AURORA VOTE 2021: Ward III – Older neighborhoods face new problems

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Ward III encompasses much of central Aurora, including the neighborhoods of Del Mar Park, Towncenter Mall of Aurora and the Aurora Municipal Center. Council Member Marsha Berzins, who was elected in 2019, is leaving the seat due to term limits. The two candidates vying for the seat are Jono Scott, an Aurora native and pastor, and Ruben Medina, who formerly worked in the city’s parks and recreation department.

Ward III encompasses much of central Aurora, including the neighborhoods of Del Mar Park, Town Center at Aurora mall and the Aurora Municipal Center. Council Member Marsha Berzins, who was elected in 2019, is leaving the seat due to term limits. The two candidates vying for the seat are Jono Scott, an Aurora native and pastor, and Ruben Medina, who formerly worked in the city’s parks and recreation department.

Encompassing much of central Aurora, Ward III will get a new city council representative for the first time since 2009 when sitting Council Member Marsha Berzins was elected. She is term-limited this year. 

The two candidates running for the seat — which represents a portion of the city that runs from East Mississippi Avenue to East 6th Avenue and stretches roughly from Airport Road on the east and Havana Street on the west — both have experience with how the city operates, Ruben Medina having been an employee and Jono Scott serving on the Citizen’s Advisory Budget Committee.

Scott is an Aurora native now raising his family in Ward III. The longtime pastor of Woodside Baptist Church lists crime, economic development and transportation as his top three issues. He’s received endorsements from the Aurora Police Association, the Aurora Firefighters Local 1290 and local chapter of the Fraternal Orders of Police, which is the police department’s bargaining unit.

Medina previously ran for the Ward II seat in 2017, losing to Nicole Johnston, who since resigned her seat to move to Colorado Springs for a job and to be closer to family. Medina worked as a parks and recreation specialist for the City of Aurora. He’s been endorsed by organizations such as the Sierra Club, Colorado People’s Action, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Conservation Colorado.

Like much of the city, Ward III has seen an increase in crime and youth violence.

During a candidate forum last month, Scott said in order to address crime, specifically among the city’s youth, there must be more programs available. One solution he offered was to connect out-of-uniform police officers with local sports teams to forge a connection between the cops and kids. 

Programs that connect with kids and help keep them out of trouble is something Medina said he’s already worked on, including teen nights at Moorehead Recreation Center in north Aurora and a non-profit organization called Change Agents, which pays teens to help out in their community.

One of the two candidates will end up representing a region of the city that many leaders have deemed a prime location for some kind of tourist attraction. Last month, Mayor Mike Coffman hinted that a performance theater would fit nicely into an old movie theater at the Town Center at Aurora mall. 

That’s a vision of Scott’s as well. 

“One of the subcommittees on which I have participated on the Citizens Advisory Budget Committee was the ‘Events and Venues’ subcommittee. We explored and presented a four-phase plan which would bring additional revenues and entertainment to our great city,” he says in the candidate survey. “One of the phases includes utilizing three empty theatres that are currently in the Town Center (yes, already in the Aurora Mall) and retrofitting them into a 1,000 seat entertainment venue.”

He’d also like to see a professional sports venue call Aurora home.

For Medina, a venue like Fiddler’s Green or indoor venue that could hold 10,000 to 12,000 people is ideal for attracting dollars to the city. 

“This will build more commerce, jobs, and keep our money in our city – because we currently spend it outside of Aurora,” he said. ‘This venue would let us bring more small businesses here, and assist the current hotels, restaurants, and other businesses we already have. Having other cities’ money in our economy would be a boon for us.”

Whomever is elected will also have to grapple with a ballooning homeless population in the city. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, city staff say the number of unhoused residents has grown and there aren’t enough shelter options, forcing many people to sleep in tents across the metroplex. 

The solution from Mayor Mike Coffman and half of the current city council is to ban urban camping, allowing the city to “sweep” sites when there are enough shelter beds available. 

If elected, Medina said he wouldn’t support Coffman’s proposal.

“Instead of wasting city resources on police, sanitation, etc. to move and displace people, let’suse this money to add more opportunities to get more help for these community members. We need more programs like PATH, Comitis, Bridgehouse,” Medina says in his candidate survey. “We need to tackle this from many angles. To me, it starts by talking to these community members one-on-one and finding the right fit for the situation they are dealing with.”

