidates have lived in Jeffco for 20 plus years, both have a background as a small business owner and both have held elected positions.
“Many of us live in Jefferson County because of what it offers,” Dahlkemper said. “We have a lot of challenges — and opportunities — ahead of us. We have to remain nimble.”
The two are vying for the county commissioner seat that represents District Three — the southern part of Jefferson County, but it is voted at-large. The person elected will serve alongside Republican Libby Szabo, who is chair of the Board of County Commissioners, and Commissioner Casey Tighe, a Democrat.
Francone was appointed to the seat after Donald Rosier, who was term limited, vacated it early. She was sworn in on Feb. 6. Her background includes serving as the Regional Transportation District (RTD) director for District N.
Dahlkemper has served as a volunteer on a number of community boards and commissions, and was elected to serve on the Jefferson County Board of Education. She was its president from November 2011 to November 2013 then as a board director until November 2015.
As an elected official, both Francone and Dahlkemper believe taking the time to listen to their constituents' concerns is an important characteristic of a county commissioner.
The public comment portion of county commissioner meetings shouldn't be the only opportunity that community members have to address their county commissioners, Dahlkemper said. Commissioners should attend open houses and other public events so they are available for the residents, she said.
Francone agrees, adding she tries to make it to every event she's invited to.
“I figure they're asking me to be there for a reason,” Francone said. “I try to be responsive and respectful to people's wishes.”
The two candidates also align closely on dealing with many issues the county faces — financial health, managing growth and preserving the quality of life, for example.
Balancing growth and quality of life
“Trying to preserve the quality of life while managing growth is not a new problem,” Francone said. “We've learned from previous experience that being thoughtful with managing growth is important to preserving the distinct characters of our communities.”
Dahlkemper adds that one can't have a conversation about quality of life without talking about maintaining great schools, open space and libraries.
“The work begins by talking with the community and finding out what their priorities are,” Dahlkemper said. “We want to make sure our budget reflects those priorities and community values.”
Jeffco's financial health
County commissioners are concerned about being good stewards of the taxpayer's dollar, Francone said.
“Government has a place and a role in providing for the constituents,” Francone said, “and so does the private sector.”
With the county's budget, it's important to prioritize spending responsibly, Francone added.
Both District 3 candidates agree that some priorities for spending include public safety, transportation and property rights.
Housing and affordability in Jeffco
There are some issues that need to be addressed collectively so that everyone in Jeffco has an opportunity to earn a good life, Dahlkemper said.
“I feel very strongly about working with partners to ensure we don't price our first responders, teachers, seniors, young families out of Jeffco,” Dahlkemper said. “Everyone should have access to safe, affordable housing in Jefferson County.”
Francone believes that exploring alternative forms of housing, such as tiny homes, may be one way to address the housing shortage in Jeffco.
Both candidates agree that attracting good jobs makes for a strong economy in Jeffco.
“Recruiting and retaining businesses keeps our community sound and vibrant,” Francone said.
While Francone and Dahlkemper are in agreeance that congestion is an issue that needs attention, some of their approaches related to transportation differ slightly.
“As a county, we need to look at multiple modes of transportation,” Dahlkemper said. Multi-modal transportation is the ability to commute by car, bike, light rail or bus. “It's important to have lots of transportation options.”
Francone believes that although it's great to offer multi-modal transportation options, “we are a car-driven society. I'm an advocate of fixing existing roads and reducing congestion on them.”
“Bike lanes are a nice amenity, but shouldn't take priority,” Francone said, adding some people use their bikes more for pleasure rather than transportation.
She also points out that public transportation runs well in places with a higher density of population, but still, a “vast majority of people don't use public transit” and consider it a plan B option for their transportation needs.
As for the Jefferson Parkway, Francone is a “big proponent,” believing it will bring housing and business opportunities to that area of the county, in addition to helping to reduce congestion.
Dahlkemper notes that the Jefferson Parkway is “a viable option to address transportation” needs, but “there's still a lot of factors to explore as it moves forward.”
Some of these are, she said, public health, safety and the public-private partnerships.
Dahlkemper believes WestConnect is a “promising initiative” that does well with addressing some of the county's transportation issues.
While county commissioners don't have a direct responsibility with education —control of Jeffco school board's budget or how it manages its business, for example — both District 3 candidates believe education is an important issue.
“Supporting all forms of education is important, and that includes charter and vocational schools,” Francone said. “Parents should have options for their children's education.”
Workforce readiness is another issue involving education and both candidates believe that although there are good initiatives underway — Francone points to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport's pilot program as an example — there's more to be done.
“That pipeline connecting high school and junior colleges to the workforce and career is a way for people to get a job and support themselves and their family,” Francone said.
Dahlkemper is also an advocate for giving “kids a strong start in school” and noted that commissioners do have an active role with Jefferson County Head Start, a no-cost income-based preschool/early education program.
Also related to education, Dahlkemper points out that county commissioners approve both the district attorney's and sheriff's budgets. If elected, Dahlkemper stated that she would support requests from these offices that directly affect children and family services, such as funding for school resource officers and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program.
“We have to work tirelessly to keep our kids safe at school,” Dahlkemper said.
On party affiliation
Both Dahlkemper and Francone noted that it's not about being Democrat or Republican when it comes to leading the county.
“It's about getting the job done for Jefferson County,” Dahlkemper said.
“I'm not here to keep a seat warm,” she said. “I'm here to work. There's a lot to do in Jefferson County.”
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