Arn Menconi – candidate for Eagle County BOCC, Dist. 2
AVON Providence has a way of chasing Arn Menconi to some of the most important events of his life. Just by chance, Menconi met his wife, Anne, while both were checking out a Unity Church service for the first time during Holy Week in April 2000. Then there was his first conference trip to Washington, D.C. after he was elected to the Eagle County Board of County Commissioners in 2000. He and Anne had eloped and Menconi planned to use the business trip to meet his father-in-law for the first time. A trip to a local restaurant with a group of acquaintances ended up in an unlikely encounter in a city of hundreds of thousands of restaurants, Menconi managed to run into his father-in-law there. With this kind of luck, Menconi is expecting the kind of moment one would only find in a book by John Irving ironically, his favorite author. Anne is pregnant with the couples first child. Her due date is the first week of November making it conceivable their baby will be born on Nov. 2 the day Menconi hopes to be re-elected for a second term on the Board of County Commissioners. Im sure its going to happen, Menconi said of expectant daughters arrival. Since Anne and I met in such a serendipitous way.Purpose and pleasant surprise these two qualities have all played a part in Menconis first term as county commissioner, he said. Beating the stereotypeMenconi has a pretty good idea of the impression many had when he was elected in 2000. Menconis main role in the community up to that point was as the founder and director of the Snowboard Outreach Society, a nonprofit organization that aims to help at-risk youth improve their grades and lives by introducing them to the sport of snowboarding. The cause is noble. The sport is cool. So cool that having a long-haired snowboarder guy make a run for official office seemed a little far-fetched for some. I think they just dismissed me as that snowboarder guy, he said.He still managed to get elected.People are elected because they seem to be the most dedicated, he said. I have an immense amount of passion for what I do.Over the past four years, Menconi said he has won over some of those detractors. Hes been commended for being fair, open-minded and a good listener. They also are surprised to find that while he is Democrat, he is fiscally conservative, he said. And they admire the causes that he stands for.I had one guy say to me, I doubt we would agree on national politics, but your commitment to kids overrides everything else, Menconi said. His hair is no longer long. Hes married now and will soon be a family man. But he still snowboards and hangs out with kids and there still are people who dismiss him because of they way he looks and his political affiliation.He recalled a conversation he had with the head of the regions NAACP chapter. He said, its because you represent change and these people dont want change, Menconi said. Some things dont changeI am a Democrat because of the civil rights movement, Menconi said. The 45-year-old grew up on Chicagos south side. During his childhood, the Vietnam War ended, leaders like Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Race struggles existed in his own backyard, as his neighborhood went from predominately white to predominately black. His zest for public service came early. At age 16, he helped campaign for Gerald Fords unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1976. After high school, he attended DePaul University, majoring in economics and political science. Eventually, he returned to school to get a masters degree in business administration from the University of Denver.Still, Menconi calls himself a frustrated English major. His desire to be a writer prompted him to focus all of his energy one year on getting an A on his English term paper at the price of his grades in other classes. I got kicked off the golf team, Menconi said. He ended up getting a B+.The philosopherUnlike his opponents in the race, and the candidates for the other contested seat on the board, Menconi is an incumbent. Which means Eagle County voters know what they are getting if they re-elect him in November. Some leaders are direct, decisive and to-the-point. They follow their gut and seem to need little evidence and little discussion before make a decision. Menconi is not that kind of leader, he said.A self-described researcher, Menconi approaches most decisions similarly whether its deciding to allow a house to move 10 feet to the right or to use county open-space funds to preserve a struggling ranch. Most things in the county are interconnected, in Menconis view. A neighborhood affects the landscape, which affects the wildlife, which in turn affects Eagle Countys quality of life.To some, his questions during county commissioner meetings seem to focus on nuance, rather than the big picture. In his view, his questions are all about the big picture, he said. If I decide to appropriate money to the New York Philharmonic, how is that going to affect county employees insurance premiums? Menconi uses as an example. Studying an issue makes sense to him. When an important issue is expected to come on the boards agenda, such as the recent purchase of Bair Ranch, Menconi will usually make some phone calls to others in the community, he said. Its not to allow a particular group sway his vote. He wants to know all sides of the story before making a decision, he said.I think my style of leadership is inclusive, he said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.Vail Daily
