Curry picked for river district


Unanimous but difficult vote

  • Kathleen Curry, a former state legislator and rancher in the Doyleville area will represent Gunnison County on the Colorado River District Board of Directors.
    Kathleen Curry, a former state legislator and rancher in the Doyleville area will represent Gunnison County on the Colorado River District Board of Directors.

In what all three commissioners described as a difficult decision, Kathleen Curry received a unanimous vote for her appointment to the Colorado River District’s Board of Directors.

The decision on the river district seat by the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday followed a swearingin ceremony for commissioners Liz Smith and Jonathan Houck, decisions on which commissioners would serve as voting members on committees and the selection of a new board member for Gunnison Valley Health.

Houck provided his fellow commissioners with more information about why he decided on Jan. 6 to drop out of the appointment process for the river district.

“I appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten from the local government community, but a couple of them did express concern for a number of things in the county that are positive and good and were concerned about bandwidth,” he said.

Houck said he “felt confident” that he would have had the bandwidth to serve on the river district board but acknowledged that “at the same time we have really good applicants!’

“All those things mixed together, I made the decision to withdraw my name,” he said.

Houck invited discussion on the appointment before the commissioners voted, and Smith led with her view of the applicants, Sonja Chavez, who is the general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, and Kathleen Curry, who formerly represented Gunnison County as a state representative, is a rancher and is chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, a water policy body of local government.

The choice between Chavez and Curry had “occupied a lot of my brain space for the past two weeks,” Smith said, and both candidates had shown worthy qualifications with regards to their experience in water policy and their support from the agricultural community.

“I think that both of these women could do this job very well,” Smith said.

“Both have potential conflicts of interest,” Smith noted, which for Chavez was the overlap in her duties at the Upper Gunnison with business at the Colorado River District and for Curry is her employment as a lobbyist for downstream Colorado River water user groups.

But Curry’s legislative background led Smith to favor her for the position.

“The vast majority” of the river district’s board work is “in the bigger-picture legislative capacity!” Smith said.

Commissioner Roland Mason said he agreed with Smith’s thinking and added that the county would benefit if Curry would “come off the couch” and be working as a third entity advocating for Gunnison County water alongside the Board of County Commissioners and Chavez at the Upper Gunnison.

“That seems like the strongest piece that we can put together, the three entities working together and hopefully moving Gunnison County into a stronger situation with water as we come to demand management!” Mason said.

Houck said this appointment vote was “one of the tougher decisions I’ve had to make on a board appointment in my time as a county commissioner.” He said he saw as “meaningful” the work Curry has done on water policy and in the statehouse but that “the one thing I’ve struggled with and had this discussion with Kathleen is that she does represent water interests in another county and downstream!’

“I’m comfortable in either direction, though the conflict piece (with Curry) is a small burr under the saddle for me,” Houck said.

Both Curry and Chavez acknowledged their potential conflicts of interest in Jan. 6 interviews with the commissioners, and both said they would be loyal to the best interests of Gunnison County on the river district board.

Mason moved to nominate Curry and Smith seconded.

Houck said, “my intention in the selection is and was to support Sonja,” before he joined Mason and Smith in unanimously voting to appoint Curry to the river district board.

Chavez told the Times after the vote that she had already spoken with Curry Tuesday morning on how to coordinate communication between the Upper Gunnison and Curry.

“I will work very hard to work closely with her to communicate on all the projects and priorities!” Chavez said.

Curry told the Times Wednesday that she looks forward to serving on behalf of the county. She has a lot of reading material to catch up on, she said, with the first river district meeting of the year on Jan. 19 and 20.

Commissioners unanimously selected David Gray to fill a seat on the Gunnison Valley Health Board of Trustees. Gray, who has worked as a hospital consultant, would bring a perspective on how health care is changing and would be an asset to the board as it navigates business strategy, reimbursement models and the Affordable Care Act being “still in flux,” Smith said.

District Court Judge Steven Patrick presided over the swearing in of Smith and Houck at the start of Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. In taking his oath of office, Houck starts his third four-year term. Smith begins her first full term after her appointment to the office in July. Smith replaced John Messner, who left the board of county commissioners when Gov. Jared Polis appointed him to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Smith and Houck, both Democrats, won their November elections with more than 60% of votes.

Commissioners moved to maintain the same Board of County Commissioners and county committee appointments they held in 2020.

Houck will continue to serve as chairperson of the Board of County Commissioners and as chair of the Gunnison Basin Sage-grouse Strategic Committee.

Smith will stay on the Early Childhood Council, Club 20 and the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) Board as a voting member.

Commissioner Roland Mason will serve on the RTA Board, the Region 10 Board, as an alternate on the Sagegrouse Strategic Committee and on the Gunnison County Sick Leave Bank Board.

(Sam Liebl can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or