EAGLE COUNTY — When the state slashed education funding, Jeanne McQueeney voluntarily stood in the cross-hairs as the school board and the community figured out how to cut $9 million.
She says her years as president of the school board, along with other experience, gives her qualifications to be a county commissioner that few can match.
The school district employs many people, handles a lot of money and its governing policies are similar to the county’s.
“The school board experience is what qualifies me for all that,” McQueeney said. “The county has as many moving parts as the school district and deals with many of the same issues — personnel, budgets and the economy, transportation …”
McQueeney was in her first year as school board president when state budget cuts forced local schools to shed $9 million and 90 jobs. They hosted public meetings to collect ideas about what people were willing to live without.
“We listened to everyone’s input,” she said.
They waded through issue after issue, and voted dozens of times. Most were split votes, but it was almost never the same split — unlike, say the U.S. Supreme Court whose 5-4 splits are predictable.
“We listened to every single idea and vetted it publicly. People needed to know they were being heard. You need to have all kinds of people in the room, not just people who are going to agree with your ideas,” she said.
The school board doesn’t just deal with buildings and budgets, “you’re talking about people’s children, their sun, moon and stars. You may have heard before what they’re saying, but you haven’t heard it from them and they deserve your respect and attention.”
And that, she says, is the philosophy she’ll bring to the board of county commissioners.
“It’s about having lived here 23 years. I’ve developed a vision about what I think we could be,” McQueeney said. “That vision is about Eagle County being a place where families can succeed and young people have professional opportunities they need to help them make a home here and be part of the community.”
McQueeney calculates she’ll knock on 1,000 doors before the June 24 primary, asking people what they think the commissioners should do.
“You can’t work on representation without knowing what to represent,” she said.
What resonates most helping young adults finding professional opportunities.
“They come here because of the attractions of the outdoors, then have to leave when they start a family,” McQueeney said.
It’s time for the county to grow up a little more.
“We started with mining and ranching, and now it’s a resort. The resort is the economic engine, and always will be, but when it’s time to do something other than resort work, those opportunities should be available.”
“It’s not a new idea at all, but it’s an idea whose time has come,” she said.
“I started thinking about this (running for commissioner) when my oldest was in middle school. I want her to go to college, come back, but the kinds of professional opportunities must exist that would make that possible.”
The area is on the cusp of seeing some of that accomplished, she said. The Vail Valley Partnership is heading the economic development plan, and they’ve targeted healthcare and education, she said.
The senior care center the county is spearheading is going to be a big part of that, but it’s certainly won’t provide everything. Opportunities also exist for in-home care and other ways to meet the needs of the county’s growing senior population, she said.
Education is right in her wheelhouse, she says, and calls Colorado Mountain College “an absolute treasure that I think will only get better.”
McQueeney also serves on the board of the Eagle River Youth Coalition, and Wayfinders, a safety net group created around kids in middle school and high school making poor choices.
She runs Early Childhood Partners, a nonprofit that helps coordinate goals, activities and resources for early childhood educators, including parents of young children.
She and husband Henry McQueeney have lived in the valley for 23 years. Jeanne is originally from Long Island, New York, and lived in New Mexico for six years before settling in the valley.
“I want to help make Eagle County a place where families can thrive, that our kids can come back to and enjoy the life they’ve come to love,” McQueeney said.