Gilpin County: Meet the Candidates

Board Candidate Gail Watson hopes to win re-election


John Scarffe
Gilpin County

Gilpin County Board of County Commissioner Gail Watson is running for a second term on the Board in the November 8, 2016 election. Watson lives near Rollinsville and is a thirty-two-year resident of Colorado with the last seventeen years spent here in Gilpin County.

If elected to the Board for a second term, Watson’s top three priorities are broadband, emergency preparedness and county growth. “Internet and cell phone service is the fourth utility, and federal, state and local government have to get involved to make certain that all Americans are served,” Watson wrote in response to a Mountain-Ear questionnaire. “It is not only a lifestyle issue as poor service in underserved areas like Gilpin County impacts emergency response and educational and health services.”

Her second priority is emergency preparedness. “One of the most important responsibilities of county government is to prepare for the disasters that eventually come our way. Gilpin County has been very fortunate to not have experienced some of the devastating events of flood and fire that neighboring counties have.

“Some of this is good luck, and some of this is having first responders, both salaried and volunteer, who aggressively respond, thereby limiting greater impact,” Watson wrote. “We must remain vigilant and adequately fund these services.”

Regarding County growth, Watson wrote: “Although rarely uttered by a candidate, we need to limit growth. Gilpin County is 35 minutes away from the metro area population of 3.1 million people. Keeping Gilpin County the rural mountain community we love means limiting growth and continuing to emphasize county programs like the boundary line elimination program. Let’s allow the cities to have the smart growth they look for while keeping the county and our vistas residential and unspoiled.”

“Gilpin County is unique as in most counties, the majority of residents live in cities. In Gilpin County only 15 percent of our residents live in the cities. The majority, or 85 percent, live in unincorporated Gilpin County and are reliant on County services.”

Before coming to Gilpin County, she lived in Denver from 1979 to 2000, New Paltz, New York, from 1974 to 1979 and grew up in the New York City borough of Queens.

Watson attended high school in NYC and earned a bachelor of science degree in visual arts at the State University College at New Paltz. She later took graduate coursework at the University of Colorado at Denver. She also earned her Colorado license as an insurance broker in 1980 and was a project manager for 18 years.

“Prior to election as commissioner, I was self-employed as a letterpress printer and bookbinder with Birdwood Press,” Watson wrote. “I am also an artist with a gallery and representatives who place my work. My artists’ books are in more than thirty university and private collections.

“I also run a bed & breakfast, Birdwood Lodge, from my home since 2012. Prior to starting my own business, I was a project manager for Vermilion Design in Boulder for eighteen years.

“This was a wonderful experience, and I learned a great deal about business and design and how to create a thriving business by caring for and working in the community. Before joining the design studio, I was a graphics arts consultant for a Fortune 500 company, Jim Walter Papers in Denver, from 1984 to 1987.

“From 1979 through 1984, I worked in the insurance industry, which was sort of a catch-all for recent grads – especially fine art students for whom there was no clear career path. I worked for Financial Guardian and then got my broker’s license and worked for Crump-Davis in excess and surplus lines for the transportation and energy industries.”

Watson is divorced with no children but is a particularly active and involved aunt to two nephews and a niece who are all now attending college. “I have always been a dog-lover, and after a Valentine’s Day present of a Norwegian Elkhound puppy, I started adopting them from the Norwegian Elkhound Rescue Group,” Watson wrote. “Abbey came to me eight years ago as a two-year old, and Bear came from Arkansas three years ago at age nine.

“I’m still skiing and hiking, albeit a little slower, and I love to entertain, read and have been fortunate to have traveled to 23 countries and 33 states.”

Watson has been very involved in Gilpin County civic and volunteer activities. She was a volunteer in Golden Gate Canyon State Park from 2001 to 2004 and a board member with the Mountain Forum for Peace for 9 years, where she is still an active member.

Watson was an artist-in-residence at the Gilpin County Public Library during the summer of 2009 and an artist-in-residence at the Gilpin County School in March 2012. She is a founding member of the Gilpin Arts Studio Tour, which is now in its fifth year, and a member of the Gilpin County Artists’ Association.

