BY FREDA MIKLIN
The five-person Arapahoe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) manages county departments and administers services in the unincorporated portions of the county. They are responsible for roads, public safety, land use, and all other regular duties of local government in those parts of the county that aren’t part of a city or town. They also oversee public health policy throughout the county, along with the budget of elected county officials, including the District Attorney, County Clerk, Sheriff, Treasurer, Assessor and Coroner. Commissioners interact and coordinate services with federal, state and local officials on behalf of Arapahoe County and appoint members to multiple boards and commissions, including Arapahoe County Open Spaces, that provides revenue-sharing and individual grants for open space projects.
The five commissioners each represent different geographic areas of Arapahoe County. They are elected in partisan races. This is considered to be a full-time job, as each commissioner manages one or more of the county’s operating departments, including finance, human resources and public works and development. According to the 2022 adopted budget, Arapahoe County’s five BOCC members will each earn $123,742 this year.
BOCC members are elected for four-year terms and may serve up to three terms. District two Commissioner Nancy Sharpe and district four commissioner Nancy Jackson are completing their third term on the BOCC in 2022 thus are term-limited and cannot run for re-election.
Mark Gotto and Jason Presley are running in the GOP primary on June 28 to be the designated Republican candidate for the position presently held by Nancy Sharpe on November 8. The Villager sat down with both of them this week.
Mark Gotto is originally from Iowa and attended the University of South Dakota on a track scholarship. He was elected to the Centennial City Council and served one term there from 2013 to 2017. During that time, the city engaged Ting Internet to install fiber optic cable throughout the city that made one gigabit of broadband service available to Centennial residents, who buy it directly from the company. Since January 2018, Gotto has served as Ting’s internet city manager and liaison for the City of Centennial.
Gotto believes he will be ready to be an effective BOCC member on day one because “a city councilman is a training ground for county commissioner.” While on city council, he told us, “I acquired experience with finance, budgets, dealing with the Sheriff’s department, land use planning, zoning, roads and construction. It’s an executive-level position and I am an executive.”
Arapahoe County, unlike most local governments, does not have a county manager. Gotto thinks that’s fine for now, depending on who is on the BOCC. His concern with having a county manager is, “When there is a manager, you can’t go to staff, you can’t do anything as a commissioner on your own without going through the manager. With my experience, I’d like the opportunity to manage and I think that would be best for the county. In the long term, though, I think it would be an advantage to have a county manager, as long as it makes sense financially.”
The biggest challenge Gotto expects to face as a BOCC member is the formation of the new Arapahoe County Health Department. He does not want to repeat what he views as a mistake that was made by Tri-County Health Department (TCHD). He explained, “In a crisis, one person (the executive director) had the autonomy to make all these decisions (regarding the pandemic).” He continued, “I never knew that an unelected board could force these policies on us, force decisions on us like masking.” Gotto believes, “The TCHD board failed. Their decision to force kids in school to mask at the second wave of COVID was wrong because the data started to come out that showed that there were a lot of variables involved, but they treated masks as the only way to beat this virus. It was hurting our kids in the schools. They should have let them learn and be together socially, instead of causing them to be academically and developmentally behind because of masks.”
Going forward, Gotto feels that there should always be at least one county commissioner on the new Board of Health, along with a businessperson and someone from the field of education.
The other important issue Gotto is concerned about is crime. He told us, “It’s the sheriff’s job and responsibility to drive down crime, but we run their budget. That’s how a county commissioner drives down crime. We hold them accountable for how they spend their money. It has to be a well-thought-out plan. I will look at the budget and see where our resources are being utilized today. Are they in the neighborhoods where there is the highest crime?
Gotto believes the county needs a new jail but would help lead a better public information campaign than the one that failed to get voter approval in 2019.
Jason Presley is from Kentucky and attended Murray State University before joining the United States Navy, where he became a hospital corpsman and spent most of the nearly ten years he served, attached to the Marine Corps.
After serving, Presley returned to Colorado and became an Arapahoe County Deputy Sheriff. He has served in that job for 17 years and is currently president of the Arapahoe County Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. His campaign website contains the statement, “Born to Serve.”
Presley told us that, in Arapahoe County, “The number one issue is the rise in crime.” He made it clear that, “I will support the Sheriff’s office no matter who the sheriff is, and I will support every municipal police department in this county.” Being in law enforcement, he explained, gives one an opportunity “to know what’s going on in the community and what people need.” As a county commissioner, he would work to increase the sheriff’s budget to get more officers on the street, which is a deterrent to crime. Presley is focused on bringing the theft of cars and catalytic converters under control. He also believes that many recent laws in our state favor the perpetrator, not the victim, and not law enforcement. He would work with the legislature to address that.
Like his opponent, Presley believes that a new Arapahoe County Jail needs to get built, but in 2019, he said, “There weren’t enough study sessions and explanations before it was thrown on the ballot. If you’re asking for half a billion dollars, it takes more than just one year to explain it well enough that the public will support it.” Presley is not ready to say that there is an immediate need for a new courthouse, but expects that that will change as our population continues to grow.
A major concern of Presley’s is whether there will be enough water to support the exploding growth in eastern Arapahoe County. He believes new development should require the use of xeriscaping, as well as considering the use of turf. He pointed to the decline in water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell as indications that Colorado needs to act or it will face a huge water shortage within the next 20 years.
Presley, too, does not believe that a county manager is needed. His view is that, “I know the area. I know the people. I know the problems. This is about the people. If they trust you enough to vote for you, it should be your responsibility to run the county,” adding, “We need more workers, not more managers.”
Presley is concerned that the new Arapahoe County Health Department will be more expensive to operate than some people expect and could strain the county’s budget, so commissioners need to be vigilant. He is paying close attention to the bylaws that are being considered, including term limits for Board of Health members, and feels that he is prepared to help lead the effort.
As part of his job doing community policing, Presley sees and interacts with many homeless people. We asked for his thoughts on that subject. He said, “For some, it’s a lifestyle choice. For others, it’s a mental health issue. Some have come upon hard times.” The solution? “We all need to work together to figure this out. Until we work together, it will continue to be a revolving problem that just moves from one jurisdiction to another.”
On school safety, Presley explained that there are two school resource officers who are sheriff’s deputies assigned to every high school served by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and one in every middle school. He would like to see one full-time deputy assigned to every elementary school, as well. Presley holds two advance certifications from the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Both Mark Gotto and Jason Presley have vowed to support whichever of them wins the GOP nomination. Ballots for the June 28 primary have been sent out and must be received in the County Clerk’s office by election day in order to be counted. Registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who live in Arapahoe County District Two will find this race on their ballot.