County commissioner profile: Chandler-Henry wants to working regionally for jobs, economy
Kathy Chandler-Henry says county government is just the right fit.
“County government is a perfect level of government. State government is much more removed, more remote. County government is the front line, and people are not shy about telling you what their ideas are,” she said.
She has her own ideas, of course, built around collaboration with other governments and businesses. The region works better, she says, when we work together.
“Towns and counties should learn to ignore jurisdictional boundaries and collaborate on as many things as possible,” she said, as ours is a regional economy.
“Economic development, jobs and housing are all regional issues,” she said.
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On the other hand, as the economy grows people will be again competing for workers. Collaboration can also be reached on things like police service, health services, wildfire mitigation and open space. Pitkin County, she pointed out, has poured lots of money into acquiring open space in partnership with Eagle County. And while we’re collaborating, she represents the county on boards that are watchdogs for Western Slope water.
“The Front Range keeps talking about new water supplies, but there are no new supplies. What they’re really talking about is transmountain diversion,” Chandler-Henry said.
“Their growth over there has to be fed from somewhere, and it’s important that the headwater counties protect these watersheds,” she said.
Many issues roll back around to money and how people want their county government to spend it. That means a healthy and broad business base, she said.
“Some of the big issues revolve around economic diversity,” she said. “How do we go from construction and real estate to something that has more stability, something that doesn’t follow such a boom and bust cycle.”
You start with business retention and expansion, taking care of the ones you have.
She said we also should strengthen the things we’re good at — things like recreation, entrepreneurs and trying to attract “lone eagles,” professionals who are not tied to a corporate location. Medical tourism is another possibility the county should pursue, she said.
When the recession hit, 6,000 jobs flew away.
“Those were largely good paying construction jobs,” she said. “People are looking for a more steady economy. Not such boom-bust cycles.”
We’ll do well to keep additional flights coming into the Eagle County Regional Airport, she said.
“The county’s part in airline guarantees is almost like a revolving loan fund,” she said. “It takes two or three years to get a flight profitable. Once it is, you roll that money into something else.”
She said the Houston summer flight has been a great success.
Chandler-Henry is a data analyst, both by profession and nature, a skill that served her well when county officials were figuring out where to put money to jump start airline routes. You figure out where the biggest concentration of second homeowners live and give that added weight in your analysis.
She said she runs into people all the time who are thrilled that flight was added.
“Second homes are job generators,” she said.
She’s a small business owner — Black Diamond Research and Brush Creek Electric Inc. — and served as president of the Eagle River Watershed Council, held research and teaching roles at Colorado Mountain College, served multiple officer and board positions with local nonprofits and is consultant to the Economic Council of Eagle County.
The campaign trail
This is Chandler-Henry’s first county commissioner campaign but to say she has never campaigned for public office is absurd on its very face. She topped a field of a half dozen qualified Democrats all vying to succeed Jon Stavney, who resigned as county commissioner to become Eagle’s town manager. Chandler-Henry got the nod.
Her first few weeks were a trial by fire. Her first vote was to approve the Wolcott community. Shortly after she voted to deny Habitat for Humanity’s request for 16 townhomes. Both were emotionally charged proposals with people arguing passionately on each sides. Chandler-Henry said she listened carefully.
There’s still much to do, she said.
The senior care center the county helped spearhead is an example of collaboration with the towns. Backers raised $4.4 million in less than a year, which will keep it affordable for clients on Medicare.
The county needs around $12 million to complete its ECO Trails system, a recreation path that would run through Eagle County.
“If the trail was completed, you could ride from Breckenridge to Aspen, and that could help drive summer tourism,” Chandler-Henry said.
She’s a fourth generation Coloradan and Eagle County native, and a product of the local school system. She and both her sisters were valedictorians of their Eagle Valley High School graduating classes, and all three were selected for a Boettcher Scholarship, Colorado’s highest high school academic honor. Chandler-Henry’s daughter was also selected for the Boettcher Scholarship but passed to take a scholarship to Duke.
Her dad was with the FAA at the Eagle airport for 20 years, from 1957 to ’77, and said she has experienced first-hand what an economic driver the airport can be. Her mom went to the first nurse practitioner training in Utah, and worked with doctors Tom Steinberg and Jack Eck as the fledgling Vail ski resort was getting its feet under it.
She said that lifetime perspective is what she brings to the county commissioner seat.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.