Caleb Hendrich loads ballots into the ballot sorter Nov. 2, 2021, at the Arapahoe County Elections Facility. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

While the bulk of election-year attention and money points to top-line statewide and legislative races, those “down ballot” questions and candidates probably affect your everyday life more immediately and directly.

With that in mind, The Sentinel Editorial Board offers these endorsements. Each race is considered separately and choices are based primarily on a qualified candidate’s agenda and goals aligning with that of the Sentinel Editorial Board. 

This year’s considerations look toward local governments that are foremost transparent and accountable with officials who look solely to vetted, reliable data and studies.

Here are The Sentinel suggestions for local offices up for election this year.

Adams County offices

Adams County Commissioner District 4: Steve O’Dorisio.

Incumbent Democratic Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio has for nearly eight years been a steady force for change and accountability in a county government that for far longer has often been lacking in those qualities.

In working with Aurora and other Adams County municipalities, O’Dorisio has shown himself open to ways to provide services in a county seat far from the bulk of residents, and still ensure equity for everyone in the county.

Most importantly, he’s shown he can support local businesses and industries, but also demand that the interests of people who make their home in Adams County are paramount.

O’Dorisio regularly seeks to ensure that county commission actions are transparent to the community, a commendable and important standard.

The Sentinel readily recommends O’Dorisio for another term.

Adams County Commissioner District 3: Emma Pinter

Both Democratic incumbent County Commissioner Emma Pinter and GOP challenger Sean Forest bring a thoughtful approach to governing the county.

Pinter, a former Westminster City Council member, offers the board of commissioners a community government sensibility too often overlooked by urban county leaders.

Forest offers a deeply introspective approach to running the county.

But Adams County, run by a professional county manager, is already equipped to direct staff to tease out directions and decisions from officials overseeing a county that is both as rural as Leader, Colorado, and as city gritty as East Colfax Avenue and Beeler Street.

The Sentinel recommends returning Pinter to the board of commissioners because, as a former city councilperson, she has shown deep appreciation for the relationship between Adams County and its municipalities. But she also keeps a watchful eye over the myriad neighborhoods that often have many community needs but no city infrastructure to provide them.

Adams County Treasurer: Stan Martin

The Sentinel Editorial Board strongly recommends sending Republican Stan Martin to lead the county treasurer’s office and restore credibility, transparency and trust.

The office became the subject of investigations and audits after incumbent Lisa Culpepper lost the faith of the county commission and voters. She lost her Democratic primary election in June to Democrat Alexander Villagran.

Controversy over whether and how Culpepper handled bank reconciliation and other record-keeping issues drew fire from county officials and, ultimately, voters alike. 

Martin, formerly the Adams County Clerk and Recorder, has always shown a deep appreciation for public accountability, and how county officials in the past have abused their offices.

“Unfortunately, Adams County has a history of nepotism,” Martin told the Sentinel. “I firmly believe Adams County citizens should have the final say in who they want to represent them, not some other partisan elected officials.”

Villagran is a savvy manager with financial experience, but this term calls for someone who understands the pitfalls of Adams County government and is equipped from Day One to restore credibility. 

Martin, having formerly run elections for Adams County, made clear that he will not tolerate election deniers nor conspiracy theories rampant among his party.

Not only do county residents get a trusted official to restore credibility to the office, but Republicans can see that pushing against The Big Lie is a winning strategy.

Adams County Clerk and Recorder: Josh Zygielbaum

Josh Zygielbaum’s proven dedication to election transparency and credibility makes him the clear choice for Adams County Clerk and Recorder.

The first-term Democrat was successful in ensuring elections and all county clerk services continued during the extreme and unique challenges of the pandemic.

At a time when some county clerks in Colorado have drawn themselves into controversies surrounding conspiracy theories and disinformation, Zygielbaum has remained far above the fray.

Republican challenger Karen Hoopes brings no practical experience to the table and in responding to Sentinel queries makes clear she’s pleased to entertain talk about repteadly debunked fraud allegations and other dangerous conspiracy theories.

The Sentinel fervently recommends Zygielbaum for county clerk and just as fervently advises against voting for Hoopes.

Adams County Sheriff: Gene Claps

Like the Adams County commission, the sheriff’s department has seen more than its fair share of malfeasance and controversy over the past few decades.

Both sheriff candidates Gene Claps and Mike McIntosh would bring needed integrity and stability to this large but shaken department.

