AURORA VOTE 2019: Ward 5 contestants offer distinct contrast

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Ward V candidates, Allison Coombs, left, and Bob Roth
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Two candidates are running for the Ward V Aurora City Council representative: Bob Roth, who’s served since 2010, is hoping voters will put him back on the dais. First-time candidate and Emerge Colorado graduate Alison Coombs is also vying for the seat. 

Ward V includes Aurora neighborhoods such as Heather Gardens and runs south of East Iliff Avenue between I-225 and extends to South Flanders Street in some parts of the ward.

Roth boasts endorsements from the Aurora Fraternal Order of Police, which is the bargaining arm for police benefits, the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver, the Aurora Realtor’s Association and current Mayor Bob LeGare and at-large councilman Dave Gruber. 

Watch the televised Aurora ward council candidates debate here

Coombs, who works in human services, has been endorsed by Colorado People’s Action, which supports immigrant rights, criminal justice reform and environment protections, Colorado Black Women for Political Action, the Sierra Club, Conservation Colorado and a handful of local labor unions. 

If Coombs wins the seat, she’d join three other Emerge Colorado graduates on the city council: Nicole Johnston, Crystal Murillo and Allison Hiltz, who were elected in 2017. Emerge Colorado trains women Democrats to run for local and state elected seats.

Roth was first elected in 2011 after being appointed to the Ward V seat in 2010.

Last year, Roth invited ethical questions with the creation of his own consulting business, saying on the business’s website that he has the “ability to affect change at the local, state and even federal level.”

Roth told the Sentinel last year that he is by no means in the lobbying business and that his work in the construction industry does not include trying to change policy. He said the change that he can affect is how local governments perceive his clients.

Earlier this year, Roth voted against a proposed transparency measure that would have required lobbyists to register in the city of Aurora. Roth said in the Sentinel’s questionnaire the proposal was a “solution looking for a problem.”

Coombs, however, agrees with the bill’s proponents. 

“People have the right to know who is trying to influence our elected officials. The decisions and policies our elected officials make impact our cost of living, our job opportunities, and our quality of life,” she said in the Sentinel’s election survey. “Transparency ensures that residents of our city can hold our elected officials accountable to putting people first in all of their decisions.”

The two also differ on issues such as using incentives to attract business and raising the minimum wage, like neighboring Denver is currently considering.

Roth is opposed to raising the minimum wage, but Coombs said she supports helping businesses raise the minimum wage to $17 per hour. 

On business incentives, which have lured in major economic development projects like the Gaylord Hotel and Amazon warehouses, Roth says they are helpful. 

Coombs said they should be limited and instead focus should be on existing local businesses.

Like the rest of the city, affordable housing and growth has become increasingly important to Ward V. Coombs said she believes all new development should include affordable housing and that “new development must include concrete plans to address increased demands on public safety services. We cannot let expansion for its own sake to make our city less safe.”

Roth, whos routinely been on the side of forcing fewer regulations on builders, said he’s “been a very vocal advocate for moving the needle even further on correcting the construction defects legislation that is currently in place.” 

“If we had more attached for-sale products (condos and townhouses) available, it would greatly help people at both ends of the spectrum, those that are trying to get into homeownership for the first time and people who are empty-nesters wanting to downsize their lives,” he said in an email.

 “Some argue that there are not more for-sale attached due to market conditions. I would point to two facts that refute that idea; one is the abysmal percentage of this product compared to what we had prior to this legislation and the other is the average time that a home in this category is on the market as compared to a single family home. There is a strong desire and need for these units and they would definitely help a great deal in allowing people to realize home ownership for the first time.”

Meet Alison Coombs
Alison Coombs

Alison Coombs
Alison Coombs moved to Aurora in 2015, but grew up in neighboring Denver. She attended college at Metropolitan State University where she studied Spanish, philosophy, and women’s studies. She then went to graduate school in New York before making the move to Ward V. Coombs says she has worked in disability services for 15 years. This year, Coombs graduated from Democratic training program Emerge Colorado. It is her first run for elected office.

Coombs: Personality Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Instant teleportation so I could go to places all over the country and the world without the travel time.

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

My Neighbor Tototoro By Hayao Miyazaki because it reflects the hopefulness of youth

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An astronaut, a nurse, a football player, and a counselor--at different points

What talent do you have that most people don’t know about?

I build a mean fire.

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

Having fun and getting things done.

What time do you go to bed?

Usually about 10ish, sometimes later when I’m busy

What was the last book you read?

“The Found and The Lost” By Ursula K. LeGuin

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

Tie between Dad & Dudes Breweria and Emerald Isle

What’s your favorite family tradition?

My grandmother had everyone drink a glass of orange juice before opening presents on Christmas morning, and then we would watch the claymation Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer film. This is still a favorite, but we have also started watching Elf since my first nephew was born in 2006.

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

Persistence

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

Vienna by Billy Joel

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

Chopped, because I love to cook and I’m good at improvising.

