Kathy Chandler-Henry: Calm but passionate leadership
Incumbent Democrat believes county government shines during challenging times
Incumbent Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry doesn’t deliver fiery speeches or engage in loaded rhetoric.
“What does the county need right now for leadership? I think we need calm,” she said. “I am passionate, but I am not loud. But I think, right now, calm is a good trait.”
Between a global pandemic, the economic uncertainty related to it and a dangerous wildfire season, events of the past few months have been jarring. But Chandler-Henry is proud of Eagle County’s nimble response to these upheavals. It’s a demonstration of what the Eagle Democrat believes is the best arm of government.
“Because you live in the middle of all of your constituents, you know all the people you are working for,” she said. “We are not big government. It is people trying to do the right thing, people trying to make this a better place to live. That feels like important work to me.”
Chandler-Henry is a hometown girl.
“My dad worked at the fledgling Eagle Airport as an FAA air traffic controller and, for a time, my mother was the only medical provider in town,” reads her biography.
Chandler-Henry graduated from Eagle Valley High School and left the valley to pursue her education and launch a career. But she and her husband George returned to Eagle and it’s where they raised their son and daughter.
“There were 800 people in Eagle when I first left and there are 6,000 now,” said Chandler-Henry. “But it still feels like Eagle.”
Her desire to make sure that Eagle County remains a great place to live is one of Chandler-Henry’s “guiding stars.” Her other priorities are economic resiliency, environmental stewardship and responsive government. These central goals are what motivated her to apply for the commissioner vacancy created in 2013 when Commissioner Jon Stavney resigned his seat to become Eagle Town Manager.
This is Chandler-Henry’s third election. She ran in 2014 to fill out the remaining two years of Stavney’s term and for election in 2016 for her first full term.
“Serving as your county commissioner has been the honor of my life,” she notes on her campaign website. “Together we are tackling big challenges and building some of the best quality of life in the West.”
Land and water
During her commissioner tenure, Chandler-Henry has earned recognition for her extensive work on water issues. Her website includes a list of her hands-on efforts. She serves on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board and is chair of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/Quantity Committee.
Chandler-Henry passionately believes that land and water are a vital part of Eagle County’s soul and protecting those resources not only preserves the quality of life but also the local economy.
“There are big demands on our watershed and that is going to play a huge role in our future,” she said. “Water may well be the limiting factor for growth.”
On the topic of growth, she noted the county is working to streamline and simplify its land use regulations. She said the motivation for that work is to ensure a fair and open process while also protecting local values.
“We are getting some help from an organization called Community Builders to make sure we talk to all segments of the community and think about the future,” she said. “I do think we can keep our quality of life, rural spaces and character and still welcome people in.”
Chandler-Henry, her fellow commissioners and county government as a whole have been battled-tested this year as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region hard and early.
In March, the county led the state in the number of COVID-19 cases per capita. The county responded with early public health orders to address disease spread and an aggressive communications plan. The county developed its Five Commitments of Containment and enlisted residents to make a pledge to follow them.
But the county knew it had to do more, Chandler-Henry said. “People had rent due and they needed to go to the grocery store,” she said. The county earmarked $1.5 million for a COVID-19 emergency fund and partnered with local organizations to provide help. Federal COVID-19 relief money has since reimbursed the expense.
“It was a aggressive move and we were lucky we had good strong, reserves to fund it. We definitely thought this was a good use of reserves to help the people who live here,” Chandler-Henry said. “If you can’t pay your rent or going to the grocery store, you can’t stay here. Then who is going to take the job that will be empty?”
COVID-19 efforts remain a top concern for the county.
“I just think the county needs to stay the course,” she said. “With COVID and with the Grizzly Creek Fire, we upped our game.”
That increased effort didn’t go unnoticed. “The fire management teams dispatched here for the Grizzly Creek Fire were very impressed. They said they had never been able to come into a place and plug into a community system that worked so well,” Chandler-Henry said.
She believes that staying the course also applies to other county priorities such as economic diversity, community engagement and climate action. The county’s values of collaboration and civility are the building blocks for its future, said Chandler-Henry.
“I think that county government is the best at being responsive. There is also the ethic that if a someone calls you, it is your job to respond to them. That is what makes me the most proud of my work with Eagle County,” she said.
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