Q. Is affordable housing as pressing an issue now as it was 10 years ago? As the county continues to grow, do you think the county’s housing policies should change, and if so, how? Is there enough housing priced affordably for Eagle County’s middle-class families? Is there enough housing priced affordably for Eagle County’s low-income families?A. As the county continues to grow, affordable housing becomes more and more of a demand for our work force. Eagle County’s population grew by more than 100 percent over the last 10 years to 43,000, and is expected to grow to 87,000 by 2025. The county has had several studies that demonstrate a need for future locals’ housing – the Housing Needs Assessment Update (March 2003, http://www.eaglecounty.us/housing/documents.cfm) and the Social & Economic Effects of Second Homes (www.nwc.cog.co.us). Both point out the correlation of future trends in housing, jobs and population, and how they will impact housing.Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities said recently, “The most important problem facing our Hispanic population is adequate housing.” The studies show that the number of jobs is growing faster than the population, and housing prices are increasing faster than work-force wages. Additionally, year-round retirees are buying up houses that reduce the availability of homes for our work force.This problem isn’t going away. When I ran for county commissioner four years ago, I made affordable housing a top priority and will continue to do so by encouraging county partnership projects like Miller Ranch, Golden Eagle Apartments, and continued funding for the Down Payment Assistance Program for first-time home buyers.Q. As county commissioner, how would you balance the desire for open space with finding land for housing? What areas of the county do you see fit for housing? What areas would be better left as open space?A. The question opens the door to the trade-offs of competing needs as a community grows for housing, open space, transportation, commercial space, schools, recreation etc. In my next four years, I will continue to use the brilliant talents of the county’s long-range planner, Rebecca Leonard. She is a master in visioning and sorting through the pressures of population growth, trends in work force shortages, affordable housing needs and open space.We know that we have a finite amount of land available. The next two decades may prove to be the most critical time in deciding the direction of how we develop our land. The number of existing housing units countywide is 23,085. The number of units approved by zoning is 45,220. Our zoning build-out analysis indicates that we have enough approved housing for the projected population growth; although a closer look at the make-up of housing indicates it may be more weighted to provide homes for retirees and second-home owners instead of our local workforce. This scenario creates more development, more second homes and more commuters for neighboring communities without decision makers realizing the unintended consequences.Therefore, I believe that if good information and tools are developed for the county and shared with the towns, we will make better decisions to preserve our open space.Q. Would the Board of County Commissioners operate more democratically if there were five board members, rather than three? Would you consider turning Eagle County into a home-rule county to accomplish this goal? What are the obstacles and benefits of such a move?A. I strongly support putting forth a ballot initiative to let our county residents decide if they want five commissioners. This would be the best way to have a full exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of the idea and have a healthy public debate.I can see three immediate benefits. The first is that two commissioners could have a conversation without triggering a public meeting. The second is that we would be able to have a much better geographic representation matched to our population areas, especially for Basalt and El Jebel. And the third is that it would take partisanship out of local government.Q. Does Edwards take up more than its fair share of the county’s resources and funds? Should the county return more of the sales tax revenue collected from towns back to the towns? Should Edwards incorporate?A. The U.S. Bureau of the Census actually names both Eagle and Lake counties as the Edwards Micropolitan area. The census always takes the name for an area based on the largest population – and that’s Edwards.For population served, Edwards does not take a disproportionate amount of county funds. Investments in Miller Ranch benefit residents throughout Eagle County with the new CMC Campus, soccer and baseball fields, and affordable housing.It’s certainly up to the citizens of Edwards to decide if they believe it’s worthwhile to incorporate. However, in a time where we’re talking about consolidation of services, it seems that adding another municipal layer may not be in anyone’s long-term interests.The county already returns some of the