Scott, on the other hand, said he’d support the ban and would prefer to empower nonprofits to help the city’s homeless.

Meet Ruben Medina

Ruben L. Medina. Ward III City Council Candidate. Photo provided by Ruben Medina

Ruben Medina is a project manager, organizer, wrestling coach and former firefighter. He has most recently worked as a senior recreational specialist in the city of Aurora. Medina has served on regional boards, including the Denver Foundation and RISE Colorado, which works to educate, engage and empower low-income families and families of color. Medina is originally from southern Colorado. He ran for the Ward II seat in 2017.

Ruben Medina Q&A

This summer, the Aurora City Council unanimously approved a resolution saying the city would welcome Afghan refugees for resettlement, but some members worried about the availability of housing. Are there any policies that you believe could make Aurora a better home for immigrants and refugees? 

I am currently working with an organization called the Welcome Center, which works specifically with immigrant and refugee populations. We are looking into resources to assist them as they transition to our city. As far as housing, it is not only an issue for the incoming refugees; it is a constant problem for our city. I would like to research what ways we can look at changing zoning practices to allow more opportunities for tiny homes, container homes, manufactured housing and other options to be built in Aurora. I support the Welcome Act as well.

Aurora lacks a major entertainment or tourism venue that attracts residents of other metroplex communities. Would you like to see one developed in the city? 

Yes, part of my campaign is around this very issue. I know the city likes to talk about the Gaylord, but I can attest that it is too far away for most residents of Aurora. I say it is out of sight, therefore it is out of mind. We need to create an entertainment venue like Fiddlers Green, an indoor arena that can hold about 10-12k people, so that we become a destination instead of a pass-through. This will build more commerce, jobs, and keep our money in our city – because we currently spend it outside of Aurora. This venue would let us bring more small businesses here, and assist the current hotels, restaurants, and other businesses we already have. Having other cities’ money in our economy would be a boon for us. It is in the master plan for Ward III, so let’s seriously look at doing this now. We always talk about money, but we can build it with a public-private partnership and use the resources of the community and others to help foot the bill. As I often say, pay now or later – either way, it is going to cost you. I would rather reap the benefits now or as soon as possible.

Proposals to address visible homelessness have ranged from an urban camping ban — which Mayor Mike Coffman has committed to bring back for a second vote — to adding safe parking lots and additional shelter space. Which policies would you be in favor of? Would you support the camping ban? 

First and foremost: we must stop criminalizing people because they do not have a place to call home. No, I would not support the camping ban. Why do we look at the unhoused and assume it is some sort of game? Do you think that small children are telling their parents that living on the street is what they want to do with their lives? No one thinks that way. When people lose their social capital, they lose all connections to the world they once knew. Even offers of help are difficult to trust. That is why we must reconnect them in a way that is both beneficial for them and the greater community. Have we not seen what Denver has done with this? Criminalization clearly does not solve the problem.

Instead of wasting city resources on police, sanitation, etc. to move and displace people, let’s use this money to add more opportunities to get more help for these community members. We need more programs like PATH, Comitis, Bridgehouse. We need to tackle this from many angles. To me, it starts by talking to these community members one-on-one and finding the right fit for the situation they are dealing with.

Once we begin to get this under control and get the majority of the people housed, employed, and accessing services they need, we can then begin the process of scaling down these services and use the funds to work on another pressing issue in our community.

Would you support increasing the minimum wage in Aurora? Why? 

Yes, I am in favor of raising the minimum wage, and I understand both sides of this coin. Businesses must show they care not only about their businesses, but about the people they hire. It is a reflection of the owner. Caring enough to help people make a livable wage is one way to assist people. It creates loyalty, increases retention rates, etc. Business owners must invest now so they can continue to reap the rewards going forward. Trust me when I say – employees go home to their communities, and they all talk about their jobs to the circle of friends they have. So they could be saying really good things or bad things, which in turn can make or break a business. How you treat and compensate employees will internally and externally sabotage your business. I want to work with businesses to see livable wages as a necessary and PR-friendly budget move.

