Candidates tackle questions at forum

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The League of Women Voters noted the 2013 Littleton City Council election will feature an “all male” slate on the “all mail” ballot.

At-large candidates Bruce Beckman and Bruce Stahlman, the incumbents, and challengers James Dean and John Watson met in an LWV forum at Bemis Library Oct. 9 to face questions from community members, less than a week before ballots will go out in the mail. They were joined by District 1 candidate Randy Stein and District 3 incumbent Phil Cernanec, both running unopposed.

Although the topics ranged from retail marijuana to government transparency, most of the discussion surrounded growth, development and economic stability.

Asked about the recent upswing in interest from apartment developers, most candidates said each project should be judged individually, and the goal should be a balance of residential and commercial. But Watson, a developer himself, came out swinging against multifamily projects.

“Apartments don’t pay their own way,” he said. “Every time we take away a plot of commercial ground, we kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

On the question of whether the city should hire an event planner as proposed in the 2014 budget currently under review, only Stahlman expressed unequivocal support.

“We’ve talked broadly about doing a better job of telling Littleton’s story,” he said. “We’re on a continuum.”

“I just hate to see government getting away from doing its intended job,” said Watson, saying the priorities should be infrastructure and public safety.

“I couldn’t agree more, except for if I were to apply for that job and get it,” said Dean. A Trailmark resident, he thinks the money would be better spent on more efficiently connecting his neighborhood, just north of Chatfield Reservoir, to public services like fire rescue and police.

There was general agreement that extending the moratorium on retail pot as council recently did was a good thing, though Dean said he’d rather just make it permanent.

“I don’t want to be the city where all the marijuana dispensaries come to,” he said. “I don’t necessarily oppose medical marijuana, but it’s not what I want in my community.”

Watson disagreed, saying he didn’t want to run the city’s four existing medical-marijuana dispensaries out of town by not allowing them to sell retail.

“I’m just not going to tell them they’re not in business anymore,” he said.

With an initiative on the ballot that would limit council’s use of closed-door sessions, the question of transparency arose. Most everyone said there could be better lines of communication, but Beckman went further by saying he doesn’t think his positions are always communicated well by the city.

“I’m very concerned about this,” he said. “I think it has created a significant divide out in the community. I’m critical of city council, city management and our city processes right now.”

Watson helped get the initiative on the ballot, and referenced the sudden dismissals of the last two city attorneys with no public explanation from council.

“That’s not appropriate,” he said.

“I worry that the implication is that lack of transparency translates to ill-intent,” countered Stahlman. “We’re not trying to overtly pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”

“I feel very badly that there’s a lack of trust,” said Cernanec, while arguing that should the transparency initiative pass, council’s ability to negotiate could be hampered.

Dean, a political newcomer, acknowledged that council requires some privacy to do its job, and made the distinction between transparency and clarity.

“I think the public has a natural suspicion of politicians, and if there isn’t a clear connection, the suspicion grows,” he said.

Stein, a fourth-generation Coloradan, said a priority in his campaign is to reduce some of the disharmony he’s seen creep into Littleton of late.

“I think the issue is really communication,” he said.

Each of the four at-large candidates tried to differentiate himself from the others during their parting comments. Watson stressed his development experience, and Dean talked about restoring common sense. Beckman says he understands the neighborhoods, and Stahlman says he’s all about quality of life.

“I think I speak for Bruce Beckman, too, when I say I would absolutely encourage you not to de-Bruce city council,” he said, drawing chuckles.

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