McIntosh, a Republican, was county sheriff until being defeated by incumbent Democrat Sheriff Rick Reigenborn in 2018.

While McIntosh’s tenure was for the most part marked by stability and a focus on addressing crime in unincorporated parts of the county, problems with jail crowding and bumpy relations with city police department officials revealed a less-than collaborative environment.

Returning McIntosh as sheriff would essentially bring back the high and low points of his administration.

The Sentinel Editorial Board recommends voters put Democrat Gene Claps in charge of the office and department, creating a new start for the county and regional police departments associated with the office.

Claps was previously the county’s top jail administrator as a deputy in the department.

His experience in handling one of the county’s most complex and challenging institutions is a valuable asset at a time when jails undergo close and critical review.

Claps shows a keen appreciation not just for department morale and recruitment, but for ensuring law enforcement officers provably treat the community with respect and fairness.

Arapahoe County races

Arapahoe County Coroner: Kelly Lear

Voters have an easy choice to make for county coroner, incumbent Dr. Kelly Lear.

For almost two decades, Lear has instilled trust and accountability as the agency’s chief medical examiner and administrator. 

Lear has ensured the office’s work is compassionate and respectful to families of the dead, but just as critically, the work is accountable and transparent to the public.

Under her leadership, the office has been above reproach for the past four years and The Sentinel strongly urges voters to return Lear to continue leading the office, and the profession.

Arapahoe County Commissioner District 2: Jessica Campbell-Swanson

Both candidates for Arapahoe County Commissioner District 2 bring experience and several ideas to the debate.

Former Centennial City Councilmember Mark Gotto offers a hopeful mix of plans to leverage transparency and communication as the county slogs through issues surrounding a new health department, sustained growth, limited water and a bevy of environmental challenges.

Campbell-Swanson, a lawyer and political strategist, brings a solid, detailed plan to the table, setting an agenda for the commission The Sentinel and most residents would like to see materialize.

Regarding the demise of Tri-County Health and the imminent creation of the Arapahoe Health Department, Campbell-Swanson insists that new board of health members offer not just experience, but a dedication to making decisions on sound, vetted data and science.

The Tri-County Health Department board imploded during the pandemic when some appointees from Douglas County abandoned decisions based on science and health, pushing for a political committee following conspiracy theories instead of public safety.

The chaos is far from over, as the county must now create a new department while decommissioning Tri-County, along with several thorny employee and retirement issues.

Campbell-Swanson also sees that growth and a regional effort to salvage RTD are battles everyone has a stake in and engaging in them creates benefits for every metro resident.

Her visionary approach to one of the state’s largest and most complex counties makes Campbell-Swanson the right choice.

Arapahoe County District 4 Commissioner: Leslie Summey

Navy veteran, small-business owner and mother of five, Leslie Summey is the right choice for Arapahoe County Commission District 4.

Summey brings an impressive roster of goals for the county.

She is an energetic leader that sees the need for quickly building a strong health department to replace the continuing loss of the Tri-County Health Department. We share her goal of pushing the new department further to include ways to deliver more mental health services to residents.

Summey, a Democrat, is also eager to push the county toward more cooperative and collaborative ways to improve RTD and other regional transportation enhancements.

She makes an impressive case for the county commission to ensure all county residents are considered as the region deals with growth, water and air quality issues.

She’s opposed for the vacant seat by former GOP Aurora City Councilmember Bob Roth. 

Roth’s most remarkable achievement during his tenure on the council was an egregious ethics scandal. Roth ran his own development-construction consulting business and touted his connections to city, state and regional lawmakers as a marketable asset of his position on the city council. 

“Open doors – With a vast network in the public and private sector, in vertical and horizontal development, we can open doors that have not been available previously; Legislative assistance – Engage civic executives and elected officials on behalf of clients for development projects,” Roth touted on his company’s website in 2018.

“Promising legislative assistance by tapping ‘elected officials’ whom Roth works with in his official capacity as a city councilman and official in the Denver Regional Council of Governments is expressly forbidden, even for two years after Roth leaves office,” The Sentinel said in an editorial on the clear ethics lapse. “An elected official offering to sell influence over another elected official is anathema to honest, ethical government.”

Roth was protected by fellow Republicans at the time, which failed to create any meaningful mechanism for oversight for such conflicts of interest.

A position on the county commission, with even less scrutiny than that focused on the Aurora City Council, would be unwise.

