White and Phelps discuss growth, land-use plan
by Amy Maestas
Name/Age: Wally White, 62
Occupation: Rancher, livestock transportation
Hobbies: Skiing, rafting, hiking, music
Car you drive: Volvo, Ford F-250
Favorite local restaurant: East by Southwest
Last book read: Under a Sickle Moon: A Journey Through
Afghanistan by Peregrine Hodson
If a tape got stuck in your car
stereo what would it be?: Charlie Musselwhite “Continental Drifter”
Famous figure you most identify
with: Never thought
Dream vacation: Sailing in the Caribbean
Name/Age: Roger Phelps, 44
Occupation: Guest services director and facilities
manager, Sky Ute Casino; general and electrical contractor,
SWIFT Agriculture producer
Hobbies: Guitar, singing, skiing (water and snow),
Type of car you drive: Oldsmobile Alero, Suzuki
Intruder motorcycle, Ford truck
Favorite local restaurant: Francisco’s
Last book read: La Plata County Land Use Code
If a tape got stuck in your car
stereo what would it be?: AC/DC, Gretchen Wilson
Famous figure you most identify
with: Abraham Lincoln,
John F. Kennedy
Dream vacation: South Seas, warm water with good
friends and family
Two candidates with radically different backgrounds are currently
trying to court La Plata County voters in a similar way. Democrat
Wally White and Republican Roger Phelps, the two candidates
vying for the District 3 position of La Plata County commissioner,
are both courting voters by promising to insert fresh fingerprints
on finishing touches of the county’s Land Use Code. But
how fresh those imprints should be depends on the candidate.
The county is currently in the process of updating its Land
Use Code – an effort that has been under way for the
past few years.
Democrat Wally White believes that the county has to pass
the Land Use Code soon – and make sure the code has regulatory
potency. Because the Responsible Growth Initiative before Durango
city voters could impact growth in the county, White says passing
the document must come sooner than later. This is despite the
fact that two out of the 10 planning districts in the county
have not received county approval for their plans. White says
although those plans are not yet acceptable, that should not
hold up approval of the entire land-use plan.
“One of those plans is a non-plan and should not be
passed. It does not represent the majority of the residents
in that district,” he says. “District plans must
reflect the desires and concerns of the citizens.”
His Republican opponent, Roger Phelps, disagrees.
“What’s the rush?” he asks. “Let’s
do this thing right the first time. Another two or three months
is not going to make that big of a difference.”
If passed, the Responsible Growth Initiative would require
the City of Durango to obtain voter approval on annexations
of more than 10 residential units or construction of commercial
developments of more than 40,000 square feet. It also would
require that the city have adequate infrastructure for future
annexations and developments.
White and Phelps agree that a victory for the initiative will
oblige county officials to more closely evaluate how they treat
growth and development issues, which are becoming increasingly
“Win or lose, the message is loud and clear,” Phelps
Phelps, who is an Allison resident but opposes the initiative
nonetheless, says that the county’s Land Use Code must
be adequately prepared to deal with the outcome of the initiative
so county residents aren’t negatively impacted by things
like unchecked growth or inadequate public facilities. As a
fourth-generation and lifelong La Plata County resident, Phelps
explains that he understands peoples’ anxiety about growth
eroding the quality of life in La Plata County, especially
keeping it an affordable place to live. But he doesn’t
want the reaction to that message to be at the expense of public
input. Phelps believes the county is failing to take the land-use
plan to outlying communities. Holding meetings in Durango and
requiring residents to travel there to give input is unacceptable.
He advocates holding more meetings in outlying towns.
“It’s economic bigotry by not taking the plan
to those communities and getting their input,” Phelps
That sentiment is what drives Phelps to also promise to bring
local government entities to the table for frequent communication.
“Right now, we don’t have good partnerships among
the local governments. We need to develop those partnerships,
because the fact that we can’t get a clear definition
of where the county is going is not good,” he says.
White agrees that partnerships are key to the future of county.
“We need to get the various municipalities to sit down
and talk,” he adds. “There is a diversity of interests
that need to be heard. There are differences between urban
and rural residents, and with my experience, I can provide
attention to that.”
White says such a vision might be a “bit idealistic,” but
he’d be remiss in not trying.
The candidates say growth is such a hot topic among voters
because voters realize it drives all other issues in the county,
such as water availability, traffic, open space and agriculture.
The economy is also critical, says White, especially since
the county is facing declining revenue from oil and gas production.
“I think the county needs to focus more on economic
development. We have to be able to accommodate people moving
here,” White says. Such focus includes attracting new
businesses that pay living wages and are profitable enough
to add to the local tax base. White says there are several
ways to do this, among them providing tax incentives. He favors
discussions about building a new industrial park, particularly
since Bodo Park is built out.
Phelps says one option is to possibly restructure the sales
tax plan to make it economically viable for businesses to start
up in the county.
“There needs to be a formula for taxes that would entice
those businesses, so that at least in the first five years
of business they are profitable,” he explains.