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

A device like the medical tricorders on Star Trek to make diagnosing and treating illness and injuries easier.

Coombs: Policy Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

Yes, death from guns in a serious problem in our city and it must be addressed. Safety is one of the top issues that voters have talked to me about on doors and at community events. The city of Aurora can pass licensing laws for gun owners that ensure safety and reduce gun-related violence. Gun licensing that requires a gun safety course and testing can help ensure that people are handling and storing guns safely. Requiring renewals for licenses can also help law enforcement to ensure consistent and up-to-date background checks. Licensing laws are correlated with a decrease in firearm deaths in other places that have implemented them. They are a reasonable solution to ensuring safety for people in our city.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial ‘Worth Discovering’ image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

I believe that highlighting the great things about our city is the most important part of the city’s marketing campaign. Highlighting the recreation opportunities and local businesses that make our city unique can help people understand that our city is truly “worth discovering.”

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these “corporate welfare,” but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

Aurora should limit financial incentives to businesses. Instead, we should invest in improving and supporting local businesses. Making sure that anytime we give an incentive, the money that a company makes is reinvested in our city. I am opposed to providing incentives that lead to people’s hard-earned money leaving in the coffers of highly-profitable out-of-state companies.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

Yes, Aurora would benefit from lobbying transparency. People have the right to know who is trying to influence our elected officials. The decisions and policies our elected officials make impact our cost of living, our job opportunities, and our quality of life. Transparency ensures that residents of our city can hold our elected officials accountable to putting people first in all of their decisions.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

Yes, the city should have an independent police review panel. It is important that people reviewing controversies not have conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest. That makes it important that the panel be completely independent of the department to ensure that people trust the process. I would recommend the panel include residents and people who have knowledge of law enforcement. The panel should be large enough so that the panel reviewing each case is not identical.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

Ensuring that our police and fire departments have adequate pay is part of the picture, but there are other issues that need to be addressed. For police, allowing the police to vote on their retirement plan is something the city should do. In the case of fire, ensuring adequate staffing and facilities to cover all areas of the city is also part of the issue. In talking to officers, I’ve also heard concerns that officers are going to other departments because the city takes longer than other metro area municipalities to complete background checks and provide initial hiring decisions.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

Yes, the city should create a permanent procedure and commission for oil and gas development. The commission and procedures should include a public process, specific health and safety protections for our community. Recent oil and gas decisions from the city did not include public meetings except for the final public hearing. The agreements also limited the city’s future ability to change decisions made on over 300 wells. This is not adequate for ensuring that the process is safe for people and the environment

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Yes. Given the issues we have with traffic, pollution, and inadequate first- and last-mile transportation, bike lanes and structures are an important part of the solution to this issue.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

The city should work together with community partners to create more renewable energy options like the geothermal farm that Urban Land Conservancy is building in my ward. The city should look at public enterprise for solar, geothermal, and other renewables in our city. Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) incentives and zoning code waivers are currently given just for building in proximity to mass transit. Legislatively, I would require that other sustainability and affordability measures be included in order for the city to grant incentives and waivers. Legislatively, I would like to work with interested local communities to use metropolitan districts to install EV charging stations, solar power, and other sustainability measures.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

Yes. Wages are not keeping up with increased cost of living, especially rising housing costs. The city needs to increase the minimum wage in accordance with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s Self-sufficiency study. This dictates that people in our city, in order to afford a home and support children, need to make $17/hour. I do believe we need to support local businesses with the transition to a $17/hour, but providing good quality of life for our residents is a priority in our city.

The Colfax arts and cultural district has some successes, but it’s struggling. Should Aurora create a new special taxing district to boost funding? What kind?

No. I am concerned that a special taxation district may lead to additional costs for artists and small business owners in the area. Arts and cultural grants and other alternative funding sources should be sought.

Should the city build an emergency homeless shelter?

Yes. Our city has many unhoused people living here, including veterans. The number of people experiencing homelessness is increasing, and our city can no longer afford to be without supportive services for our unhoused neighbors. Programs like Comitis, Ready to Work, Family Tree, and Providence at the Heights are a good start to building those services, but an emergency shelter will help keep people safe when they need it.

The city’s “fence canyons” along city thoroughfares, especially Chambers and Buckley roads, continue to deteriorate, creating safety and property value issues. Should the city set a standard for these fences and force replacement?

Yes. The deteriorating fences create safety hazards and accessibility issues and should be replaced. They also make it difficult to turn safely onto busy streets. I have heard concerns about these fences from many neighbors, who would like to improve the fences along both Buckley and Chambers.

Meet Bob Roth
Bob Roth

Bob Roth
After spending about a decade serving on volunteer boards, now-Ward V councilman Bob Roth decided to run for a seat on the city council in 2009. He lost, but was appointed to the Ward V seat the next year. In 2011, Roth was elected and then re-elected in 2015. He currently owns his own consulting company, Roth Collaborative Resources.

Roth: Personality Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility

What movie will you watch again no matter how many times you’ve seen it?

