Changes abound on Eagle County board
EAGLE ” Only one seat changed Tuesday, but the effect on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners seems much more significant.
County employees and residents packed into the county’s main boardroom to listen to the annual State-of-the-County address and swearing-in ceremony.
The annual event had particular significance this year because of the change in membership on the board, and the change in political philosophy most watchers expect will go with it.
Incoming Commissioner and political newcomer Peter Runyon was sworn in and took outgoing Commissioner Michael Gallagher’s old seat at the commissioners’ desk.
Gallagher, who opted not to seek re-election because of ongoing health problems, bid adieu to a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday morning. The ceremony evoked tears from some, including fellow Commissioner Tom Stone.
“I am all going to miss you terribly,” Gallagher told the crowd. “I’m not quitting. I’m not retiring. I’m simply changing direction.”
Gallagher, 59, was exposed to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War. He has since suffered a variety of health problems.
End of an Era?
While Gallagher and Runyon both are Democrats, most watchers expect Runyon to be a different commissioner than Gallagher was.
With the Republican Stone and Commissioner Arn Menconi, also a Democrat, frequently at odds on issues when it came to a vote, Gallagher served as the tie-breaker. More often than not, Gallagher voted with Stone.
In honor of Gallagher’s service as a county commissioner, Stone presented him with a replica of an antique Eagle County map that Gallagher apparently has long coveted.
Stone thanked Gallagher and began a speech about his fellow commissioner’s accomplishments, including his service as a Minturn police chief and in the Vietnam War.
Stone’s voice broke in the middle of his speech.
“This man has taught me a lot,” Stone said. “Most folks don’t know what Michael has brought to the county.”
Menconi then took over the speech and added his own thank-you to Gallagher: For voting with him in favor of using the county’s open space funds to help purchase and preserve the 4,000-acre Bair Ranch at the western edge of Eagle County. Stone opposed it.
“Michael Gallagher, at the cornerstone, is about service and integrity,” Menconi said.
Gallagher and Stone broke a long-standing tradition of rotating the board’s chairmanship every year among the three commissioners by skipping over Menconi during his first four years in office. Instead, they traded the position back and forth amongst themselves. Stone was the chairman in 2004.
The position is largely ceremonial, but allows the so-appointed commissioner to preside over meetings.
However, in his last action as chairman, Stone recommended that Menconi take over. He also nominated Runyon, who is serving in political office for the first time, to serve as vice chairman. That position would allow Runyon to preside over meetings in Menconi’s absence.
Runyon, a moderate Democrat who campaigned on stricter control of growth in the county, backed away from the nomination at first.
“I personally would like you, Tom, to be the vice chairman,” he said. “I have zero experience in chairmanship. I feel we can benefit from your experience.”
Stone reiterated his recommendation.
“We are term-limited and as such, I have two years left (as a county commissioner),” Stone said.
Naming Runyon as vice chairman now would allow him to learn more about the position so that he would be ready preside over the board in 2006, Stone said.
The vote was unanimous to name Menconi the chairman and Runyon the vice chairman.
Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.