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Glad to hear I’m wrong

Don Rogers

Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone called the other day to complain about my rather flippant characterization of his meetings with Commissioner Michael Gallagher as illegal in a column published Monday.He said he didn’t really care what I said about their ousting of Commissioner Arn Menconi from a housing board, though of course I was wrong to dismiss it as a political stunt during election season. But I couldn’t prove that they talk about more than Gallagher’s health and other small talk during their lunches and other conversations together.To say they go beyond chit chat and maybe some quick housekeeping about attendance and such is just flat assumption, Stone said.The mere fact observers see them get together privately does not mean they are discussing anything out of school, if you will.From Stone’s point of view, I had no business leaping to the conclusions about the content of their get-togethers.Well, he’s right. I go too far expressing an opinion that these private sessions have anything to do with their near-lockstep positions on nearly all county matters.I don’t have evidence about their private conversations with each other, and deducing that they must cross the line isn’t good enough to declare it so.I was too strong in my column Monday by assuming the worst, and I apologize for that. I’m also glad to hear Stone takes the issue seriously. I remarked flippantly, but quorums of local boards meeting informally outside their chambers is serious but common. We know that most do indeed stray into business matters during after-hours conversations. Stone says that’s not the case with the county commissioners. Well then, I’m happy to be wrong. Vail, Colorado

Kicking sand in campaign seasonby Don RogersThe fellows running the county as if a sandbox have come up with some new rules, just in time for the election season and another chance to embarrass the kid.Extending superpartisan Commissioner Tom Stone and sidekick Michael Gallagher’s latest stunt logically, their appointees to other boards must now not think for themselves but come to the county Board of Commissioners for walking orders on each vote. Tell that to Rob LeVine, appointed six years ago to the Lake Creek housing board. The manager of The Antlers in Vail and former Vail councilman thought all this time he was appointed for his acumen. Hah! The boys running the sandbox threw him off the housing board for voting the “wrong” way on a fund transfer to help tide over another affordable housing project.With this new rule – always consult the Board of Commissioners before making any vote on another board or committee – we have a new interesting way to look at such entities as the county planning commission, chamber of commerce board, open space committee and on and on and on. Talk about micromanagement.Of course, LeVine was just a collateral casualty of the real aim of rulers of the sandbox: Take out Commissioner Arn Menconi, up for re-election. Make no mistake, Menconi in his own way did his naive part to help them. Naive, because this childish ambushing has become all too common practice these past four years. By now, Menconi should see these setups coming and stand up to them.This one is right down there with Gallagher and Stone playing keepaway with the county board chairmanship – doing away with a tradition of sharing the largely ceremonial gavel among all three commissioners in turn. Now the two have suddenly decided that Menconi had done away with a till-now secret expectation that commissioners serving on other entities come back to the board for instructions on how to vote. Easy enough for Stone and Gallagher, who share plenty during their routinely illegal secret meetings with each other outside the regular board meetings. The board of three is so small that one commissioner talking business with another constitutes a meeting that must be posted properly ahead of time so that the public may attend, too. These two fellows who puff themselves up with such integrity violate this very real rule with the regularity of tradition.So now – though it has never been discussed as part of appointing a commissioner to an outside body – the sandbox boys have decided that Menconi violated this “tradition” with such flourish that he had to be thrown off the Lake Creek housing board with as much fanfare as could be mustered in a Board of Commissioners meeting. And this just happened to fall when the election campaigns began to hit full tilt. Imagine that? So what if Stone and Gallagher had some facts of the offending fund transfer from the Lake Creek housing board to the Buffalo Ridge housing board a little off. Mere details. The real offense was Menconi acting on behalf of the voters and not worrying overly much about the two who have worked all too hard these past years to bully him. This does raise an interesting – though till now – unasked question. How should county commissioners work with each other when it comes to service on outside boards and committees? Are they responsible to the other county board members, or to the voters who elected them to office? It’s one of those cutting philosophical questions, like does an elected official vote according to the people’s will or on his or her own conscience to do what’s right?Menconi did himself no honor by ducking a presentation about the fund transfer before the county Board of Commissioners – to help them guide county employee K.T. Gazunis in her vote on the housing board, he said. And he stepped further down this regrettable path by ducking the county commissioners’ meeting the next week, at which the rulers of the sandbox threw him off the housing board. Menconi did not have anything better to do, short of his wife going into labor, than to attend and be accountable for his decision. At the very least he could have corrected some of the “facts” the others used to toss him. Ducking this meeting was hardly the higher value that day. On the “honor” meter, give all these guys zeroes.Whether transferring funds from one housing board to another is a good business decision is open for debate, certainly. But Stone has participated in transferring funds from one housing board to another himself. And in another point that doesn’t quite pass the smell test in the current tempest, Stone declared that he wanted to transfer funds from the Lake Creek housing board to cover repairs at the senior housing apartments. Well, there’s still enough left to do so. All he has to do is ask. Of course, this was more about upsetting senior citizens near voting time than an entirely straightforward argument.The effect of Menconi and LeVine’s decision to help the Buffalo Ridge project cover loan obligations is to give the affordable housing apartments a decent chance to succeed. It may not work. The commissioners saw Gypsum’s Mountain Glen apartments fail despite similar support, and Gallagher and Stone do have cause for skepticism about Buffalo Ridge.We all could find room to doubt the practice of transferring funds from a growing reserve at Lake Creek instead of letting it build up for structural repairs when the project’s ownership someday reverts to the county and needs lots of repairs.But while reasonable minds can disagree on the efficacy of this transfer or others, Menconi and LeVine were appointed to go deep into the details and make what they thought was the best decision. The full Board of Commissioners has enough to do without trying to make every other board’s decisions on top of their own. Commissioners Gallagher and Stone did little homework in their second-guessing. They misunderstood basic facts, perhaps did not entirely hear what staff told them, made up some new unsaid rules about appointees, and most obviously seized on an opportunity to kick some sand.The one thing that’s abundantly clear from all of this is that it’s campaign season. Mischief is in the air, and the smell is most earthy.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com Vail, Colorado


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