tax money collected from the towns based on an intergovernmental agreement, but not all of it. A partial refund helps the county invest in services and facilities that benefit everyone such as roads, the airport and recreational facilities.Over the next several years I fully expect that other needs and opportunities will emerge elsewhere in the county and fully warrant similar investments.Q. What one thing would you do to ensure the future viability of our water supply?A. Last November we took one the biggest steps possible by defeating the Front Range’s Referendum A water funding plan. I’m very proud that I was one of the key Western Slope organizers who spearheaded the defeat of Ref. A. We did something rather historic in getting the population of the Eastern Slope citizens to side with the Western Slope. We currently have very good planning between all our water stakeholders. We absolutely need to continue this effort and make sure that we are united in protecting our water assets. I will continue to work with the towns of Eagle and Gypsum and both the water district and water authority in updating the Eagle River Assembly Plan.Two important goals would be to develop the 5,000-acre-feet of water storage for our future needs, and to cap Denver’s needs for future diversion from the Western Slope. When it comes to water, we can never afford to be divided amongst ourselves. At the same time, exploring increased storage capacity, such as at the Eagle Park Reservoir, can make sure we have a sufficient water supply and also maintain the health of our streams and rivers. Finally, all new developments must be required to secure actual water rights (what is referred to as “wet water”).Q. A significant percentage of the middle-class wage jobs in this county are connected to the local construction industry. These jobs include not only construction workers and contractors, but architects and engineers, just to mention a few. Are you concerned about what would happen to these jobs as the county becomes completely built out? What should Eagle County do to diversify its economy? A. I remain concerned about the future outlook for high paying jobs. That is why I started the Vail Valley Economic Council. Job erosion isn’t something you see right away so there’s often a tendency to be complacent.It’s really hard to diversify a local economy and it will take years of dedicated individuals inside and outside of local government to make that happen. But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should start and start now.To develop different, high paying jobs you need a variety of factors, including a good educational system, efficient local transportation, year-round air service, robust telecommunications and flexible office space. We need to get a better idea of shifting trends by improving the quality of commercial data that measures a variety of business-factor activities within both the towns and county. Knowing that, we can target and recruit businesses and opportunities that are consistent with our long-range vision.Q. What recreation needs do you feel are still not being met in Eagle County? Is it time to consolidate the county’s recreation districts? A. The real question here is: Should the county be in the recreation business? I’m not so sure of that. I might not be answering this question at all if Edwards were an incorporated town, but it’s not. However, if it were, it would currently be the largest town in the county. And, given its central midvalley location, having some level of recreational facilities within a half-hour drive for all county residents makes sense.While the county has a great deal of expertise in developing and building public projects, the ongoing management of facilities, especially recreational ones, isn’t something that we have either staff or expertise for.I’m very encouraged at the emergence of a new model for recreation in Gypsum. In this model I can see the value of having the county play a financial role in assisting in the development of recreation facilities within municipalities, with the ongoing management being provided by an organization such as the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District. Q. What is the most significant issue facing the county today?A. Without a doubt, creating a climate of inclusive leadership. That doesn’t mean that commissioners are always in agreement or that the county and towns are always in sync. Disagreements are a natural process in creating public policy, but if we can raise the level of respect for our differences it will be easier to find common ground for agreeing on communitywide solutions.As the county grows, it is more important than ever that our board work together with the towns, metro districts, school board and other community organizations for success. A thoughtful board has the power to bring resources together from many different directions. An excellent example of this could be demonstrated by bringing the towns together on a specific land-use planning effort for child care facilities.By pooling knowledge and staff resources we can develop more efficient, cost-effective solutions and provide our citizens with better services for seniors, child care, recreation, water and transportation.
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado