County chairmanship stirs controversy
Gallagher, a Democrat who served as chairman in 2002, on Tuesday returned as the county’s top elected official, backed by fellow-commissioner Tom Stone, a Republican, in a 2-1 vote.
The dissenting vote came from Commissioner Arn Menconi, a Democrat, who had expected the chairmanship to rotate to him this year. It would follow tradition to pass the chairmanship to him, he said, since Stone was the board’s chairman in 2000 and 2001.
Andy Wiessner of Vail, who spoke before the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, said the chairmanship should have rotated.
“There’s a 20-year tradition,” he said. “They don’t seem to care what the public thinks.”
After the resolution was adopted, Stephen Richards of Eagle, co-chairman of the Eagle County Democrats, said it was “a slap in the face.”
“I expected Gallagher to support his fellow commissioners,” he said.
Although it isn’t a requirement, the chairmanship has rotated in the past 20 years among the commissioners representing Eagle County’s three districts. Stone retained the chairmanship because Gallagher and Menconi were new to the board, said County Administrator Jack Ingstad
The chairman of the board provides direction to the board and has an elevated role of responsibilities, representing the board in situations in which it needs a sole representative and signing county documents.
Don Cohen of Edwards said he sees the move as a signal that personal views can get in the way of public business.
“Everybody should have a chance to be the chairman,” Cohen said. “I’m disappointed that neither Stone nor Gallagher came forward with any argument as to why Gallagher should retain the chair.
“The commissioners should be able to work independently, but also as a team.”
Menconi said the decision came as a surprise.
“It was quite clear to everyone, through Gallagher’s comments before the voting, that a decision had been previously made,” he said.
Minutes before Stone made his motion to vote for the chairmanship, Gallagher said there’s a misconception that a district will not be represented if a commissioner isn’t chairman of the board.
Gallagher didn’t return calls Tuesday nor Wednesday.
Stone, the new vice chairman, said he supported Gallagher’s nomination because he was unaware of Menconi’s interest to be the new chairman.
“I knew that Michael had an interest in becoming the chairman,” Stone said. “But Arn had never expressed to me an interest.”
Stone said he was surprised Menconi didn’t say anything at Tuesday’s meeting before the voting took place.
“I was waiting for him to talk about his interest. I was open to listen to his argument,” Stone said. “If he had stood up and spoken, I would have considered him, but he chose to be quiet.”
In December, Menconi confronted Stone during a meeting, asking him “if it was his wish that the chair rotate to him (Menconi) in 2003.”
Stone declined to answer, saying he wasn’t “ready to respond.”
“After that meeting, there were stories in the newspaper expressing my interest in becoming chairman,” Menconi said Tuesday. “It comes as a surprise to me to hear he (Stone) wasn’t aware of it.”
Although he disagreed with Gallagher and Stone, Menconi said he chose not to discuss the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Arguments should be left for the real issues,” he said. “My job is to maintain the integrity of what it is to be an elected official, to represent the real issues, and this isn’t critical.”
Stone said the chairmanship is decided by the Board of County Commissioners, not by the people of Eagle County.
Ingstad said it’s been a “courtesy” to rotate all the districts.
“It would have been nice to have received the acknowledgement and the position of the chair,” Menconi said. “But it is very gratifying the public support I’ve received from the citizens and the elected officials from the towns and the metro districts.
“What’s at hand – and it’s exciting – is the work I have accomplished,” he said.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.