Summey is the clear choice for voters.

Arapahoe County Assessor: Bob Andrews

Voters have two good choices for county assessor. Both Republican challenger Bob Andrews and incumbent Democrat PK Kaiser show a strong grasp of the office’s seemingly obscure but important mission. Andrews has appraised properties professionally. Kaiser has led an office that admirably kept pace with substantial real estate volatility, even during the pandemic.

But Andrews steps ahead with his strong demand for customer service, his priority as custodian of valuation for taxation.

County residents and businesses will be well served by either candidate, but better served by Andrews.

Arapahoe County Treasurer: Michael Westerberg

The race for Arapahoe County treasurer is another case of two apt candidates seeking the office of treasurer, a job that requires people management skills more than investment savvy.

The office is staffed with professional market and investment experts, safeguarding taxpayer funds in investments and holdings. Much of the work is regulated by a variety of laws and guidelines.

The treasurer oversees that staff and all of the employees needed to bill and collect tax levies across the county. 

Former City Councilmember Marsha Berzins clearly understands the role of the office and touts a long tenure as a city lawmaker.

But Westerberg has real experience with managing larger staffs and has made intriguing promises to find ways to boost the investments of tens of millions of property tax collections. He brings an impressive resume to the position with a law degree specializing in taxation, making him ready to not only take charge of the office, but innovate.

We recommend Westerberg for the job.

Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder: Joan Lopez

Four years ago, the Sentinel endorsed Democrat Joan Lopez’s Republican opponent for the clerk’s job.

The reason was simple. Matt Crane was an above-board public servant who had helped make voting easy for residents and provided uncompromising election security and efficiency.

We can strongly encourage voters to choose Lopez this time for those same reasons.

Lopez has shown in each election cycle that she takes seriously the job of ensuring voters can easily cast ballots, and that the results of the election can come fast, efficiently and without question.

At a time when debunked conspiracy theories and unreasonable criticism is a pervasive issue, elections under Lopez’ watch are absolutely certain to be free of malfeasance.

Like every large county, elections haven’t come without technical mistakes, but Lopez’s quick efforts to correct problems is what’s demanded.

Republican challenger Caroline Cornell talks worrisomely about the need to reel back “ballot harvesting” which is not a problem.

Both candidates show a keen awareness that elections are just part of the job of the county clerk, and that customer service for license plates and driver licenses is important.

But we agree with Lopez that kiosks and automation are far better alternatives than focusing resources on in-person centers that are notorious black holes for time and tax dollars.

The Sentinel recommends Lopez for a second term.

Arapahoe County Sheriff: Tyler Brown

The Arapahoe County sheriff’s race is another instance where The Sentinel in 2018 backed the Republican candidate over the Democratic challenger, Tyler Brown, to ensure an experienced hand at the wheel.

Brown is now that experienced and well-reasoned top law official, deserving of a second term.

Brown has shown a steady hand as a law enforcer for one of the largest police departments in the state, as well as the chief custodian for one of the state’s largest jail systems.

During the pandemic, when jails were challenged in unimaginable ways, Brown led the county steadily and reliably through near-forced releases of inmates.

The first-term sheriff’s greatest asset not only to county residents but all of Colorado is his push for increasing mental health and other services to address the crisis of addiction and mental illness, plaguing jails across the state.

Republican challenger Kevin Edling brings impressive credentials to the race as a former 27-year-veteran of the Denver Police Department.

He, too, shows a keen awareness of the growing crisis in local jails created by drug addiction and mental illness.

We disagree with his allegation that the current department lacks transparency or communication. We’ve found the department forthcoming and compliant with a wide range of requests for information on specific cases, department policy and department data and statistics.

We recommend Brown for a second term as sheriff. 

2 replies on “ENDORSEMENTS: Sentinel Colorado choices for regional, county races”

  1. Hi, do you have a pdf of articles or endorsements. I really like the interview today and I want to give you my endorsement

  2. Only when democrat choices would be patently laughable (a perennial “I-run-for-anything” PK and the empty suit Villagran) can you manage to squeeze in two folks from the opposite side of your politics.

    And in the process, you slide an activist under the door — socialist Iman Jodeh’s chief — Campbell-Swanson. Did I mention Westerberg rubs shoulders with council members Juan Marcano and Alison Coombs in the self-described “largest socialist organization in America?”

    Not surprising. Not at all. Cuba, here we come!

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