EAGLE, Colorado - When Jon Stavney was in his 20s, he didn't plan to spend so much time in public life. But that's the way life has worked out.
Stavney is running for a second term on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. And, while the commissioners aren't involved in land use all the time - as previous boards over the past 20 years or so have been - Stavney believes there's still a lot of work to do on projects started during his time in office.
Asked for a list of big issues facing the county, Stavney is quick to reply. The list, as far as he's concerned, includes:
• Work at the Eagle County Regional Airport, including a new master plan and the prospect of an international terminal.
• Helping protect rivers through open space purchases.
• Developing a plan to better use the Eagle County Fairgrounds.
• Getting a senior care center ready to build.
An avowed policy junkie, Stavney can, and does, talk at length about all those topics. But looking around his office, it becomes apparent open space may be closest to his heart. There are numerous "no trespassing" signs throughout that office. All have been taken off formerly private property.
"I look at them as trophies," Stavney said. Those trophies are largely from riverfront parcels that are now owned by the county, mostly along the Colorado River. The latest is a boat launch and takeout area at Dotsero, but the list also includes a put-in/takeout space at State Bridge. That area, now owned by the county and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, used to charge $3 per person to use. The new price is $3 per boat.
Beyond river access, Stavney said he hopes future open space deals can also help preserve river flows.
The Colorado River Ranch is being talked about again by open space advocates. A deal, if it gets done, would free up more river access, but a contract to keep the ranch from being developed would also ensure that the ranch's water rights can't be sold, keeping water in the river.
If re-elected, Stavney said he hopes to continue work along the county's rivers, with more focus on the Eagle.
Starting in Eagle
Stavney said his work on open space and similar issues comes back to why he moved to the county in the first place.
Stavney and his wife, Mary Ann, moved to Eagle County in the mid-1990s. He followed her to a teaching job, and he found work as a framing carpenter. After looking around, the couple picked Eagle for their home.
Those were the days when the proposed Adam's Rib ski area was a hot topic in town, and Stavney soon found himself learning about the proposal. He didn't like what he heard.
"Every day I'd go to a gated community to work, and I was happy to come home to this town," he said. "If Adam's Rib had been approved, the whole Brush Creek Valley would have been a gated community."
Stavney started speaking up at Eagle Town Board meetings and soon board members and other residents started telling him he should run for that board at the next election. He did, and won, the start of a 10-year run on the board, including four years as mayor.
Stavney, who describes himself as an introvert, had to start knocking on doors and talking to people while running for office. He learned that he liked it.
"I love campaigning, walking the neighborhoods," Stavney said. After deciding in 2008 to run for commissioner - his time in Eagle was done - Stavney spread that walking to other communities in the county.
"It's amazing how diverse our community is... how people live and what they do with their homes" he said.
When Stavney ran for his first term, he envisioned continuing to work for Beck part-time - he was going to take a pay cut in the commissioner's job. That idea soon fell apart, along with the rest of the national, state and local economy.
Those tough times meant making some hard decisions, as county officials saw big drops in first sales tax, then property tax revenue. That led to the county making cuts in its workforce to both cover current shortfalls and prepare for a big drop in property tax revenue this year.
It looks like another drop is coming for the 2014 budget, but Stavney said the county is prepared.
"There's not a lot of alarm right now," he said, adding that budget cuts have been done so far in a "sensible, businesslike way."
Stavney gives most of the credit to department managers and other elected officials.
"They've handled the transitions and cuts really well," he said.
In making his pitch for another term, Stavney said he represents a vote for continuity on the board. With Commissioner Peter Runyon leaving after this term and fellow incumbent Sara Fisher headed into the last two years of her final term, Stavney said another four years for him means the county can continue to work on projects that might take another four years to accomplish.
And, he said, one of the first things he learned on this job was how much there was to learn, even after a decade in town government. A lot of that on-the-job learning was about the relationships that are needed to get things done at both the regional and state levels, and how important it can be to have a county commissioner at a meeting.
Stavney said those relationships, especially between the commissioners and town governments are better than they were when he was Eagle's mayor.
Making things better is why he's in the job, Stavney said.
"I really like public service," he said. "I'm passionate about communities, and precious few people get to make the decisions that affect them."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.