Race for at-large City Council seat blends newcomer, veteran outlooks
Five candidates have packed the field to vie for one at-large Grand Junction City Council seat. The elected candidate will work with six other council members to govern and shape city government policies for the next four years.
The candidates — Joshua Wussick, Jacob Richards, Aaron Norris, Jim Doody and John Ballagh — have varied life experiences and propose a range of ideas about how best to represent the city’s estimated 55,000 residents.
Ballots will mailed out to registered voters starting Monday. Registered voters who do not receive ballots by March 25, should call Mesa County Elections at 244-1662. The ballots will be counted April 5.
At 32, Wussick, an airport planner with Armstrong Consultants Inc., said his youth can be a good addition to the City Council. All of the current council members are at least 50 years old.
“You have seven people up there. Where is the voice for the other people?” he said.
Wussick has lived in Grand Junction for about 18 months after moving from Cypress, Calif. Now a pilot, he has worked with airplanes and at airports since he was 18. He also enjoys competing in triathlons.
Wussick has been attending City Council meetings and workshops in the past two months to familiarize himself with the issues. He said he supports increasing access to the riverfront and creating a recreation center.
Wussick said he often sees ads from Allegiant Air promoting visits to Las Vegas and wonders why the message isn’t spread in reverse, promoting the Grand Valley’s wine country to residents in Las Vegas.
“We have all these really great resources. We should prop up our place on the map,” he said.
If elected, Wussick said, he will donate $200 of his $500 monthly salary as a council member to local causes.
Richards, 30, said a youthful, creative force in Grand Junction is waiting to emerge, and he wants to help residents usher in those fresh ideas.
“(For) a number of issues in the last year, I’ve seen City Council make the wrong decision because they’re not doing their homework,” he said.
Richards graduated from Mesa State College with degrees in anthropology and political science. In college, he started the underground newspaper “The Red Pill,” and he started the group The Voice of Reason. The latter served as a platform to protest political parties and events the group deemed to be unjust. He works as a cook at Il Bistro Italiano, 400 Main St.
“I’ve turned 30. I’m trying a new tactic to move the community forward on the issues that we face,” Richards said.
Richards spent years fighting for the plight of local homeless folks and helped organize the group Homeless First! No More Deaths!, which advocates for housing for homeless people.
Richards came forward last year with a complaint from homeless people that their camps had been vandalized by police. As a result, the Grand Junction Police Department fired three officers in connection with the incident.
Richards said he supports creating jobs, maintaining transparency in government, creating more parks and enabling residents to work as a community to solve problems.
A local attorney, Norris wants to help shape a better Grand Junction. Norris, 36, and his wife, Jill Bremer, have two children, an 8-year-old and a 6-month-old.
“I think I have the experience to be good,” he said at a recent candidate forum. “I want what you want, for this to be the jewel on the western Colorado plateau.”
Norris recently started his own law practice, focusing on criminal and civil law. Before that he worked for Chris Mahre & Associates and the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office.
Norris decided to run for City Council after being disappointed in the council’s decision to ban medical marijuana centers. After medical marijuana advocates disputed the ban, council members decided to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
“If the marijuana ban is turned over, I’m not sure there’s a contingency plan to handle that,” he said. “Then they’re stuck with state regulations. That’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Norris and his wife spent two years in Mali working for the Peace Corps. Norris lived in Grand Junction as a child while his father was a petrol geologist. The family left the area after work dried up for his father during the oil shale bust of the 1980s.
Norris said he wants to help the city free itself from the historical boom and bust cycles by promoting other types of industry in addition to oil and natural gas development.
Norris earned his undergraduate degree in English at the University of Colorado and obtained his law degree and master’s degree in international relations at University of Denver.
A former council member and Grand Junction mayor, Doody, 57, wants to represent the city again.
Doody considers the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park to be his greatest accomplishment. The small park in the Kokopelli Plaza in Fruita contains a Huey helicopter, the same aircraft his brother, Tom, was killed in while flying a combat mission in 1971.
Other achievements include helping start the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Coalition. Doody helped initiate that project after losing a good friend to suicide. He is working on a project to renovate Grand Junction’s historic train depot and is pushing ahead with a “Rails to Rainbows” program that would encourage contractors to hire military veterans to do the work.
“I think I can make a difference,” he said about serving on the council.
Doody, is married to Melanie, and has one grown daughter.
He said the council’s decision to move forward on the public-safety center without the vote of residents was not fair. The city took out loans to purchase the facility, instead of again asking voters for a tax increase.
“Since we were defeated by voters pretty soundly, we should bring it back to them instead of saying we’re going to do this because we can,” he said.
Ballagh, 65, is retiring in June from a 24-year career with the Grand Valley Drainage District. He was a board member for the Clifton Water District for 20 years, until he essentially was term-limited. As he looks toward retirement, Ballagh said he’s ready to give back, and he knows the council can require as much work each week as a full-time job.
“I don’t have a burning issue,” he said. “I have a desire to serve, and I’m willing to serve.”
Ballagh thinks his experience with the drainage district gives him a head start because he has worked side by side with city and county officials.
Ballagh, who lives on the east side of Grand Junction, said he dislikes the checkerboard pattern of city and county property created by city annexations. He would like city staff to personally ask residents if they want to be annexed in an effort to clean up those boundary lines.
He also feels Orchard Mesa has been neglected by the city.
“Residents on Orchard Mesa would like a different attitude, not an industrial identity,” he said.
One issue likely to arise soon for council members is a push to convert a portion of canal roads into urban trails. Already, residents use canal rights of way for recreation, though it is illegal.
“I don’t have any problem with trails,” Ballagh said. “It’s a question of liability.”