Do you support Aurora forming its own county? Why? 

I would like to see that. I am in favor for many reasons. Some of those are more opportunities for resources, money, and agencies that are located in the city – instead of making people go all over the city for county programs. The City and County can work more in alignment to better utilize resources for maintenance, roads, recreation, etc.

What is the city’s most pressing transportation need? 

I feel we need to tackle the light rail affordability. How can we start creating more communities that are walkable, so residents don’t need to drive everywhere to get the services and goods we need? And how do we continue to transfer over to more renewable options beginning with the city?

Do you think the city does a good job of marketing itself? If not, what can be done differently? Is it important? 

I think the city promotes the agenda it wants to convey. I feel for the majority of residents, it does not promote the image or things I want to see. It does not do a good job separating itself from Denver. We need to create our own identity. We need to capitalize on the diversity of this city. For example, Globalfest used to be a weekend function at Bicentennial Park that attracted people from all over. It was 3 days long. Why did we condense it to 1 day? I get asked that all the time. This is one opportunity to showcase the many aspects of our diverse communities. Plus, we could promote a cultural event every month around a theme that brings the community together to celebrate the richness and small businesses of our diverse communities, so that people all over our city can see we care and support all communities.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? Examples 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. 

I agree that we need business opportunities. I feel that before we make such large incentives, we should vet these large corporations and ask them the following: What is their investment in our community? What concessions are they willing to make in our communities to make them stronger? What programs will they support now to better our communities? When they can answer those questions and provide opportunities, resources, and money of their own, then can we begin to negotiate at the table – and that table should be public and transparent. They should be helping to support small business owners with training, support, connections, and funds, especially when it comes to those who are most affected by our housing crisis: communities of color, LGBTQ+ people, and those with disabilities.

Crime rates have increased in Aurora in the past two years. What can the city council do to address that problem? How do you think any new proposals related to controlling crime should be funded?

 We need to take a serious look at why things are happening. We had a pandemic which threw a lot of people off. Isolating people. Many people lost their jobs, and essential people had to continue to work more hours without more opportunities to make more money during these trying times. This exacerbated income inequalities and labor shortages that had already been growing for several years. 

We also have a community who does not trust the police, the agency tasked with safety. When people fear the people that are supposed to help, we have an issue. 

We must begin to heal. We can only do this when we truly acknowledge our wrongdoings. We must seriously look at roles and responsibilities of the agencies, and the tasks given to those in power. I am also speaking about the government system from the Mayor, City Manager, etc. If we do not adhere to these roles and responsibilities, how can we in turn expect our communities to do the same?

We cannot expect change to totally come just from the grassroots level. It has to be from both sides. As we begin this new chapter in Aurora’s history, we must make every effort to change the systems that got us here. I am willing to work alongside all those who truly want to make changes for the betterment of our city.

Our citizens demand it. I want to say we are not looking to get rid of the police, but look at it from a perspective of jobs and roles and responsibilities with boundaries. We must begin to understand that we have to work with other agencies, who have the people and resources to better assist in some instances with regards to community. We must be working in tandem to address the many issues in our communities, from the housing crisis and mental illness to substance abuse and public safety, etc.

Let us use the great swath of our resources to tackle these issues and apply the best strategies to ensure we come out with the best outcome for all involved. That we help those in need and get them the care they need. That we deter those who wish to do harm to others or their property. That we all can go home safe to our loved ones. That we begin to build a sense of community where we can all feel safe in our communities because we are building a community where we all care and share our gifts and talents with one another. That we all are part of the solution in keeping our community safe and people no matter their situation can feel welcome.

The Aurora Police Department and the Civil Service Commission have been the subject of many high profile incidents – notably regarding the death of Elijah McClain – and consequently the subject of intense scrutiny from investigative reports. Would you support additional oversight of the Aurora Police Department? If so, what do you think that should look like? 

A young man should not have had to pay the ultimate price to bring attention to an ongoing, well-known, and well-documented problem.

The state handed down some recommendations that the city and APD will need to adhere to. I think we need to know more. I want to know more about why the Civil Service commission does not allow the Chief of Police to weigh in on every and all recruits. If we are passing on those who are not fit, or coming from other areas’ departments with baggage, why do we allow this? Passing the problem on does not solve that individual’s issues. It only allows that person to continue to get away with bad behaviors, and subsequently leads to an Aurora resident’s death or physical harm.