Watson was a county advisor to the founding board of the Gilpin Senior Living non-profit. As a Commissioner she has been the County’s legislative committee member, with Colorado Counties for the past two years, and has been the County representative to the Northern Colorado Sport Shooting Partnership for the past four years.

Regarding the County Commissioners’ role in environmental health, Watson wrote: “I believe we have to be involved and always researching grants and programs that enable our residents to be good stewards of their land. I’m always amazed to see our Colorado State University Extension agent out in the county spraying for noxious weeds. We’ll have to step it up on all fronts as climate change brings new challenges to life in the high country.”

The County must deal with its infrastructure needs. “The recession greatly impacted the county’s ability to care for our aging buildings,” Watson wrote. “We have had to defer important maintenance due to the reduced budget.

“Now that gaming tax revenues as well as property tax revenues are increasing, we have to address the bats in the Central City Courthouse, the failing roof at the Justice Center and step up to ensure that many of our historical buildings and sites get the attention they deserve.”

The County now has an emergency preparedness director who lives in the county, Watson wrote, and the monthly meetings of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) assure me that we have a tremendous resource of well-trained and well-prepared first responders. “We completed the Gilpin County Hazard Mitigation Plan this summer, which was forwarded on to the state and FEMA.

“Our Emergency Preparedness Director, Kevin Armstrong, just received a grant to pay for 50 percent of the cost of outfitting the county Emergency Operations Center. I support the LEPC and the Emergency Preparedness Department whole-heartedly and feel this is one of the highest priorities of local government.”

When asked about encouraging business, agriculture or forest-related development, Watson responded, “What I hope to encourage through better broadband service is a high number of home-based businesses that allow residents to work and play in the community they love. “Gilpin County has limited commercial property available, and what we do have is located near neighborhoods making business development a tricky issue,” Watson wrote.

“We know that proposals for mining and milling operations have been met with loud opposition from residents. We are in an enviable position statewide, in that we are one of only two counties with legalized gambling.

“The state constitutional amendment that allowed Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to have gambling created a virtual monopoly, one that other counties and cities look at with envy. Half of our residents work in gaming, and more than half of our revenues come directly from the gaming industry – this allows the county to keep the services high and taxes low.

“The gaming revenue does not come without impacts as we can see in our jails and courts, and I’ve talked with folks who didn’t vote for it or never would have – but it’s here and our largest industry, and I believe we have more favorable impacts than negative, and so we have an obligation to protect and support it.”

Regarding marijuana grow operations, retail and medical outlets, Watson wrote that Gilpin County does not have a sales tax or much commercial property.

“We felt that the cities could better handle retail MJ as they have the means to tax sales and the visitors wishing to purchase. We did allow those with a medical dispensary license prior to the county moratorium to convert to recreational sales and the results have been surprising. Of the three grand-fathered dispensaries only one is in business today.”

When asked about law enforcement in Central City, Watson said that the County has a Memorandum of Understanding with Central City for patrol officers, and a financial agreement to pay for these services. The County was presented with an Intergovernmental Agreement on Tuesday, September 6, 2016, between the County and Central City for law enforcement services. “As I am now in the research and consideration stage, I feel it’s not prudent to comment further,” Watson wrote.

Regarding dog and animal control in the County, Watson wrote: “We were asked by the Sheriff’s Office to amend the 19-year-old resolution and change control from voice and sight to leash control. I felt that the ordinance was negatively worded and so edited it and added concern for the welfare of our pets and highlighted that we fully enforce the state statute on animal cruelty.

“I also added the exemption for service dogs and obedience training. I felt this would allow residents with truly well-behaved dogs that “come” and “leave it” at first command to walk and work with them off leash.

“The Sheriff’s Office provided this dispatch and summons data: The 487 animal complaint calls to dispatch from 5/2/15 through 5/2/16 resulted in 21 summons and one warning ticket.”

