Commissioner Beth Melton exits office proud of pushing Routt County to tackle bigger issues |

Commissioner Beth Melton exits office proud of pushing Routt County to tackle bigger issues

After one term as commissioner, Melton and her family are headed toward next chapter in Costa Rica

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton attended her final meeting Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 in the commissioners room at the Routt County Courthouse. Melton, first elected in 2018, represents District 3, which is entirely within the city limits of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton will end her term as a commissioner on Tuesday, Jan. 10, when Commissioner-elect Sonja Macys is sworn in. Before the end of the month, she plans to move with her family to Costa Rica, a move she and her husband Will had once dreamed about that recently became possible because of the changing work dynamics prompted by the pandemic.

Prior to being elected a Routt County commissioner in 2018, Melton was part of a group with the Young Professionals Network that explored specific community issues.

One of those issues was a longstanding child care shortage in the Yampa Valley that was brewing toward crisis. This work resulted in a presentation to the county commissioners.

Like another mom on the panel, Melton brought her son to the meeting — herself, unable to find adequate child care that day. There was a lot of “smiling and nodding,” Melton said.

“A couple years later, when I was considering running (for commissioner), I was like, wait a minute, nothing ever happened,” Melton recalled. “They invited us in to tell them our problems, and we talked to them and then … nothing ever happened.”

This unsatisfying experience isn’t why Melton ran for Routt County commissioner, she said. She has a history in community organizing, strives for leadership roles and like many Democrats, was caught off guard by the result of the 2016 election. These factors all played roles in her decision to pursue the seat.

Also key was Melton’s belief in local government.

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“It’s the closest to the people,” Melton said. “It’s at the heart of where you can make change.”

Since moving to the Yampa Valley in 2013, Melton has lived in various parts of it. When she decided to run for commissioner, some encouraged her to lower her expectations and maybe run for school board.

Some told her leading a county, an entity typically focused on internal services like plowing roads, wasn’t the place to take on external, “pain points in people’s lives.” Through her community-centric campaign for commissioner, she heard a desire for the county to take a more active role to tackle these issues.

“I (had) actually spent the last six months talking to thousands of people in this town, one on one, about what they want us to be working on, … about what’s important to them, about what’s hard for them,” Melton said. “I feel like I was able to bring all that in the door with me.”

Democratic challenger Beth Melton smiles and claps after hearing the announcement that she was leading Republican incumbent Cari Hermacinski in the race for Routt County commissioner in 2018.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

When she got into office early in 2019, Melton said then commissioners Doug Monger and Tim Corrigan, in their fifth and second terms on the board, respectively, were incredibly supportive — “It was awesome,” she said.

As Routt County has taken a larger role in community issues, so have other counties across Colorado, Melton said. Partially due to the pandemic, counties have become a more visible division of government through her four-year stint.

One process Melton helped bring to the surface was the latest update to the county’s master plan, the first since 2003. While the county had assumptions going into the process, she thought it was important to ask the current residents how they wanted the future of their community to play out.

“It’s just that idea of we should ask people, rather than assuming the people who were here in 2003 have a monopoly on the future for all eternity,” Melton said.

Melton pushed for the county to draft and adopt a climate action plan and has sat on the collaborative board working to implement its strategies. She has been part of the commissioners’ focus on housing, voting to support last year’s million dollar contribution to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority for Brown Ranch.

As for child care, the board held its own summit on the issue in 2021, this time with Melton on the other side of the table. Several moms showed up with their children in tow, like Melton had for the meeting years before.

Routt County commissioner and an organizer of the Steamboat Springs Women’s March Beth Melton thanked marchers for coming out Saturday and reminded them to encourage all their friends and family to vote at the end of the event in Dr. Rich Weiss Park in 2020.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

In that meeting, commissioners committed to put money into a solution. Last year, the county and city of Steamboat Springs started discussions with the Colorado Department of Transportation on a project that would include a new early childhood education center.

Internal issues have been a focus for her as well, spending tedious meetings looking at employee benefits, adding paid family leave and comparing pay rates to ensure the county was competitive. Melton said she pushed to understand what they could do to support county workers as they dealt with the same issues as the community at large.

“I certainly can’t take full credit by any means, but I think I was a part of really supporting those,” Melton said. “I think there’s been a lot of change there.”

Nearly a year ago, Melton announced she wouldn’t seek a second term as commissioner. While she hadn’t originally envisioned only serving one term, Melton’s “path had changed.”

Routt County Commissioners Beth Melton and Tim Redmond, left, listen to Arianthé Stettner, the emeritus director of Historic Routt County, give public comment on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

If the pandemic hadn’t happened, “who knows,” Melton said. If she had more time to weigh the decision, she may have decided differently.

To “oversimplify it,” Melton said she reevaluated where she wanted to be. There are a variety of factors, with one being her young son Clark. She recalled a meeting in Denver with state leaders that went longer than expected, causing her to miss bed time.

“You have moments like that where you’re like, ‘What is my priority right now?’” Melton said.

As she leaves office, Melton said she is excited for the next step. There isn’t a planned return from Costa Rica and Melton said she is doubtful about a future return to the Yampa Valley.

“It’s a different place than I moved to,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t like Steamboat, but I think there are seasons of your life and sometimes, you’re just ready for something a little different.”

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