We must place community members on commissions and committees that have more oversight, but also that have teeth. Most of these ad hoc committees have no substance. If people are to make recommendations but have no authority, then what is the use of these committees? To again check a box that we engaged the community’s input, but we are still going to do business as usual? So, we must vet community members and pay them and hold them accountable, as we do any other group in the city, to show we are serious about the issues and will be transparent and accountable.

More about Ruben Medina

What was the last book you read? 

Walking Your Gifted Path by Bruce Anderson Core Gift Institute

What has been your pandemic guilty pleasure? 

I do not have to dress up. I can join meetings in a tee shirt and shorts.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what are three things you would want to bring? 

I would bring my wife (sorry, Dawn), a dog, and a book on how to survive on a deserted island.

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

A way for people to teleport. Imagine the time and land that could be used for other things, and the progress we could make toward our just transition to renewable energy.

If you were going to staycation in Aurora, what activities would you do? 

Walk or run on the many trails, eat at the many diverse restaurants on the Colfax corridor, see a play at the Fox.

 

Meet Jono Scott

Jono Scott. Ward III City Council Candidate. Photo provided by Jono Scott

Jono Scott grew up in Aurora and is now raising his own family in Ward III. He’s the longtime pastor of Woodside Baptist Church in Denver and current director of the Kingdom Giving Food Bank. He’s also served on the Citizen’s Advisory Budget Committee. Scott holds an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies and a master’s degree in Religious Education.

Jono Scott Q&A

This summer, the Aurora City Council unanimously approved a resolution saying the city would welcome Afghan refugees for resettlement, but some members worried about the availability of housing. Are there any policies that you believe could make Aurora a better home for immigrants and refugees? 

I think that we must lead with both our hearts and our heads. As much as we should have a heart of compassion and care, we must also think through our current housing crisis. Basic economics tell us that if we have 10,000 people moving into Aurora, yet we only have 1,000 housing units available… then 9,000 people will not be able to attain/afford housing (Which also impacts homelessness). We must address this issue first, before we compound the situation by bringing in even more people.

Aurora lacks a major entertainment or tourism venue that attracts residents of other metroplex communities. Would you like to see one developed in the city? 

One of the subcommittees on which I have participated on the CABC was the “Events and Venues” subcommittee. We explored and presented a four-phase plan which would bring additional revenues and entertainment to our great city. One of the phases includes utilizing three empty theatres that are currently in the Town Center (yes, already in the Aurora Mall) and retrofitting them into a 1,000 seat entertainment venue. My long-term dream would be to have a major league sporting event venue within Aurora’s city limits (possibly next to an amusement park… I hear Elitch’s is looking to move?).

Proposals to address visible homelessness have ranged from an urban camping ban — which Mayor Mike Coffman has committed to bring back for a second vote — to adding safe parking lots and additional shelter space. Which policies would you be in favor of? Would you support the camping ban? 

I would support the camping ban. As I have knocked on thousands of doors in Ward 3, the two most common themes that I hear is the passionate concern for 1. Rising Crime and 2. Homelessness. I have heard over and over again that “our city is turning to trash!” On the flip side, we also have a responsibility to be compassionate and help those most vulnerable in our community. To facilitate this, I am a big fan of empowering non-profit organizations (rather than more government programs – we are in year 16 of Denver’s “10-year plan to eradicate homelessness”). I am in definite favor of helping to support non-profit organizations like Aurora Housing Authority, Bridge House, Second Chance, and programs like PATH (among others).

Would you support increasing the minimum wage in Aurora? Why? 

Although I believe that a minimum wage is necessary, I would not support increasing the minimum wage at this time. I believe that it would kill entry level jobs, create an undue burden on small businesses (compared to large corporations who could handle it better), and eventually thwart (kill) all developing small businesses – especially minority owned businesses. I just passed a McDonalds that had a sign saying it is hiring for $18 an hour. My fourteen-year-old daughter would love to have that entry level job in two years. With more regulation, those jobs will eventually move to automation and kiosks – thereby killing entry level jobs.

