Do residents have a say?
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Each week, the Vail Daily will publish a Q and A with the four Eagle County commissioner candidates.
Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Peter Runyon will be running against Republican and former Commissioner Dick Gustafson for the upvalley seat. Democrat Jon Stavney will be running against Republican Debbie Buckley for the midvalley seat that’s being vacated by term-limited Arn Menconi. All Eagle County voters will vote for all the seats, regardless of where they live.
The questions will cover local election issues. This week’s question pertains to how the county can get residents more involved with county decisions. Local Republicans have criticized the current board for not listening to the public. They cite decisions such as the early-childhood development program, which voters voted “no” to funding through a sales tax. The county still created a scaled-down version of the program, funding it from county money.
Republicans also point to major financial decisions, such as expanding the county justice center, investing money in affordable housing at Gypsum’s Stratton Flats and the possible sale of Lake Creek Village apartments. They claim decisions are made in closed-door sessions.
County commissioners have denied the claims, saying that they have sought public input, and that their decision-making process is transparent.
Q: Some think the current board of commissioners ignores the voters and does not value public input. As a commissioner, what would you do or change in order to get Eagle County residents more involved with county decisions?
Ignoring voters or not listening to public input is a predictable election-year cheap shot. I imagine that whoever ran against Gustafson in 1985 made the same claim.
The truth is, Eagle County government is more accessible than ever. We get over 65,000 hits per month on our Web site. Our commissioner meetings are rebroadcast 12 times a week on TV18. We broadcast “The Eagle County Minute” on the radio, put ads in the papers and issue press releases.
When an issue is “hot,” I often receive several dozen e-mails a day from constituents; email@example.com. My telephone number is still in the book. We schedule all contentious, major land-use files at night to allow easier public participation. It doesn’t get more accessible or transparent than that.
I firmly believe in hearing from my constituency at public meetings as well as in the grocery store. I take their concerns very seriously. But because of the limitations of waiting to hear from you, earlier this year we did a quality-of-life survey to find out directly from you what is important to all of you. To read the results, go to http://www.eaglecounty.us. To read about me, go to http://www.prunyon.com.
The “consent agenda” is for trivial and routine county business, not million-dollar real-estate deals. Only when the commissioners are caught hiding information on that “agenda” do they go through the motions of public hearings.
Attending those hearings is a waste of time because the decisions have been made behind closed doors, even about who will make the motions. There is no interest in public input. “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”
Here are examples: Stratton Flats “fee/loan” ($4.5 million), Forest Service land purchase ($1,275,000), Justice Center expansion (more than $34 million), redoing Riverview ($80 million?), sale of Lake Creek Village ($53 million), ignoring the Kiddie-Care “No” vote (more than $800,000), “Affordable” housing store ($650,000), and not lowering the mill levy (more than $7 million).
Important issues hearings should be advertised well in advance and scheduled at times convenient for the public. Issues should be discussed in advance before the decisions are made.
I will form five neighborhood citizens groups throughout the county, including the Roaring Fork Valley, for commissioner input. You should expect prudent, wise, economically sensitive, knowledgeable, and financially trained commissioners to manage your taxes and to keep you informed at all times. http://www.electdickgustafson.com
At the town of Eagle, I led difficult community discussions on tough issues, such as redevelopment within existing neighborhoods, and hearings on four major developments. As mayor, I led contentious, packed hearings about access to public lands, the leash law and sales tax/retail generation.
From those discussions and subsequent decisions, I earned a reputation for fairness and consensus building, even among those who disagreed. That is the kind of interactive leadership we need more of at the county.
I believe citizens ought to be more involved. I respect that families are busy, and with 80 different entities to oversee, there is only so much time. Residents elect leaders they trust, but who will make decisions. We need to spend less time behind our desks, and more time listening in the community.
We should hold evening meetings in jurisdictions affected by significant issues. Google Earth (GIS) maps with links to hearings, documents and map overlays of files being discussed would allow more information to be accessible by computer so citizens can research files on their own time. I think that in the future, more of our public discussion will happen through our computers by citizens researching and giving input as their schedules allow.
Community participation is essential to building community. Citizens will participate only when they trust that their voices and their votes will be honored. Citizen input must be proactively sought before a decision is made, not as an afterthought.
In order to restore trust in our county government, I propose taking the following steps:
1. Changing the time of public hearings to a time that is convenient for most working people.
2. Holding town-hall meetings on a regular basis throughout the county.
3. Setting up an independent citizens’ advisory group of nine people, composed of one independent, one Democrat and one Republican from each of the three commissioner districts. None of the people on the group will be current elected officials, and they should represent a cross-section of Eagle County.
This group, the RATE program, will evaluate large spending proposals and budget items before they are acted upon including proposals that are discussed in executive session like the sale of Lake Creek and the Stratton Flats bailout.
These three steps will give our community more opportunity to weigh in on decisions that are currently made with little or no citizen input.
Visit my Web site at http://www.ElectDebbieBuckley.com for more information
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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