Jessika Buell, a newcomer candidate for Durango City Council, said she’s long wanted to get into politics – she just didn’t know when.
Buell, 39, grew up researching political election issues with her grandfather. She aimed to be the U.S. president until 19, when an internship at a district attorney’s office in California left her feeling like the system was “broken” and turned her path toward teaching.
Her run for City Council was in part inspired by two friends, former City Councilor Christina Rinderle and City Councilor Chris Bettin, who took her to lunch in April 2020 and said she should consider running.
“With the current political climate and everything that’s going on in the world, I definitely felt a calling this year,” Buell said. She said she could find the middle ground and come to a consensus across viewpoints.
Buell is one of seven candidates competing for three open seats on City Council during the April 6 election. If elected, Buell plans to be a voice for small businesses, “hardworking citizens and people who work multiple jobs to barely afford to live in the city.”
She said she can represent that viewpoint because she runs three small businesses while raising two children. That representation, she said, is lacking on council.
“I don’t feel like there’s a voice for what Durango is on City Council right now,” Buell said.
City Council members are the city’s policymakers and representatives on the state and national scene. They play a leading role in decisions that affect residents’ daily lives, such as road maintenance, transit, parks and police, as well as issues like homelessness, housing affordability and economic development.
She said she is qualified to take on the responsibility because she has been involved in the community for 19 years. She went to Fort Lewis College, has been a customer, owner and leader in the local business community and worked as a teacher at Escalante Middle School.
“I’m qualified because of the commitment I have to Durango,” Buell said. “No matter what I do, I give 100%.”
The city of Durango’s total revenue in 2020 was $102.7 million, and City Council members decide how that money is spent. Buell said she handled multimillion-dollar projects as a project executive for Okland Construction.
“If you have successful businesses, you have to know what you’re doing with a budget of any size,” Buell said.
Buell, who moved to Durango in 2001, is the CEO of both Lucky Services, a cleaning, errands and delivery service, and Marketing Concepts Squared, a social media management company. She is co-owner of The Vault, a Durango gym. All the businesses are rated as an A or higher by the Better Business Bureau.
She is also the co-founder of the Professional Women’s Network of Durango and was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018.
Buell’s vision for the city focuses on small businesses. Her campaign website focuses solely on “smart growth,” housing, fiscal conservatism and small, local businesses without explaining her stance on other topics facing the city.
She wants to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and find new ways to spur job creation, particularly as the city recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
San Juan Basin Public Health implements state health restrictions locally, but “having a champion to advocate for small business, and help San Juan Basin Public Health be creative, is so important,” Buell said.
If elected, her top priorities during her four-year term would be to address attainable housing and to help Durango attract quality jobs. A key goal during her term would be increasing attainable housing by connecting developers with funding, grants or incentives, she said.
Buell said she stands out from the other candidates because of her leadership style.
She casts herself as fiscally conservative and an effective, pragmatic and collaborative leader.
If elected, she’d make decisions after researching issues and meeting with key, involved stakeholders, she said.
Buell acknowledged that other candidates are parents and entrepreneurs, and she hasn’t served on government boards or commissions. But she emphasized that she is raising kids, managing businesses and “working hard to live in Durango.”
“I know what it takes to get it done,” Buell said. “If an issue or crisis happens in the city of Durango, I know there will be days I have to work until 2 a.m. to get it done.”