Do you support Aurora forming its own county? Why? 

This would likely be a very expensive endeavor with foundationally significant changes to Aurora. At this point, I would be neither for nor against this. We would need to do an in-depth study of the benefits and potential detriments before proceeding. 

What is the city’s most pressing transportation need? 

We must address our roads, bridges, and aging infrastructure. We are at about a $20 million deficit to our roads and infrastructure budget – each year! We cannot simply keep kicking the can down the road each year… pretty soon it will get stuck in a pothole! As Vice Chair of the CABC (Budget Committee), we studied this very issue and presented to City Council four specific recommendations in which this shortfall can not only be funded, but additional revenue can be gained (without adding any taxes or burdens to the residents). 

Do you think the city does a good job of marketing itself? If not, what can be done differently? Is it important? 

Visit Aurora does a great job of marketing the city with the resources which it is given by the city. We have some great things about Aurora (specifically our parks and recreation), but ultimately, we need to have more venues and attractions for people to come and enjoy.

Should Aurora limit or ban giving financial incentives to businesses in an effort to lure them to Aurora? Examples 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. 

Ultimately, we need anchor centers within Aurora. These places provide many jobs to residents and attract/support auxiliary retail and venues within the city. I would also add Anschutz Medical Campus as an appendix to this list as well. A common misconception is that the city spends money from its budget to attract/lure these companies to the city. In reality, the city simply withholds collection of taxes for a set period of time from these agreements. The reality is that, without these incentives, these companies would simply choose another city or setting to invest their resources.

Crime rates have increased in Aurora in the past two years. What can the city council do to address that problem? How do you think any new proposals related to controlling crime should be funded?

 We must enforce the law. In talking with residents (thousands of them), there is increased frustration that criminals are coddled and that both residents and victims are being punished. One police officer relayed to me a story of catching a criminal in the act of aggravated auto theft. As they had him in handcuffs, he looked up and told them that they might as well take off the handcuffs because they both knew he would be released. The sad thing is that the criminal was right. There is no excuse for this! We must stop coddling the criminals and placing their burden on law-abiding residents. Council can address this by bringing dignity and support to our law enforcement and funding them adequately. Also, the Critical Response Teams (CRT) and Aurora Mobile Response Teams (AMRT) should be considered and potentially expanded.

The Aurora Police Department and the Civil Service Commission have been the subject of many high profile incidents – notably regarding the death of Elijah McClain – and consequently the subject of intense scrutiny from investigative reports. Would you support additional oversight of the Aurora Police Department? If so, what do you think that should look like? 

What happened to Elijah McClain was tragic. We all wish that he was still alive. My heart goes out to his mom and family. I can’t imagine the pain that they have gone through over these last two and a half years. Many changes have been implemented since that time. Being a police officer is incredibly difficult. We must recognize that there are many good (and very necessary) Aurora Police officers who serve and protect this community. Yes, the police need accountability… even they say that. However, we must be careful that we do not go to the other extreme of tying their hands so tight that they are not able to enforce the laws. (See the question regarding crime above). 

More about Jono Scott

he Bible. (I usually read a Proverb each morning and am also working through the book of Acts).  Also, Fancy Nancy… to my daughter of course.

What has been your pandemic guilty pleasure? 

Service. We were able to feed over 500 families each week during the shutdown. That was truly satisfying!

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what are three things you would want to bring? 

My family, a multitool… and a yacht!

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

Efficient, wind-powered roof systems to supplement electrical power for homes.

If you were going to staycation in Aurora, what activities would you do? 

Camping in a local park and open space is probably out of the question… My family and I would explore our extensive parks and trail systems, enjoy trying our diverse cuisine each day, visit places like the Plains Conservation Society, Delaney Farm, Aurora History Museum, the Library, and find one of the great programs put on by the Parks and Recreation Department.

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Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

Our biggest issue for the past-4 years has been one of representation by our lame-duck council person. Ruben Medina will solve that one and represent us well.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Mr. Medina will only represent the Ward III free spending socialist’s well not so much the citizens looking for less government in our lives. If you want less government then Reverend Mr. Scott is your man.

sugar
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

The Reverend Mr. Scott, the candidate mailing out two mailers that lie about his
opponent? I think not.