Candidates for Arapahoe County offices appear in a forum in Four Square Mile

BY FREDA MIKLIN
STAFF WRITER

The Four Square Mile (FSM) neighborhood gets its name because it is a roughly four square mile area of mostly unincorporated Arapahoe County bounded by Quebec Street, Mississippi Avenue, Havana Street and Yale Avenue. It is surrounded by Aurora on the east and Denver on the north, south and west. 

Republican Caroline Cornell (left) and incumbent Democrat Joan Lopez (right) are the candidates for Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder.

On October 12, FSM held a forum for candidates for Arapahoe County offices at the Eloise May Library at 1471 S. Parker Road. Outgoing District Four Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Jackson, who is term-limited, served as moderator.

Arapahoe County Clerk

Incumbent Joan Lopez (D) and challenger Caroline Cornell (R) are the candidates for Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder. 

Cornell shared that she has a degree in history and political science. In her opening statement, Cornell said that the Clerk’s office oversees “about one million mortgages, marriages, and motor vehicle transactions” annually, in addition to administering elections. A 24-year resident of Arapahoe County, Cornell committed to running a non-partisan office if elected, and to “open our DMV offices so that people can get in and out quickly” without making an appointment.

Lopez opened by sharing that she was elected in 2018, is a Colorado native, graduate of Englewood High School, and 21-year veteran of the Arapahoe County Clerk’s office. She said that the Clerk’s office has won three national awards during her tenure, including for expanding voter access.

Looking toward the future, Cornell hopes to go back to the way things were in 2018, when she said that people only waited 15 minutes at the DMV and “could walk in the door whenever they needed to.” More immediately, if elected, she plans to look at how the Clerk’s Office can make same-day appointments for DMV services. 

Lopez said that, during the 17 years she worked in the Clerk’s Office before being elected in 2018, wait times were frequently longer than 15 minutes in the DMV. She added that, since going to appointments, “Our Google reviews went from 41% to 85% positive ratings,” and, “Our wait times went from 45 minutes to 15 minutes.” She believes that using an appointment system, “is customer service at its finest.” Lopez added that first responders in uniform get served immediately at the DMV, as do handicapped persons coming in for handicapped placards.

Veteran Denver Police Officer Kevin Edling is the Republican candidate for Arapahoe County Sheriff.

Arapahoe County Sheriff

Incumbent Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, first elected in 2018, is being challenged in his bid for re-election by Kevin Edling, a 30-year police veteran, including the past 27 years at the Denver Police Department.

Edling, who lives in Centennial, said he is running for sheriff because he “has seen a lot of things go downhill.” He pointed to the increase in car thefts, robberies, and property crimes in Arapahoe County, for which he believes Brown “should be held accountable.” Edling went on, “I have two things that separate Sheriff Brown and myself…It’s leadership and experience. I have both…and I promise to make you all safer at home, safer at work, and safer at school.”

Incumbent Democrat Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown is running for re-election.

In his opening statement, Brown said that he is a native of Arapahoe County and has been in law enforcement for 13 years. He agreed with his opponent that, “Leadership matters,” and pointed to the fact that the employees of the Sheriff’s Office “have given me an endorsement for re-election by about 96%.”  Brown went on, “We’ve seen a crime increase across this country… The Sheriff’s office (also) provides the Office of Emergency Management that “distributed more than two million pieces of personal protective equipment” to the community when the Covid-19 health pandemic struck, and, “We run the Arapahoe County Jail,” where, “We had zero lawsuits when it comes to Covid-19,” as a result of how the Sheriff’s Office acted to protect the health of inmates and employees there. 

On the fentanyl issue “that we’re all dealing with,” Brown said he went against leaders of his own party “to make sure we got this ‘re-felonized’ after the general assembly lowered the penalty for possession of some dangerous drugs (in 2019), adding “I created a special investigations unit that has taken over 75 million tablets of fentanyl off the street this year alone.”

Focusing on the rise in crime, Brown pointed to the state legislature that “decriminalized lots of different issues.” He said he is using tools, including technology, “to combat this rise in crime,” and also “trying to give (those who are convicted) resources, so that, after they are held in custody, they have a plan to not return to custody,” including identifying those who need medication “to help them succeed on the outside.” Brown said his goal is “not to just fill up our jail, which would cost us another $21 million, and Arapahoe County doesn’t have that money.”

Edling responded, “Crime is on the increase and he (Brown) has had four years to deal with it and he has done absolutely nothing,” going on to say that Brown has had the jail closed to all but those charged with felonies since February 2022. Edling believes this “lack of accountability” for people charged with crimes that are not felonies has led to increased crime. He said, “We have to get back to being a pro-active law enforcement agency, not a re-active Sheriff’s Office.”

