Home rule back on the ballot
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY” Though they rejected government reform in November, county voters will decide by mail-in ballot in April whether to expand the county board of commissioners.
The county commissioners unanimously voted Friday to hold a second election to adopt a home rule charter.
The charter calls for a panel of five commissioners instead of three, allows citizens to petition the county to place issues on election ballots, and creates a new code of ethics for elected officials. This version keeps political parties in county races.
“We are the Rosa Parks of Colorado counties, and it occurs to me that somebody has to sit on the bus first,” said Don Cohen, chairman of the residents’ committee the wrote the proposals. “Once she sat on the bus things started to change.”
The charter commission said it asked for a second election based on a state statute that allows 180 days to bring the issue back to the table.
“The constitution provides for a lot of things, but they are not obligated to do anything,” said Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner who has been one of the leading home rule opponents. “It’s a travesty of justice and is embarrassing.
“I believe it’s time to start thinking about getting new commissioners even before election time,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t object and would vote for a recall if somebody filed a petition.”
If home rule fails to pass this time, the county will not have another opportunity to vote on it again until the population of Eagle County reaches 70,000, or another charter commission is elected to create a new charter.
A final draft of the charter and a ballot question were submitted to the commissioners on Friday morning, just one day before the deadline to call a second election. The county commissioners were advised by the County Attorney Brian Treu they had no choice under the state constitution but to approve the charter commission’s request to set a special election.
“They have done what they believe is their very best effort,” County Commissioner Sara Fisher said. “It is up to voters to decide if it is appropriate for our county. If it is voted down a second time then it will clearly be put to bed. The commission did exactly what they were elected to do.”
But Gustafson said the commission went too far and the county commissioners are acting irresponsibly.
“There wasn’t any question as to what the commissioners were going to do,” Gustafson said. “This is pretty typical of tax-and-spend-type people. If they don’t get their way they do it all over again. They are spitting in the face of the voter. I’m personally offended by it.”
Pitkin and Weld are the only two counties in Colorado where residents have voted for home rule, Gustafson said.
“The counties that have gone to home rule have said it is not that great, and if all the other counties, and even bigger ones than us, can live without home rule then why do we need it,” Gustafson said.
To compare Eagle County to other counties is unfair, as most other counties oversee larger municipalities who are more politically active than local towns here are, Cohen said.
“It’s hard to find an equivalent county to ours, and it’s a real justification that the county that looks the most like us did this, which is Pitkin,” Cohen said.
If approved, salaries, benefits, cars and cell phones for the two new commissioners would cost $219,200 a year. One-time costs include $90,000 for renovating officers and $4,000 for technology.
“Home rule really has no benefit to the county,” Gustafson said. “The only things it will do if it’s passed is create bigger government and more cost to the taxpayer for remodeling the commissioner’s office, additional cars, more travel, new computers and their salaries.
Staff writer Alison Miller can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.