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Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron stands in front of his gift shop on Grand Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. He survived a recall led by long-term Grand Lake residents. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The election to recall Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron not only ended in disappointment for the town’s old guard, but it may have also empowered a new wave of residents to become involved in local politics.

Longtime Grand Lake residents filed a petition with the town to recall Kudron, citing improper leadership, fiscal irresponsibility, violation of Colorado open meetings laws, and insufficient financial and comprehensive planning. The recall election was held Oct. 5 and Kudron won by a 155-47 vote.

Twice as many Grand Lake residents voted in the recall election as in the 2020 mayoral election, which Kudron won in an 83-13 landslide. Grand Lake only has about 300 registered voters, so Kudron sees a message in the recall election turnout.

“I think that for the first time in a long time, the people of Grand Lake got involved in a big way,” he says. In particular, Kudron believes the town’s residents who’ve felt marginalized in the past decided to make their voices heard.

“I’m talking about our restaurant owners, our retail staff and other full-time workers who live in town but never felt like were enough to be counted,” says Kudron, who has lived in Grand Lake for nine years and owns the Quacker Gift Shop. “There are also a lot of younger people who are starting to decide that living on the sidelines gets you things you don’t want. They want to vote and give back to the community.”

Grand Lake is known as a retirement community and for the last decade, there’s been a small pool of people who volunteer for town activities, including serving on boards and commissions. But now, Kudron believes, “a lot more people want to be involved with where we’re going.”

Tom Weydert, a former town trustee and 34-year resident who was one of the loudest voices in the recall effort, says he’s disappointed by the election outcome. He and his wife, Kathy, have filed challenges with the town clerk over some of the voters’ qualifications.

Weydert says about 40 of Grand Lake’s registered voters don’t actually live in town or gave improper addresses on their voter affidavits. But even if all of those people voted in the recall election and their votes are disallowed, Weydert admits it wouldn’t affect the outcome. He says his goal is to clean up the voter registration rolls for the future.

Weydert says he still has the same concerns that led him to fight for Kudron’s recall, including lack of communication and citizen engagement. In particular, Weydert cites the board of trustees’ vote to purchase the 21-acre Stanley property last fall, after what he believes was minimal public involvement.

“The mayor’s definition of public input and mine differ,” Weydert says. “I guess we’re at an impasse.”

Earlier this year, the town hired a consultant to determine the best use of the Stanley property, which could include affordable housing and a new public works facility. Kudron promises that the consultant’s plan will have plenty of opportunities for public input, but Weydert says the town’s Municipal Public Lands Committee has asked numerous times to meet with the consultant and has been rebuffed.

Kudron agrees that Grand Lake’s public communications need to improve. He says the board of trustees voted earlier this month to hire a company to revamp the town website, put the municipal code online and create a webpage that allows people to track town board and commission meetings and agendas by date and topic. All of this should be operational early next year, Kudron says.

Kudron says the town is also working to educate its staff so they can better answer trustees’ and the public’s questions.

“We have a relatively new staff, and we need to do a better job of training them,” he says. “One of the benefits of our growing tax base is to be able to invest more in our staff.” Kudron says the trustees hope to hire an outside human-resources management company and use the town’s membership in the nonprofit Employers Council to improve staff retention and training.

“Keep an eye out for the town of Grand Lake,” he says. “I think we’re going to have a good 2022.”

Homes along the shoreline of Grand Lake with burn scars from East Troublesome Fire inside Rocky Mountain National Park visible in the background on Aug. 31. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

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