Early Saturday morning, the parking lot at Westwoods Community Church in Lakewood was filling up. Inside, four candidates vying for two seats on Lakewood’s City Council prepared to speak to future …
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Early Saturday morning, the parking lot at Westwoods Community Church in Lakewood was filling up. Inside, four candidates vying for two seats on Lakewood’s City Council prepared to speak to future constituents.
But before the candidates got a chance to introduce themselves, current Ward 5 councilor, Karen Harrison, who is term limited and served as emcee of the event, passed the microphone around to all in attendance to introduce themselves. Nearly everyone in the room had lived in the ward longer than three of the four candidates — some by multiple decades. Harrison said she wanted the candidates to understand who they would be serving.
The candidates, Thomas Keefe, Wendi Strom, Michael Gunstanson and Mary Janssen spoke of their love for Lakewood and the qualifying experience they would bring to council as they introduced themselves.
Keefe, a history and political science teacher at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, who has significant public policy experience, displayed a firm grasp of issues facing the city.
Strom said her 20 years working in the financial services industry would serve the city well as it tackled tough fiscal decisions. Her main community level project experience was participating in the revitalization of a local playground. The endorsements page of her website is a veritable who’s who of local political and community leaders.
Gunstanson, who showed up late due to an issue with an escaped pooch, kept his introduction short and sweet, saying he wanted to bring back trust to a council that was making up the rules as it went along.
He said in his opinion the most pressing issue the city is facing is growth.
Janssen owns a photography studio with her husband, specializing in family and senior portrait sessions. She zeroed in on her support for Prop. 120 (reducing property taxes) as her main topic of concern — her website lists crime prevention and city infrastructure as her top priorities.
Each seat in the church had blank notecards for attendees to write questions on. The questions were intended to be directed toward specific candidates, but some were answered by all candidates, giving voters a chance to hear the different solutions each candidate proposed.
The first question centered on sustainability and the prospect of the city building electric vehicle charging stations, adopting the use of more solar energy and enacting tighter HVAC regulations.
In response, Keefe said federal American Rescue Plan funds could possibly go toward those things. In his opinion EV charging and solar fell in the “dreaming” category, placing their necessity behind things like rental and mortgage assistance and making sure the city’s reserve fund coffers are full.
Strom agreed the city needs to create more charging stations and it could possibly make financial sense to install solar panels on municipal buildings. She stressed the importance of thinking about long-term implications of spending.
Gunstanson gave the most full-throated endorsement of charging stations, saying the city should build as many as they can. He’s an advocate for converting the city’s vehicle fleet to electric and installing solar panels on city land.
Janssen said charging stations would be better left for people to install at their own homes. She questioned where the electricity would come from overnight when the sun wasn’t shining and told a story about her own negative experience with solar panels (installed by a previous owner of her home), causing her to have them removed at a large expense.
The second group question asked for the candidates’ position on a proposed homeless shelter that would be built on Sixth Avenue and Simms Street (a location in Ward 1 — well outside of Ward 5).
Strom said Jeffco needs more availability of beds for the homeless. She also stressed the need to combine shelter with wrap-around services to treat homelessness in a more comprehensive way. Keefe agreed with the need for wrap-around services for the homeless. Janssen said she didn’t “know anything about that area” but thought a homeless shelter would be “a good idea for people who want to use it.” Gunstanson said there’s no doubt the homeless population in Lakewood is growing and if the city doesn’t do something about it, it’s going to get worse. He’s in favor of building the shelter at Sixth Avenue and Simms Street.
Due to the resignation of Councilor, Dana Gutwein, in August, and Harrison being term-limited, Ward 5 voters will be allowed to vote for two candidates. The top vote getter will serve a full, four-year term. The candidate with the second-highest number of votes will complete the remainder of Gutwein’s term and be eligible to run for a second full term.
A link to all Lakewood City Council candidates can be found on the City’s website, www.lakewood.org
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