The Board of County Commissioners discussed the dog welfare and control ordinance at several meetings before voting to approve it on August 9th. Watson wrote: “We heard from an equal number of people at the public meeting, some who enjoy walking their dogs together and do not appear to have any problems or complaints from neighbors.

“We also heard from others who had been bitten, knocked down or harassed by dogs off-leash and not responding to the owner’s commands. In the end, I felt that their right to walk without fear was most important and worth the inconvenience or restriction of requiring others to walk their dog on a leash.”

Watson wrote about public transportation: “When our only medical clinic closed in 2014, a number of officials and concerned citizens met to discuss options, and the Gilpin Connect was the result. This advance-scheduled rider service for medical appointments started in spring 2015 and is very successful with rides scheduled weeks in advance.  

“It is so popular that we are looking into expanding it from four days a week to five. We are currently applying for a transportation planning grant along with Clear Creek County to more fully understand rural transportation options and available state and federal funding.

Watson can be contacted by cell phone at 303-887-2913 or by email at or

Board candidate Ron Engels advocates for all citizens


John Scarffe
Gilpin County

Central City Mayor Ron Engels is running for a seat on the Gilpin County Board of County Commissioners in the November 8, 2016 election. Engels lives at 126 Casey Street, Central City, and manages data integration for the Denver Public School District.

If elected to the Board for a second term, Engel’s “job one” would be fulfilling the obligations outlined in the job description for a Gilpin County Commissioner, Engels wrote in response to a Mountain-Ear questionnaire. That would include establishing a vision and strategic direction for the County and advocating for all citizens at every level of government.

Engels also would create policy and carry out necessary legislative functions, administer land use and adopt a County budget, while being a good steward of County resources.

“In carrying out that mandate, the most important thing the Board can do is to make sure our elected officials and staff have the resources they need to carry out the hard work of ‘keeping the lights on’ — all the day-to-day activities that we, as residents, expect to happen without even thinking about it,” Engels wrote.

“Working with the County leadership team to build resiliency into our budget is another priority I’d bring to the office. Everyone used to think that gaming was a recession-proof industry, so our gaming revenues would continue to increase,” Engels wrote.

“The economic downturn that started in 2008 proved that notion wrong. The commissioners did a good job guiding us through those lean years, but it was a tough task, and it put a strain on everyone. Budgeting with an eye to an uncertain future is a critical element of our overall economic success.”

Engels moved to Central City in the Spring of 2000. He was born and raised in Iowa. After completing university and a four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Army, mostly in Panama, he lived in Garden City, Kansas, working at the local public radio station. He also lived in Denver for several years before coming to Gilpin County.

Engels earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Iowa. He has completed several leadership training workshops through Denver Public Schools, including Facilitated Leadership Training and DPS Management, both of which are designed to provide practical skills in leading teams.

“Through my involvement with Central City, I’ve attended Colorado Municipal League training sessions and conferences and several Denver Regional Council of Government workshops,” Engels wrote. Engels has worked for the Denver Public School District since 1995, managing data integration for the District.

“My team is made up of six data modelers and developers who transform data from the two dozen or so applications that run the District into one consolidated reporting database,” Engels wrote. “We also push data out to another 30-or-so applications that help our 4,500 teachers better educate the 95,000 students of the District.”

The Central City Council appointed Engels as mayor in August of 2010 to complete the term of the previous mayor. He then won election to the seat twice, in 2010 and 2014.

“When I was first elected as an Alderman, our financial situation was precarious,” Engels wrote. “We needed to take out bridge loans to make payroll in the summer, until our gaming check arrived. Now, thanks to a lot of teamwork, we have healthy reserves and the capacity to take on much needed infrastructure and economic development projects.

“My husband, Zane Laubhan, and I will celebrate our 21st anniversary in December. We own an antique home on The Casey in Central City that is on the State Register of Historic Places. We’ve been rehabilitating the house since the day we purchased it, about 15 years ago.”

Engels is a 10-year Chair Officer of Central City Elks, No. 557, and a full voting member of the Central City Opera House Board of Directors. “We’ve maintained a family membership in Gilpin History for several years, and I’m always available to help out with their events, most recently serving as ‘Gate Keeper’ at their annual Cemetery Crawl,” Engels wrote.