Sound of Music

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Professional basketball player

Do you have a talent that most people don’t know about?

Singing crooner music (Elvis, Sinatra, Bennett)

If you wrote a memoir, what would you call it?

“I Did My Best – The Life and Times of Bob Roth”

What time do you go to bed?

On a regular night, around 11:00. On a council night…?

What was the last book you read?

Vince Flynn – “The Third Option”

Which restaurant do you eat at most?

Toss up between Casa Vallarta and The Athenian (both in Ward V)

What’s your favorite family tradition?

Playing board and card games during reunions or any other get together

If you had a boat, what would you name it?

Afloat

If you could only listen to one song forever, what would it be?

“Fools Rush In” by Elvis

Which reality television show do you think you’d be best at?

Jeopardy

What do you think needs to be invented more than anything?

The flying machine that the Jetson’s promised us

Policy Questions

Are there any laws at the city level that you believe could help reduce gun violence? Which ones? If not, why?

Aurora Municipal Code 94-154, already addresses the what, when and where of firearms in the City of Aurora.

Aurora has for the past few years paid for a substantial 'Worth Discovering' image marketing campaign. Should a campaign try to highlight the city’s good traits or push back against the problems Aurora is associated with?

I believe that the marketing campaign has done a very good job of both highlighting what sets us apart as well as pushing back against the Denver media bias. I applaud the efforts of our communications staff in this campaign and have seen bus tails and ads all across the metro area that make me proud to call Aurora home.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? An example where large incentives were offered include the Gaylord and Amazon projects. Critics call these "corporate welfare," but proponents say they’re a critical part of economic development and creating jobs.

These conversations very much need to take place as a case-by-case evaluation. Each situation is different. The topic in my mind is always the “but if” scenario. In the case of Gaylord, the city was receiving very little tax revenue from the agricultural land that was High Point. But rebating a portion of the taxes generated once it was a hotel and convention center, because of the overall economic benefit to the city, made sense. And for those who may not know, the city never writes a check to anyone as an incentive. It is a partial rebate of what the development generates. If the development does not perform as expected, the incentives diminish and sometimes go away completely.

This year a majority of the Aurora City Council turned down an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register and record expenses if meeting with local elected officials. Would Aurora benefit from this kind of transparency?

Transparency is always a positive. However, this proposed ordinance was a solution looking for a problem.

The city currently does not have an independent police review structure to provide oversight during police controversies. What kind of independent review panel would you recommend, or is one even needed?

This statement is inaccurate. We do have an Independent Review Board (IRB) that consists of four (4) civilian members, two (2) peers, one (1) Lieutenant and one (1) Captain/Commander. This board is tasked with helping the Chief of Police in the deliberative process of determining appropriate discipline as well as reviewing cases of significant public interest.

How should the city approach retention in the police and fire departments with a record number of staff leaving for Denver where they claim better pay and benefits?

This is an ongoing issue that definitely requires our attention and diligence. We have to retain the very best first responders. Public Safety is the number one responsibility to our citizens by us as elected officials.

With local control of the oil-and-gas industry now a reality, how should the city create a permanent procedure and commission, or does the current system protect resident safety and industry interests?

We have already put into place the most stringent Operator Agreements of any in the State of Colorado with two operators who may be extracting minerals in Aurora.

Should the city dedicate money and resources to creating substantial, permanent bike lanes and structures to allow for more bike commuting?

Through the TIP (Transportation Improvement Process) at DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) Aurora has successfully been awarded funding on more bike/ped projects than any other jurisdiction in the entire region. We need to continue to advocate for our fair share, and even more if possible, of those precious resources. In addition, during the budget process, I am more than happy to consider all other options as well.

What should Aurora do as a city and as a legislative body to abate climate change?

Aurora already has many programs in place, EV Charging stations, Solar Gardens, etc. that are recognized as appropriate by the RAQC for the region.

Should Aurora raise the minimum wage? How high?

No.

The Colfax arts and cultural district has some successes, but it’s struggling. Should Aurora create a new special taxing district to boost funding? What kind?

I think that it is municipal government’s place to provide the right atmosphere for such a potential taxing district to be successful. But I don’t believe it is our place to form the taxing district absent the private sector buying in and being the lead partner in the conversation.

Should the city build an emergency homeless shelter?

The city has already invested in a Day Shelter, we have the Comitis Crisis Center and have invested in a few other resources. We have to be very careful not to be duplicative with the services that the counties are supposed to provide for our citizens. Although it does provide the basis for a conversation about the City and County of Aurora.

The city’s “fence canyons” along city thoroughfares, especially Chambers and Buckley roads, continue to deteriorate, creating safety and property value issues. Should the city set a standard for these fences and force replacement?

From my research, this is a much more complex issue than just creating a standard. Whether the fence is on an individual private property or the right-of-way. Whether there is a mandatory HOA or not. Who will bear the cost of replacement?

In any case, I would not be in favor of forced replacement regardless of the situation.