But, he adds, the county’s actions in seeking additional
revenue must not harm downtown Durango businesses by forcing
commercial success into outlying areas.
Tackling these issues requires strong leaders, which both
men tout themselves as. Each points to his background as evidence.
White says he has been involved in land use and planning for
more than 20 years. A resident of La Plata County since 1979,
he says his service on the La Plata County Planning Commission
from 1984-86 entailed making the first 4 revisions on the county’s
Land Use Code.
“I have a good balance in having a background in planning
issues,” he explains. “I understand the need to
White admits that he has a “bit of a reputation of always
being opposed.” He actively fought a few developments
in the Grandview area, where he lives. And when Mercy Medical
Center announced its plans to build a new hospital there, White
was vocal about its location. However, opposition, he says,
does not mean he resists development entirely.
“I’ve spoken out against things in order to bring
an awareness of the issues out in the open. It doesn’t
always mean not letting a project happen.”
On the other hand, Phelps says he’s relying on his own
history of civic service to prove to voters he is the correct
choice. After years of serving on various boards and commissions,
including the Ignacio School Board and the county’s Budget
Advisory Committee, he believes it’s time for him to
bump it up a level.
“A lot of politics are about timing,” says Phelps. “With
the issues facing the county now, the timing is right for me
to be in this role.”
Phelps says he’s anxious to change the status quo of
county politics. It is time to be visionary instead of reactionary,
Regardless of their differing opinions about the county’s
growth policies, both candidates are optimistic about La Plata
County’s future. Neither feels that it is too late to
change direction where necessary. For White, he reiterates
the approval of the Land Use Code.
“The Board of County Commissioners has done a good job,” he
says. “But there should be no more waiting on the land
codes. It’s always possible to make amendments and revisions,
because this is a work in process. Right now is the time to
take control of our own destiny.”
White says that can’t be done without citizen participation.
He says manufacturing the future requires people get involved
early in the governmental process.
Phelps agrees, adding: “Public input is critical. Government
is run by people who show up.”
by Amy Maestas
Republican La Plata County Commission candidate
Roger Phelps is trying hard to dodge recently damaging
claims. Last week, current Commissioner Bob Lieb
announced that his daughter, Lisa Lieb, was sexually
harassed by Phelps while the two worked together.
However, Phelps says Lieb’s claims against
him are politically motivated and stem from a recent
public meeting where he opposed Lieb on adopting
the county’s Land Use Code.
“This came from out of the blue,” Phelps
said. “I question his timing because he seemed
to act after we were at a planning forum and I
didn’t support what he was supporting.”
Last week, Lieb announced that his daughter was
the recipient of sexually harassing e-mails from
Phelps in the spring of 2003, when they both worked
at the Sky Ute Casino. Phelps says because the
commissioner – who is also Republican – did
not bring them up when he announced his candidacy
in mid-March, it indicates that Lieb has an underlying
issue with his politics.
But Lieb denies there is anything political going
“This is a strong attempt by him in trying
to cast blame away from himself,” Lieb told
the Telegraph. “It’s only political
inasmuch as he’s running for office.”
Lieb said he called Phelps recently to ask for
a meeting where the two could discuss the e-mails,
with Lieb hoping to clear the air about the past
incidents. Lieb said he wanted to give Phelps a
chance to “own up” to his actions.
In between the phone call and the in-person meeting,
the two attended a public forum on the county’s
land-use plan, where Phelps disagreed with Lieb
on planning issues.
“At the forum we did differ on some things,
but that was not what motivated me,” Lieb
Lisa Lieb never did report Phelps to her employer;
she later resigned from her position and went to
work for her family’s business. “If
it was an issue a couple of years ago, why didn’t
it come up then?” Phelps asked.
Lieb responded that when the e-mail exchanges
took place, he and his family talked and decided
to forgive Phelps for his actions. He also explained
that he did not publicly talk about it when Phelps
entered the commission race because Lieb’s
wife was gravely ill and her situation consumed
his time and attention. Lieb’s wife later
passed away, and it’s been only recently,
Lieb said, that he has begun to emerge from a grieving
“I hate to use my wife as an excuse, but
that’s exactly why I didn’t do it at
the time. I had other things on my mind,” Lieb
When Lieb decided to confront Phelps, he said
he didn’t necessarily think he’d go
public with the statements. It was only after Phelps
failed to apologize and take responsibility that
Lieb went public.
“At the end of our meeting, I told him that
it would come out,” said Lieb, adding that
he did not specifically tell Phelps what that meant.
Phelps told the Telegraph that in hindsight, the
e-mails probably were “inappropriate.” But
he said he never harassed Lisa Lieb. He said he
continues to be baffled about the attacks on his
Still, Lieb said neither he nor his daughter has
received an apology from Phelps. And he said he
believes that voters deserve to know this when
they vote in a couple of weeks.
“Just the fact that he’s in denial
is a testament to his character,” Lieb said. “I
feel the voters had a right to know the major flaws
in his character. This isn’t about politics.”