Commissioners look at bigger board
EAGLE COUNTY – Are five heads better than three? That’s a question the Board of County Commissioners hopes to answer in the coming months.Expanding the board from three members to five would be a long journey. The first step is to begin today. No public hearing is scheduled, but the board is scheduled to begin discussing the idea with the county’s attorneys.The idea was a central part of Commissioner Peter Runyon’s platform while campaigning for a seat on the board last year. While attempts to expand the board have failed in the past, Runyon believes Eagle County is ready for it now.”We’ve been growing in population,” he said. “It’s more complicated. There’s just more issues that would be better serviced with five minds brought to bear rather than just three.”It will take a majority of the board – in this case, two – to keep the idea alive. Commissioner Arn Menconi, who publicly promised to put the issue on a ballot when campaigning for re-election, supports it. Commissioner Tom Stone said he still needs to be convinced it’s a good idea. “I have yet to hear any kind of convincing argument to support the notion,” he said. “So I don’t know why we want to do it.”Better representation?As it is now, county commissioners run to represent one of three areas in Eagle County: the east end, with Vail, Minturn, Red Cliff, parts of Avon and parts of Edwards; the middle, with the rest of Edwards and Avon, Wolcott and part of Eagle; and the west end, with Basalt, McCoy, Bond, El Jebel, Gypsum and part of Eagle. All Eagle County voters elect all the commissioners, regardless of where they live.
Runyon believes Eagle County would be better represented if commissioners were elected only by people who live in the district they represent. The idea has support among some Basalt residents who say that because they are so far away from the county’s population center along Interstate 70, they aren’t represented as well as the core areas.Candidates coming from the Roaring Fork area – where Basalt and El Jebel are – have a hard time getting elected, said Jacqui Whitsitt, a Basalt resident. Whitsitt said she realized early on she’d have an uphill battle in her 1998 campaign as Democratic candidate for county commissioner.”A lot of people in the Eagle Valley didn’t even know Basalt was part of Eagle County,” Whitsitt said. She lost in that election to Stone, a Gypsum resident. The last time a commissioner came from the Roaring Fork Valley was years ago, said Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux. “It’s about time they considered it,” Duroux said. “I definitely believe it would give better representation, especially to us over here, and in other areas in Eagle County.”Stone doesn’t agree. “I think it would be worse for them to have their own representative on a five-person board, because that’s going to lead to parochialism,” he said. Stone said believes the commissioners have worked well on behalf of the Roaring Fork Valley residents. The board voted to spend $3 million on a community center and soccer field in El Jebel, he said. Better communication?It only takes two commissioners to make up a majority vote on the board. By the same token, it only takes two commissioners talking to each other to require a public meeting. Colorado’s open meeting laws forbid a majority of an elected board from discussing the public’s business without notifying the public first. That stifles free discussion among commissioners, Runyon said. Expanding the board to five would allow two commissioners to talk privately about county issues without breaking the law, Runyon said.Stone doesn’t think that’s a good reason for expanding the board to five commissioners.”I don’t believe in having secret meetings and I think the people who are in support of that are supporting having private, secret meetings,” Stone said. Menconi said there are “trade-offs” for expanding the board and becoming a home-rule county. One plus, however: “It gives more people an opportunity to be criticized in Tipsline,” he joked. The idea has a lot of community support, and that is enough to begin llooking into the possibility, Menconi said. “I watched Peter wave that banner during his campaign, wondering if it would resonate with people,” he said. “I found that it resonated very well with people.”Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily