Matt Scherr: Community is my jam
Democratic District 1 Eagle County Commissioner incumbent views job through community-building lens
According to incumbent Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr, community is his jam.
“Though my path to becoming a county commissioner was winding, in hindsight, I couldn’t have planned a better one,” reads the first sentence in the “About Matt” section of his election website.
Shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Scherr began work at the Vail Leadership Institute. While working there he developed a vision statement for his life that proclaimed, “I foster community though leadership and relationship.”
Years later, after serving on the Minturn Town Council and as Minturn mayor along with gigs as the executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and as development director for Castle Peak Senior Life, Scherr was chosen from a field of nine candidates to fill the Eagle County commissioner vacancy created when Jill Ryan left the job to lead the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
As Scherr sees it, building community means making sure all voices are heard and all residents can participate in the process of government.
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“We need people not to engage in finger-pointing but rather to look at issues in an expansive way,” Scherr said. “I try to be that type of leader. I often fail and I try to use those moments to learn.”
Scherr said his career twists prepared him for the diverse challenges Eagle County faces.
“Through those experiences I learned the critical importance of community, the tremendous potential of individuals to contribute to that community, and the essential need to enable every person to realize that potential,” he said.
Community and COVID-19
A central question is a vital part of how Scherr views his work as a county commissioner: How do we live as a community? It’s the lens through which he looks at issues ranging from land use to county budgets. And it definitely directed his work during COVID-19.
“As a community, we’re lucky in that a lot of things happened as they did,” Scherr said. “Before it ever hit, and it hit here hard and fast, Vail Health was in a position that few other facilities were. As a community, we had incredible partners in important places.”
Early on the county commissioners earmarked $1.5 million for COVID-19 assistance and worked to support a robust testing program.
“Our public health and emergency management teams quickly contained the virus spread. Our communications and digital transformation teams created clear and accessible guidance to our community, with many strategies and tools duplicated across the nation. And each of us in our community acted to protect all of us,” Scherr said. “As we continually learn more about COVID, we continually adapt to protect both our community health and our economy.”
Eight months after the global pandemic hit the local economy, Eagle County has been honored for its COVID-19 response. This month, the Center for Digital Government presented a COVID-19 Response Special Award to Eagle County, a program that recognizes state, local and federal government agencies and departments for innovative and effective methods of response and assistance to employees and residents coping with the pandemic.
COVID-19 was obviously a challenge for Eagle County, Scherr said. Residents were forced to rely on local food banks to feed families and on assistance programs to pay rent when jobs evaporated. Businesses scrambled to keep their doors open. But the pandemic also presented an opportunity.
“Is has shown a light on some of our social and economic systems,” Scherr said. “It showed that we have done a poor job of translating economic opportunity into quality of life for all.”
Reinterpreting land use
Evaluating land use applications is one of the biggest jobs that a county commissioner has. As he approaches that duty, Scherr believes in an expansive approach.
An economic growth-centric model is generally applied to land use policy, not only in Eagle County, but also in jurisdictions nationwide.
“The idea is you simply create monetary value and everything else takes care of itself,” Scherr said. “But ultimately, that doesn’t take care of everybody. It only takes care of the people involved with the transactions.”
He said that’s why Eagle County has an affordable housing gap, lack of child care options and expensive health care.
“The business community is telling us the problem is many things we in government consider to be a safety net. But it’s not a safety net. People can’t get to work because of these issues,” Scherr said. “We have been treating these issues as government services for people who have challenges. To me, this is the wrong way to look at it. This is economic infrastructure for our community and without it, we aren’t market-friendly reign and we aren’t business-friendly.”
Scherr believes there is also a correlation between good environmental practices and good business.
“We have a responsibility in Eagle County to get out in front of things we haven’t in the past,” he said.
Scherr believes Eagle County needs to decide now what it wants to be — how to diversify its economy and protect its quality of life.
“Government’s job is to create the opportunities. We are the farmers, not the seeds. And if we are going to solve our problems, we are going to need all the community,” he said.
To learn more, visit http://www.mattscherr.com