7 Ignacio trustee candidates compete for 4 seats

Friday, March 28, 2014 1:19 PM
Lawrence Bartley
Tom Atencio
Cecilia Robbins
Edward Box III
Ena Millich
Mayor Stella Cox
Dixie Melton
Audrey Atencio

Four incumbents and three challengers are competing for four Ignacio Town Board seats. The election is Tuesday, April 1 at town hall.

Candidates are incumbents Tom Atencio, Cecilia Robbins, Dixie Melton, and Lawrence Bartley, plus former trustee and mayor Ena Millich, Audrey Atencio, and Edward Box III.

Mayor Stella Cox also is seeking re-election, but she is unopposed.

Cecilia Robbins's current stint on the town board is from an appointment last year to fill Cox's seat after she became mayor. Previously Robbins served two terms on the board and was appointed mayor during the second term after the late George Whitt resigned. In 2012 she lost the mayor's race by one vote to Ena Millich.

Robbins is a lifetime town resident. She listed her primary education as "the school of hard knocks," but also a wide assortment of classes at Fort Lewis College, Adams State College, Pueblo Community College, and other schools. She is in her 27th year working at the Pine River Community Learning Center. She is their student services coordinator.

Robbins is running "because my passion always has been kids and our elders. I think I'm a pretty good advocate." She wants to preserve the knowledge of the elders and the local heritage.

There's a lot of animosity and dissension in town now, she said, but she feels town government is working pretty well with the current trustees. "We are able to work things out," she said, expressing concern about "the possibility of everybody being replaced on the board when things are going well, with so many things on the horizon. We are a good working team."

She lists the town's main issues as getting businesses back after several have been lost, and building partnerships with the Ignacio Chamber of Commerce. Other main issues are the new stoplight intersection downtown and other infrastructure and capital improvement needs, and short-term and long-term effects on the town budget.

"I just want to be sure we all remember what the (town board) position is. It's not recognition and glory. It's doing what's best for everybody, not just a few," she said. "I love home. I go lots of other places, but there's no place like home."

Dixie Melton owns and operates Ignacio Family Medicine as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She has lived in Ignacio most of her life except for when she left for schooling. She attended Ignacio schools K-12 and has lived in the same house in town since 1982.

Melton was appointed to the board early this year to replace Ray Larsen after he resigned. She said people asked her to run for the board, "and I'm interested in town government. It's a learning experience. I'm a business person, and I'm interested in getting new business into town, what I can do to help that. And I think Ignacio is a great place to live, and I want to keep it that way."

She sees several main issues for the town - improving town infrastructure, recruiting new businesses to town, the downtown stoplight project, and progress on the Rock Creek III workforce housing project.

The town needs a way to fund capital improvements without utility rate increases, she said, citing a sales tax increase that trustees have discussed. They are considering seeking voter approval in November to raise the town sales tax rate from 2 percent up to 3 percent.

Tom Atencio grew up in Ignacio and went through Ignacio schools. He earned a degree in elementary education from Adams State College and taught for seven years, one in Farmington and six in Ignacio. Then he got involved in oilfield work and moved to Farmington in 1980. He returned to Ignacio in 2008.

He said he is seeking another term "because I don't think I've finished what I tried to accomplish, to work with the tribe to get our utility rates down, especially sewer. We have lines of communication open. We have dropped down (on rate increases), and I think we can still go a little further."

The main town issues that he sees are upgrades in utility infrastructure, the water, sewer and gas lines. "That's mainly it, utilities," Atencio said. "I think we pay too much, especially for sewer, the highest in the state."

He also listed continued improvements in communication with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, such as the dinner meeting town and tribal representatives had in February.

Lawrence Bartley is a long-time town board member and supporter of Ignacio baseball programs. Because of his work schedule, the Times was unable to connect with him for an interview by press time.

Ena Millich grew up in Ignacio and graduated from high school in 1985. She majored in dental hygiene at Colorado Northwestern Community College. She has operated her business in town for 20 years - Ignacio Dental Hygiene and the flower shop until she sold the flower shop "so I could work a little bit less and be around my kids more." She has two boys.

Millich served for several years as a town trustee and was elected mayor in 2012. She resigned that position in February 2013, citing differences with town hall staff and some other trustees, which she said prevented her from working effectively as mayor. The month before, town department heads had filed a letter of complaint against Millich with Mike Lee, who was the town manager at the time.

Asked why she wants to get back on the board, she said, "We've had a lot of officials who have moved on, so I feel like I can be an advocate for the people again, which I've always tried to be. I'm still wanting to be an advocate for fair and open government."

In late 2012, Millich criticized what she said were ever-changing fund balance numbers in the proposed 2013 budget. She worried the town was going bankrupt and wanted to hire an outside expert to review the financial records. Trustees didn't support that.

Now she says, "I think a lot of the issues that I felt before have somewhat improved. I think the financial situation is important." The current budget is easier to understand. "It's better," she said. "I think it's one of my strengths that I have knowledge of budgets and accounting, knowledge of years of town financial issues."

Audrey Atencio is no relation to Tom Atencio "although I think the world of him." She said, "I'm from here. This is my home. I went to school here." She moved to Denver in 1994 and returned in 2007. She works in Durango as a paralegal.

She is running for the board because, "I started attending meetings and was invited to run. I've been attending the meetings anyway." She feels the current board "has some good people."

As to the town's main issues, she said, "I think housing, the utilities, all the things to keep families here and for people to be happy here."

Edward Box III grew up and went to school in Ignacio. He lived in Las Vegas, Nev. for 12 years, earning a degree in hospitality administration from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, then working in the casino industry there.

He returned to the Ignacio area in 2010 and has lived in town since April 2011. He is director of new media projects at Sky Ute Casino Resort.

"Now that I actually live in town, I want to get more involved, be a voice for residents," he said. He cited his background of having grown up here.

As for main issues, he said, "I think right now, being a tribal member, the relationship between the tribe and town, to strengthen that relationship." He said he "will offer a different perspective on things."