EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The desire to seek public office has been bubbling for a while now inside Dale Nelson. This is the year that urge bubbled to the surface.
Nelson thought about running for Eagle County commissioner in 2008, out of anger about the way he believed the county was being run.
"That's not the place to come from, though," he said.
This year, Nelson, an unaffiliated voter, is one of three candidates seeking to replace District 1 commissioner Peter Runyon, who can't run for office again due to term limit restrictions.
Nelson's running as an independent because that's the way he's voted for nearly a dozen years.
"I couldn't in good conscience join a party to do this," he said. Besides, he added, there are thousands of unaffiliated voters in the county. Circulating the petitions to get his name on the ballot was even more encouraging.
"I talked to people who are as far on the left or the right as you can get, and they signed," he said. "They told me, 'We can work with you.'"
But running as an independent has its disadvantages, too, particularly when it comes to organization and fund-raising.
So Nelson is knocking on as many doors as he can this fall. "And I always carry lots of business cards," he said.
Focus on the economy
While Nelson is happy to talk about subjects small and large, the economy is the overriding reason he joined the race, and he talks at length about what county government should be doing to get cash and jobs flowing again.
Part of Nelson's answer is cutting back on county regulations that require worker housing for new developments. Nelson also believes the county should look into actively recruiting companies to relocate here.
"If we can bring in a few companies a year that employ 10 or 15 people... If that's a possibility, shouldn't we approach it?" he said.
New blood for the economy could also cut down on the number of homes for sale in the valley, Nelson said. That, in turn, will help property values. And that's the way the county's policies should work, he said.
"Boards often make decisions based on property values," he said. "I'd prefer to ask how (a policy or project) will affect the community. If that happens, property values will fall into place.
Better property values ultimately mean more money in the county's general fund, and whoever is elected this fall will have to deal with a 2014 budget that's expected to have less money in the county's accounts. Nelson said that budget will be a tough one to draft.
"The county's done a reasonable job, but belts will have to tighten again," Nelson said. Nelson said he'd hate to see any more layoffs, but added that balancing the budget may require either layoffs or pay cuts - something that should include the county commissioners.
"I think it makes more sense to keep more people on at lower amounts," he said. And, Nelson added, the county may have to dip into its reserves in order to maintain services.
A big focus on the economy has to include tourism, of course, and Nelson said the county has a role to play.
Nelson said Fruita has trailheads with campgrounds to access mountain biking terrain there. The county should work with the town of Eagle to provide similar amenities - and work with other communities to help build tourism elsewhere, he said.
"The county can work on infrastructure, and let businesses do the rest," he said.
Nelson said the county ought to be as pro-business as the town of Vail has been over the past several years. That includes supporting an international terminal at the county airport, and looking at proposals with a "small business" mindset, he said.
But, Nelson added, not every business will succeed, and not every proposal is worthy of support.
"Development has to stand on its own merit," he said. "You need to look at all aspects of an issue, then make the best decision for the county."
What about open space?
A decade after voters narrowly approved a new property tax to establish a dedicated fund for open space, the issue has become part of this year's campaign. Nelson is among the critics of the program.
"I voted for the program," Nelson said, before adding that he'd prefer to see the funds used more for access and recreation.
"The Eagle River Preserve was sold to us as another Ford Park," he said. "But the list of things you can't do there is longer than the list of what you can do."
While it's too late to change the contract governing use of the land, Nelson said it should have included space for athletic fields and other recreational uses.
Nelson added that while he's in favor of recent purchases of property with river access, he believes the county paid too much for the property.
Ultimately, he said, he believes the program has been mismanaged.
"We need to hire people to manage it properly," he said. "If I continue to see mismanagement (as commissioner), that may be a reason to vote again."