Gallagher serves, bows out |

Gallagher serves, bows out

Cliff Thompson

EAGLE ” It’s Commissioner Michael Gallagher’s last full meeting and he’s having fun, cracking a few of his trademark self-deprecating jokes and even taking swipes at his replacement, Peter Runyon.

“We’ll have to watch out for the new liberal communist elements,” he teases, looking at Runyon who is attending the meeting.

A moment later he interrupts someone making a technical presentation before the commissioners. “Whoa! Stop just a moment. Let me understand what you just said,” he said, beaming around his pirate-like black leather eye patch.

Later an audience member compliments him and that elicits an “aw, shucks!”

No accolades, please

In August Gallagher, a conservative-leaning Democrat, announced he would not be seeking a second term because his health was failing and he couldn’t do the job to which voters elected him in 2000.

Gallagher, 59, was exposed to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange while serving in the military in Vietnam 35 years ago, and has suffered a variety of symptoms ranging from weakness, fatigue, double-vision, tumors, mysterious nerve disorders and other ailments that he doesn’t like to talk about. He wears the eye patch to counter the double-vision.

Not seeking a second term was a painful decision for Gallagher ” he called it a “low point.”

“It just disappointed me,” he said. “I do so enjoy the job and to not be able to do it and not to be able to continue with some of the things I’ve started is disappointing.”

On Tuesday he will briefly take his traditional seat for one fall of the gavel, then descend to watch as Runyon is sworn in. His last full meeting was Tuesday.

“I’m going to miss the job,” Gallagher said. “It has been a good opportunity to take care of folks and serve the people. That’s what I do.”

He doesn’t like to take credit for accomplishments and brushes off a question about high points during his tenure, saying only he’s serving at the pleasure of a “higher power.”

Gallagher is deacon in the Catholic church, something it took five years of study to achieve. “It just continues to amaze me how much you can get done if you don’t jump up and take credit for it,” he said. “It’s just the way he made me.”

True north

Runyon and Gallagher have worked together during the transition and Runyon said that Gallagher’s success is his ability to work selflessly behind the scenes. Runyon characterized his dealings with Gallagher as “extremely gracious,” and “helpful.”

“He has this inner peace,” said Runyon, a photographer ad businessman who ran as a moderate democrat. “He also has an inner moral compass that is evident in all his dealings. He’s not an elitist. He always acted in what he felt was in the best interest of the people. I really believe that.”

What does Gallagher believe a commissioner should do during the next four years?

“Every commissioner that gets sworn in has to be able to look 20 years down the road and see everything between now and then and prepare for it,” Gallagher said. “You should not stick your head in the sand and pretend we aren’t going to grow or fail to recognize our need for economic diversity or fail to see the change in complexity of the county.

“Always, in every decision, the good of the people and no other good needs to be the priority,” he added. “Not the party. It’s not the state.

It’s not friendship. It’s not anything but the good of the people.”

Future plans

He admits he’s made mistakes while in office. Although he doesn’t elaborate other than to offer an apology. “I’ve probably made some errors,” he said. “The only ones I regret are the few times I’ve offended folks.”

He did practice what he preached by staying true to his convictions. Twice during his tenure he angered Democrats when he denied giving fellow commissioner and Democrat, Arn Menconi, the chance to be chairman of the county commission.

“Party members were upset,” said Deb Marquez, county Democratic chairman. “We felt it would have been fairer to have let Arn have the chairmanship. But Michael has always been a man of strong

convictions and he was true to those.”

What’s next for Gallagher? He may take a few days off after leaving the county, but not many. “It can’t last too long ” I’d go crazy,” he said of vacations.

He wasn’t specific about his plans after leaving office, but said he’s already working on something in his hometown, Minturn ” where he was mayor, a town board member, and the police and fire chief before becoming a commissioner. And his parting words?

“Thank you for letting me serve you,” he said. “I hope I can find a way to continue to do so. It’s always a privilege to work for the people.”

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 450, or

Vail Colorado

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