Alpine slide brings conflict charge
EAGLE COUNTY – Why does Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi vote on Vail Resorts-related issues? Because the county’s attorneys say he can.Menconi was accused of a conflict of interest at a Nov. 21 county hearing about a proposed alpine slide at Beaver Creek. At that meeting, Rick Johnson, an attorney for the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association, and William Stone, who owns a home in Beaver Creek, both said Menconi shouldn’t have been voting on the slide issue.
The problem, they said, is Menconi’s ties to Vail Resorts through the Snowboard Outreach Society, a nonprofit group that receives a big share of its annual donations through the resort company. The group tries to help at-risk kids improve their grades by teaching them to snowboard. Johnson also asked Menconi if he had met with Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz before the Nov. 21 meeting. But at the meeting, Assistant County Attorney Bob Morris told Menconi not to answer questions about either his relationship with the resort company or a meeting with Katz.Outside the hearing room, Menconi said he did meet with Katz the week after an Oct. 16 meeting about the slide. But, Menconi said, he and the resort company boss didn’t discuss the slide.”I was soliciting his support for the early childhood tax,” Menconi said, further describing the meeting as a “get acquainted” session.
County attorneys have also told Menconi he can vote on matters Vail Resorts brings to the commissioners.
“Any financial support provided by Vail Resorts to a nonprofit corporation founded by Arn is too tenuous to meet (state) standards,” County Attorney Bryan Treu wrote in an e-mail. “Arn did not have a personal or private interest in the outcome of the alpine slide matter that would have precluded him from hearing the file based on his involvement on the SOS board.”Conflict accusations like the ones now being leveled against Menconi are fairly common in small communities.In 2004, Menconi accused fellow commissioner Tom Stone of a conflict of interest in his dealings with the company that developed the homes at Miller Ranch in Edwards. After voting to approve the deal with the development company, Stone was the lead real estate broker in a deal to sell that company property in Gypsum.Menconi’s predecessor, Johnnette Phillips, was also accused of conflict of interest because she voted on an application by B&B Excavating to run a gravel mine up the Coffee Pot Road in the western part of the county. Opponents of the plan said Phillips had a conflict because her husband was working for B&B at the time.County attorneys ruled Stone and Phillips acted within the law.Phillips, a Republican, is no fan of Menconi, a Democrat. But, she said, someone is usually going to be mad at an elected official.”I figure 50 percent of the people will always have a problem with what you’re doing,” Phillips said.To avoid the appearance of a conflict, Phillips said she and her fellow commissioners had some firm rules. “We didn’t meet with, discuss with, or take phone calls from anyone with a pending application,” Phillips said.
But it’s a small valley, and county commissioners go to the grocery store, too. Phillips said when she would run into people who had applications with the county, she’d talk to them about just about anything but the business she had to vote on.”It’s a small enough community that we’d have other items to discuss,” she said.Former County Commissioner Michael Gallagher knows how hard it is to prove a conflict of interest charge. When Gallagher was on the Minturn Town Council, then-District Attorney Pete Michaelson brought charges against him, claiming Gallagher improperly voted to approve a project in town for the Catholic Church. Gallagher is a member of that church.That case went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, and was dismissed at every level. But, Gallagher said, an idea Menconi had while the two were on the board of commissioners might have headed off the current allegations.”He proposed a code of ethics that said when you have a financial interest with a party involved you should recuse yourself,” Gallagher said. “He wouldn’t have been able to vote if that had been approved.”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO