Has government reform begun? | VailDaily.com

Has government reform begun?

Scott N. Miller
Melinda Kruse/Daily file photoA commission that will present a proposal to voters reform county government held its first meeting Wednesday.

EAGLE ” They have until the end of July.

That’s how long state law gives Eagle County’s new Home Rule Commission to draft a new charter, or set of rules, for the county’s government. Work on that charter started Monday when the 11 people elected to the commission Nov. 1 held their first meeting.

There wasn’t a lot actually accomplished. Don Cohen of Edwards was named chairman of the group, and Kathy Chandler-Henry of Eagle was named vice chairman.

The group also asked County Attorney Bryan Treu to set up an information session about the experiences of the state’s other two home rule counties, Pitkin and Weld.

Beyond that, the group talked a bit about what they thought a new county charter could, or should, look like. While almost all 11 members said they support the idea of adding two more commissioners to the current three-member board, a former Eagle County Commissioner said maybe that’s not such a good idea.

“At first I thought five commissioners would be a slam-dunk,” David Mott said. “But this didn’t pass by much. There was a lot of opposition. Maybe there are other alternatives we could look at, maybe three commissioners, but elected out of districts.”

However it happens, better representation remains high on the list for several members.

“The Roaring Fork Valley needs a commissioner, now and forever,” committee member Jacque Whitsitt of Basalt said.

And it isn’t just Roaring Fork Valley residents who feel that way. Colleen McCarthy of Vail said a lot of people in the eastern part of the county believe they don’t have much of a voice at the county seat.

While committee members by and large said they support the relatively simple idea of five county commissioners instead of three, how that might be done will be a matter of debate.

At just the first meeting, various members supported:

– Five members from five districts, with voters in those districts voting for just one commissioner.

– Making the job non-partisan.

– Creating five districts for commissioners, but having all county voters elect all the board’s members.

That’s not the only complication.

State law requires any home rule county to have some sort of process for residents to put issues on the fall ballot. Those ballot issues could be anything from tax increases to challenging the commissioners’ votes on land use issues.

“But you have quite a bit of flexibility about how that’s going to look,” Treu said.

The committee could also turn some of the county jobs that are now filled by voters into county departments, with heads appointed by the commissioners.

But committee member Charlie Wick urged caution in doing too much tinkering to the county’s basic structure.

“The idea of five commissioners needs a good vetting,” he said. “But I don’t believe it should be very complicated.”

A complicated charter will be nearly impossible to pass, Wick added.

And getting the charter approved by voters is already a big issue on the committee. Members were aware that Summit County voters in 1997 rejected a home rule charter.

“Public education will really be our challenge,” Cohen said.

But first, committee members have to educate themselves. The information session ” which, like all committee meetings, will be open to the public ” will be held some time in December or January.

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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