Candidacy: District 1 Ouray County Commissioner, Democrat, Incumbent
Education: B.A. Geology, Western State College; Magna Cum Laude (1997); additional graduate coursework in Geographic Information Systems at Penn State University, hydrogeology at School of Mines, botany and wetland science at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Occupation: Ouray County Commissioner, District 1; Natural Resources and Web Consultant, co-owner, MtnGeoGeek, LLC
Family: Married to Jeff Litteral; three children; lives in Ouray County
Prior Government Experience: Ouray County Commissioner since 2008; Ouray County Legislative Committee Representative to Colorado Counties, Inc. Steering Committees (2009-12); Colorado Knights of Broadband Roundtable (2012); Region 10 Stronger Economies Together & Strategic Economic Development Committees (2011-12); National Association of Counties Public Lands Steering Committee (2011-12); Gateway Communities Subcommittee (current chair) and Rural Action Caucus; Ouray County Bottom Up Economic Development Facilitator 2011-12); “G3 Creative District” Committee; Broadband Committee; Public Access Group, Ouray County Representative (2009-2012) re-elected 2010
Here’s what Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett did when her 10-year-old daughter Anza developed a fear of spiders. She caught a big, hairy one that had been roaming around in the West End, put it in a glass cage, and encouraged her daughter to observe it closely until she wasn’t scared anymore. Then, together, they set it free.
“When you are freaked out, the best thing is to nail it by getting closer,” Padgett said. “The tarantula was a cool guy.”
That’s been Padgett’s approach to her first term as Ouray County Commissioner, as well. Not that she gets freaked by much of anything. But the tireless, curious, brainy Padgett does seem to be compelled to take things in, study them closely until she understands their nuances, how they fit into the big picture, and ultimately, how to make them work better for Ouray County.
When Padgett was elected four years ago, she said she was determined to find ways to help the county become more efficient and spend less money. She went line-by-line through the budget, and thanks to her efforts, says the county is now saving $116,000 per year in fuel and heating costs, phone and Internet bills, jail costs, “going paperless” for BOCC meetings, and more.
Throughout her term, Padgett has worked hard to draw Ouray County into the digital age, primarily through her well-publicized advocacy on the matter of closing the “fiber gap” in Ouray County. She also recently spearheaded an effort to set up video arraignments at Ouray County Court.
“Multiple deputies were taken up on court days transporting prisoners from Montrose to Ouray for 15 minute arraignments,” she explained. “That resulted in high fuel costs, a lot of wear and tear on county vehicles, and a deputy whose entire day was spent being a cab driver.”
Padgett looked into it, and discovered that the Montrose end of the system was already equipped to handle video arraignments. All it took was for the Ouray County Courthouse to be hooked up. Padgett led an effort to make it so. The upgrade was paid for through a courthouse security grant. Now, prisoners “appear” for their court date without ever leaving the Montrose jail, freeing up sheriff’s deputies to spend more time doing other work, and saving fuel.
One of Padgett’s greatest accomplishments in her term relates to her advocacy on Payment in Lieu of Taxes – federal payments made to local governments with nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries, to help offset losses in property taxes. Statewide, Colorado counties received $27 million in PILT dollars in 2011. In Ouray County, where untaxable public lands comprise half of the geographical land mass, PILT payments from the Feds account for a significant portion of the Road and Bridge fund.
In 2011, when PILT was under attack by an Ohio lawmaker who didn’t get why counties out West needed so much compensation for their nontaxable public lands, Padgett used her GIS skills to put together the story of how Ouray County and the State of Colorado use PILT money, making colorful, easy-to-understand maps that illustrated those impacts.
The maps got passed all around Capitol Hill. The Ohio bill went down. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett subsequently introduced legislation that would extend PILT for another five years. And here at home, Ouray County’s tenuous Road and Bridge budget remained intact.
“This kind of stuff is nonpartisan,” Padgett said. “It’s about telling an effective story at the state and federal level. A lot of things that affect Ouray County and our ability to provide good government happen beyond our county line.”
It’s these kinds of stories – and there are many of them – that inspired the non-partisan Colorado Counties, Inc. to name Padgett Commissioner of the Year in 2011. Among other things, she was praised for her facilitation locally of the governor’s Bottom Up economic development planning process; her leadership role in Ouray County’s "Who Regulates What?” inter-agency education sessions on hard-rock mining; her work on regional broadband coordination with Operation Linkup; her promotion of efforts for Good Samaritan legislation which would modify discharge permits for abandoned mine cleanup, improve water quality, and potentially increase job opportunities in mining; her work on REAL, an effort by many Colorado county commissioners and social/human services directors to make sure government is Responsive, Efficient, Accountable, and Locally driven; her testimony in Denver for House Bill 1196, to get more flexibility for funding at-risk preventative services; and her extensive research on mineral and mining history, maps, geology, and potential for the proposed San Juan Mountains Wilderness bill.
Paradoxically, Padgett has come under attack from local critics for many of these accomplishments. Her work on the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill, for example, has gotten her branded as anti-mining, as has her advocacy for Good Samaritan legislation.
Padgett says the characterization is misguided. Under her watch as commissioner, two historic mines are once again reopening, bringing over 50 new jobs to Ouray in the past year.
“I am excited to see mining return to the historic mining districts of Ouray County,” she said. “We haven’t had a chance to see modern best practices in the industry at work here until now.”
Padgett also maintains that achieving Good Samaritan legislation (an issue that has long been stalled in Washington) would actually help mining make a comeback in places like Colorado that have a lot of abandoned historic mines leaking toxic water into the watersheds, because as the quality of an impaired watershed improves, it will be easier for prospective new mines located within that watershed to obtain their water discharge permits.
Through her presence on the National Association of Counties Public Lands Steering Committee, she has led an effort among her fellow county commissioners across the region, state, and nation to rally behind the Good Samaritan cause.
In March, due to Padgett’s efforts, the National Association of Counties (NACo) adopted a resolution supporting legislation and/or policy that would immediately limit liability for Good Samaritans.
“We need the Clean Water Act changes to move forward,” she said. “That is something a county commissioner can do at a policy level.”
Padgett has lately been attacked for being too much of a politician, too much a part of the system. She counters that it is her nuanced understanding of how the system works, and her willingness to be a part of the process, that allows her to be an effective local elected official.
“We have a negative association of the word politician,” she said. “When you become a candidate, you are advocating for or against public policy. I am trying really hard to become the kind of politician we should demand. No special treatment for special interests. Keep government local. A candidate is a politician so let’s demand good politicians.”
“We need to have a partnership with the federal and state government,” she said. “We need to continue to show up in both D.C. and Denver and make sure that the unfunded mandates don’t come. When Ouray County goes to Denver and testifies on a bill, we may not always get our way, but people are paying more and more attention to Ouray County and the San Juans. If democracy is going to exist, it is right here.”