2017 CITY COUNCIL: Crowded slate for two Aurora at-large city council seats

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AURORAEight candidates are hoping to snag one of the two at-large seats that will bring new faces to the Aurora City Council, with Barb Cleland deciding not to run and Brad Pierce term-limited. David Gruber, Brian Arnold, Tim Huffman, Russ Wagner, Allison Hiltz, Reid Hettich, Abel Laeke and Tom Tobiassen are in the race.

Arnold first ran for city council in 2015 for the Ward IV race to replace term-limited councilman Bob Broom. Then, Arnold found himself up against PK Kaiser, who dropped from this year’s at-large race, and Francoise Bergan, who was elected to council.

In the at-large race Arnold jokes that he doesn’t have to be voters’ first vote, but he’d like to be their second. Though he lives in Ward VI, Arnold works in Ward I and has family across the sprawling city. That gives him a wide perspective of issues facing Aurora.

As the executive director of Aurora Warms the Nights, a non-profit organization that partners with other organizations to connect Aurora’s homeless population with services, Arnold is confident that affordable housing could help fix much of the homeless situation, particularly along the east Colfax corridor.

Hettich, a longtime pastor in the Denver metro area, is also familiar with the homeless population in the northern portion of the city, where he lives and works. While Hettich has lived further south for much of his time in Aurora, Hettich now resides in Ward I, also where the Mosaic Church of Aurora, a “multi ethnic, economically diverse, community focused church” he helped start is located.

While working with some of Aurora’s poorest neighborhoods, Hettich believes, not unlike many, that the biggest issue facing the city is the maintenance of its roads.

Gruber, a retired Air Force colonel, knows the all-encompassing work it takes to run a city. Afterall, he was the commander responsible for base operations at Buckley Air Force Base, making sure police and fire ran smoothly, the streets were maintained and computer and logistics were all up to par.

When it comes to Aurora’s growth, Gruber doesn’t believe it has not all been good. His campaign website cites what he believes as complex funding and taxation as proof. For Gruber, Aurora’s biggest challenge is how it taxes its residents and how that is supposed to keep up with growth.

“The larger we become, the bigger difference we face in what we collect in taxes and what we need to support our citizens,” Gruber’s website says.

While Gruber doesn’t give a play-by-play on how to address the elaborate issue of growth and taxes, he does say his experience with budgets and management are what Aurora needs in a leader.

Like Gruber, Tobiassen knows the complexities of government and growth. Tobiassen was the the chairman of the Regional Transportation District — one of the his major accomplishments during his tenure was “bringing RTD to Aurora and Aurora to RTD” with the R Line along Interstate 225.

With the threat of service reduction, Tobiassen named keeping the R Line up and running a top transportation priority for the city. He also believes the traffic jams along I-225 are a major issue.

Beyond transportation, Tobiassen is an advocate for luring more high-paying jobs to Aurora. And so, incentives are a major part of the equation.

Those incentives could be a major determining factor for some companies, Tobiassen said.

Hiltz, the only woman in the at-large race, describes herself as a bit of a policy wonk. She likes decisions to be backed with hard facts and trusted data. She works for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan non-governmental organization that serves state legislatures. There, it’s only the data that matters. But Hiltz wants to apply the idea of fact-based decision making to the city.

For example, Hiltz believes that the city should be extra cautious when awarding incentives to businesses it’s luring to Aurora, because she said she believes those incentives aren’t always the best economic development tools.

Laeke knows the immigrant population well. He’s the son of Ethiopian immigrants and has close ties to the Ethiopian community in Aurora, which Laeke claims to be a major reason for his candidacy. There aren’t any council members presently that have the same kind of ties to the African immigrant community as he does.

Laeke grew up in Aurora, so he believes he understands the needs of the community. Though, this isn’t his first dive into municipal politics. Laeke ran for Pueblo City Council in 2015, losing with just 11 percent of the vote.

Prior to his interest in politics, Laeke had several run-ins with law enforcement, as the Aurora Sentinel has uncovered. Laeke is a registered sex offender and was charged with felonies three different times — but he was never convicted, which according to the city, would have barred him from running for council.

Huffman is running for a city council at-large seat after spending 33 years on the Aurora Police Department. While serving the city as a law enforcement officer, Huffman said he got to know the immigrant and refugee population well, but said during a candidate forum that giving the title of “sanctuary city” to Aurora isn’t needed.

The candidate also has put in a lot of work to aid the homeless population in Aurora. He served as a board member of Aurora Warms the Nights, Aurora Housing Authority and Aurora Mental Health. Homelessness is much more complicated than most people make it out to be, Huffman said.

Even so, there is a group among the homeless who are difficult to help, Huffman said, adding that resources should be spent wisely and efficiently on homelessness.

Wagner is an Aurora native. He returned after serving in the U.S. Navy to buy a home and start a family.

Above all, he believes people could use a reason to travel to Aurora. So in four years, if elected, he’d like to be able to say he helped create a major tourist attraction in Aurora — such as a performing arts center, theme park or some type of entertainment district.

Additionally, Wagner said supporting small businesses that call Aurora home and maintaining public safety in one of Colorado’s largest cities should be top priorities, too.

Among the top issues to come to the surface during candidate forums and interviews is whether Aurora should claim itself a ‘sanctuary city.’

Hiltz disagrees with the majority of the current city council that doesn’t think Aurora needs the title. During forums and on her website Hiltz said areas with higher populations of refugees and immigrants have lower violent and property crime rates — a major reason to adopt the title and support a significant population in Aurora.

Huffman, on the other hand, said he didn’t believe the city should subscribe to the title, and that if federal laws aren’t working, then federal lawmakers should reexamine them.

During the Channel 8 candidate forum, Hiltz said she found it interesting that Aurora being a home rule municipality wants control over oil and gas, taxes and other things, but “not that local control when it comes to stepping up, taking control and protecting the people who live here.”