To the question of adequate staffing, Brown said he “is recruiting the best and the brightest” from other local law enforcement agencies as well as nationally, adding that his department did not have any issues with SB20-217 that sought to increase accountability of peace officers because it already met the standards in that law. He said he expects to be fully staffed in about six months.

To that same question, Edling responded, “It’s really simple, because I already have a line of folks in the metro area waiting, if I’m fortunate enough to be your next sheriff in January.” He plans to hire currently-certified peace officers who have retired from full-time police work to work part-time “to fill the gap” because, he said, the office is currently 30 officers short. Edling also said he has been endorsed by the “current sheriff of Douglas County, the current sheriff of Jefferson County, and the former sheriff of Arapahoe County.” Lastly, Edling said that both Jefferson County and Douglas County pay their sheriff’s deputies more than Arapahoe County and, “Sheriff Brown has had four years to fix that dilemma,” and that he, Edling, “will get them a raise to bring them to parity with those other counties.”

Arapahoe County Coroner

The race for Arapahoe County Coroner is between incumbent Kelly Lear, M.D. (D), a forensic pathologist who has worked in the Coroner’s Office for 27 years and challenger Ron Bouchard, a science laboratory researcher with over 30 years of experience who graduated from Louisiana State University and has been one of the authors on numerous scientific publications.

Republican Ron Bouchard (left), a research scientist, is challenging eight-year incumbent Democrat Kelly Lear, M.D. (right), one of only four forensic pathologists presently serving as county coroner in Colorado, in her bid for re-election.

Dr. Lear, a Colorado native, focused on experience, telling the crowd that she is a board-certified forensic pathologist and has performed over 5,000 autopsies. She “started in the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office 27 years ago as a medical student and knows what it means to work with family members who have questions, who have just lost a loved one. That’s what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to.” Dr. Lear pointed out that the job of the coroner is to determine who receives an autopsy and to sign the death certificate, including determining the cause of death, based on the autopsy findings.” She continued, “Having a coroner who is a forensic pathologist eliminates that layer of bureaucracy,” since her medical training gives her the ability to “determine who should receive an autopsy, perform the autopsy, and sign the death certificate.”

Dr. Lear also noted that the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office “is only one of four offices in Colorado and one of only 80 nationwide that have been accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners.” Pointing to results, she said that out of 900 deaths that her office certified last year, 12 were classified as “undetermined,” and many of those were from drug overdoses in circumstances where it was not known whether the overdose was accidental or suicide.

Bouchard talked about being trained in the use of microscopes and having worked at LSU and the VA Medical Center in Denver, doing medical research. He told the audience, “We must elucidate the root cause of deaths associated with global Covid-19 pandemic,” and if elected, “I’m going to bring science to the office of the coroner,” and “use $138 million of Covid money” to make sure that families know why their loved ones died. He would also “post data on the coroner’s website” about the cause of death of those who receive autopsies.

To the question of how one prepares to be a coroner, Dr. Lear explained that anyone can run for the office, but must take a 40-hour course if elected in order to serve. She said that she teaches the course every election cycle because she is qualified to do so, noting that an elected coroner cannot perform an autopsy or sign a death certificate, unless that person is, like her, also a medical doctor and a board-certified forensic pathologist.

Bouchard said that when he worked at the VA, he performed “fact-based scientific investigative research…finding small things that people often overlook.” If elected, he plans to hire two forensic pathologists and forensic pathology staff from out of state and be “hip-joined to understand their findings.” 

On the question of challenges facing the Coroner’s Office in the coming years, Dr. Lear named the fentanyl epidemic as the biggest challenge she expects to continue, noting that her office saw 29 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2019, 70 in 2020, 104 in 2021, and she expects to “meet or exceed those numbers this year.” To combat this epidemic, Dr. Lear “spends a lot of time talking to the media, students, community members, and other groups, to educate them about the dangers of fentanyl, why it’s dangerous, and what happens to a person when they take fentanyl. I’ve worked with law enforcement and district attorneys’ offices regarding new fentanyl legislation.”

She went on, “The second issue in our field is a dire shortage of forensic pathologists, nationwide…There are approximately 700 to 800 board- certified forensic pathologists in the whole country, only about 20 in this state. There are approximately 1000 to 1100 open jobs, nationwide, so we are spread very thin. It is a problem recruiting people. It is a problem keeping people. It is a scarce resource.”

Bouchard said that, if elected, he plans to look into “medical issues induced in (people’s) bodies by the Covid-19 vaccine and/or being infected by the virus.”

Arapahoe County Commissioner District Four

Lesley Summey is running for Arapahoe County Commissioner District Four to replace Commissioner Nancy Jackson, who is term-limited. Summey’s opponent in the race, Bob Roth (R), was expected to participate in the forum but canceled due to illness. 