“While I don’t maintain an active membership in the Gilpin Arts Association, I do volunteer often to help with their fund-raising activities. I also lend a hand in whatever role Central City Events wants me to play, most often a judge for the annual Madam Lou Bunch Day festivities.”

Regarding the County Commissioners’ role in environmental health, Engels wrote that the Board of County Commissioners plays an important role in maintaining a healthy local environment. “With more than half of the land in the county under state and federal control, Commissioners need to maintain strong relationships with outside agencies to understand and influence any policy changes that would impact us. For those parts of the county under local control, we should incentivize the creation and maintenance of defensible space, much like the very successful Boundary Line Elimination program.”

The County’s infrastructure needs are the core to the services the County provides, Engels wrote. “Those activities I prioritized earlier as critical ‘keep the lights on’ functionality will be a primary focus for me as your Commissioner.

“Providing for the safety of all our residents and visitors day in and day out, and especially in an emergency situation, is part of the critical ‘keep the lights on’ activities that come first.

“Government should create and maintain the infrastructure in which business of any kind can be successful. Government incentives for economic development usually come in the form of tax abatements for some length of time.

“While a property tax abatement could be implemented to attract new business to the County, that tax is already very low, so it would not, in my opinion, serve as much of an incentive. The other thing the Commissioners control that could function as an economic development tool is land use and zoning policy, which should be revisited regularly to make sure it is business- and resident-friendly, understandable and accessible,” Engels wrote.

“Medical and retail marijuana grow operations and sales are legal in Colorado. Cannabis-related businesses in Colorado should be taxed and regulated with the same considerations as any other business concern,” Engels wrote.

“In Central City, due to the hot and humid conditions that a grow operation mandates and the delicate condition of many of our historic structures, we made the choice to prohibit grow operations in the City. Sales are legal, and a good source of additional tax revenue.”

Engels wrote about law enforcement in the County that the Board has an important role in approval of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that would create a joint Central City and Gilpin County law enforcement agreement. “Their role is to understand the implications of the IGA, and approve the Sheriff’s Office to move forward with the implementation plan.

“There has been much work already accomplished at the staff level to determine roles, responsibilities and costs for implementing the agreement. As the IGA is currently drafted, it will allow the Sheriff’s Office to provide round-the-clock coverage to the county, with no coverage necessary by an on-call deputy.

“It would provide that same high level of coverage to Central City residents and visitors. At the same time the agreement provides higher levels of law enforcement protection to everyone, it will save Central City an estimated $300,000 annually, at no additional cost to the County. This is the definition of a win-win situation.”

Regarding dog and animal control, Engels wrote: “The need for most legislation comes because some portion of the population is not voluntarily doing the right thing. I believe this is the case with the recently updated County ordinance regarding animal control.

“When a dog runs free and its owner cannot or will not control it, the County must have regulations in place that can effectively deal with the issue — for public safety and for the safety of the animal. Most investigations of out-of-control animals begin when someone lodges a complaint. If you have a well-trained animal, you’ll most likely never need to have a concern with this new ordinance.”

Engels wrote that heavy traffic on the I-70 corridor negatively impacts our drive time. “Because of that, we need to have a seat at the table in any discussion that impacts I-70 traffic flows, but we also need to be realistic in what we ask, since the corridor does not go through the county. Participation by the County Commissioners in I-70 corridor conversations is part of the job description: advocating for our residents’ interests at all levels of government.

“Public transport is expensive to provide and maintain. The regularly scheduled bus route of a few years ago was a valuable resource to the few who used it, but it was underutilized and cost prohibitive to maintain.

“The newer, on-demand service seems to meet at least part of the need for public transport,” Engels wrote. “A cost-benefit analysis seems to be in order now that it’s been in service for long enough to have adequate usage data. I’d suggest that the benefit side of the equation be given higher priority than the cost side, given the value of the service to those who are in the most need in the County.

Engels can be contacted by phone at 303-582-9606, and by email at