U.S. Navy veteran Leslie Summey is the Democratic candidate for Arapahoe County Commissioner District Four. Photo by Freda Miklin

Summey, a U.S. Navy veteran, is from Colorado Springs and has been in Arapahoe County since 2017. Her husband is a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant and they have five children. She said, “I want to be a voice for prioritization of county resources.” To the question of what challenges will face county commissioners, Summey explained that Arapahoe County is one of the few that has not “removed the revenue cap of TABOR.” Had we done so, she explained, “We would have access to an additional $52 million in the 2022-2023 fiscal year to put toward the things we need in Arapahoe County.” She would like to see the revenue cap removed.  

hind increased crime and drug use, Summey pointed to poverty as a key factor. She cited a Tufts University study that said, “The four things that children need in their communities to become resilient and contributing adults are Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences, which the researchers called HOPE.” She continued, “Thinking about that is going to help us in the way we run our new Arapahoe County Health Department. It will help us connect with our children in all neighborhoods, regardless of income level, so I’d really like to examine that.” She also pledged to monitor future residential development to make sure it meets neighborhood standards.

Arapahoe County Assessor

Candidates for Arapahoe County Assessor are incumbent P.K. Kaiser (D) and challenger Bob Andrews (R). 

Kaiser’s website says he has advanced degrees in finance and accounting and that he previously worked for several governmental organizations, including the U.S. Postal Service, Colorado Department of Revenue, and Department of Corrections. He holds an active ad-valorem Colorado appraiser’s license.

Republican Bob Andrews (left) and incumbent Democrat P.K. Kaiser (right) are the candidates for Arapahoe County Assessor. Photos by Freda Miklin

Andrews’ website says he holds a B.A. in social sciences and mathematics from the University of Northern Colorado and an M.A. in education leadership and policy studies from the University of Texas-Arlington. It lists his work experience as real estate broker agent, appraiser, and school dean. He holds active licenses as a real estate broker and appraiser.

Asked what their goals are for the next four years, Kaiser said he planned to make his office, “more accessible, more efficient, more cost-effective and more transparent.” Andrews pointed to the challenges that the office is likely to face next year, due to the appraisal date for residential property in Colorado being a year behind the assessment date. Thus, he explained, if property values decline, as some are predicting, actual property values on statements taxpayers receive next year are likely to be higher than current values, which will be difficult to understand, “requiring the Assessor to have lots to town meetings explaining this discrepancy, why you are being assessed at a greater value than your home is worth… because there are going to be a lot of upset people when they see their tax notices.” 

The candidates agreed that the Assessor does not determine the amount of property tax people must pay and that there is a specified method for appealing valuation decisions (it is well-explained in the same envelope as the Notice of Valuation that taxpayers receive every two years). 

There were a few personal issues raised. Andrews accused Kaiser of having been terminated from a prior position as a guard with the Department of Corrections due to excessive tardiness and absenteeism. Kaiser responded that he was terminated as a result of religious discrimination but was unable to pursue the matter legally because he couldn’t afford a lawyer. Kaiser accused Andrews of harassing him and his family, saying Andrews took photos outside his home of his children and went to Kaiser’s wife’s place of employment, asking questions about him. In response to a question from Arapahoe County Clerk Joan Lopez later during the forum, Andrews said that he went to “a children’s dress store very early in the campaign because I just wanted to see if he (Kaiser) was working there.”

Arapahoe County Treasurer

 Candidates for Arapahoe County Treasurer are Marsha Berzins (R) and Michael Westerberg (D). It is an open seat because the current treasurer, Sue Sandstrom, is term-limited.

Former Aurora City Council Member Marsha Berzins is the GOP candidate for Arapahoe County Treasurer.

Berzins is a former member of the Aurora City Council who said, in her opening statement that she “will bring experience and leadership” to the position, and she “has been a small business owner for many years.”

Westerberg, a tax attorney, has “spent the past five years on the Aurora Citizens Advisory Budget Committee,” including as its chair. In addition to fulfilling the responsibilities of keeping track of and investing the county’s money, Westerberg, if elected, hopes to also “be a budget expert for the county commissioners.” Westerberg believes the most important function of the County Treasurer is keeping accurate records of money received so that it is distributed to the correct entities (school districts, cities, etc.) in the correct amounts. 

Tax Attorney Michael Westerberg is the Democratic candidate for Arapahoe County Treasurer.

Both candidates agreed that the most important role of the County Treasurer is making sure that property taxes are accurately recorded and passed through to the taxing jurisdictions based on their mill levies. Berzins also said that she believes the Treasurer’s Office should be elected on a non-partisan basis. 

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