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Home rule would weaken Eagle County

Dick Gustafson

Every few years the question about “home rule” for Eagle County is recycled. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m always disappointed. Few do their homework or have a sense of history, because if they did, it would never be proposed. I URGE YOU TO VOTE AGAINST IT and here are the reasons why:

Colorado Counties Incorporated (the official organization of county commissions in Colorado) researched the “home rule” issue back in the middle 1980s. After an extensive review of the laws pertaining to the subject, it was determined that counties benefit far greater by being a statutory county, (as Eagle County currently is) rather than being a “home-rule” county. It is no coincidence that only two Colorado counties (out of a total of 62) have ventured into this quagmire and most citizens of those counties regret the decision to do so. Most counties have been wise enough to see the problems and have avoided them.

A common misperception is the belief that the powers granted to home-rule counties are similar to those powers granted to municipalities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home-rule municipalities have far greater powers to self govern. Home-rule counties are restricted by the state. The state legislature controls the counties basically because the members do not trust county commissioners. They retain control over how counties operate, be they statutory or home rule.

The argument always surfaces that home rule status gives a county the opportunity to increase the number of commissioners. Whenever a committee is selected to design a “racehorse,” the degree of ugliness of the resulting “camel” is directly proportionate to the number of members on the committee. The greater the size of the committee, usually the worse are the results. There is one great flaw in the thinking of the people proposing home rule for the purpose of increasing the number of commissions. That flaw is the assumption that a larger committee will be “wiser” and therefore will govern with greater acumen. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Look at the U.S. Congress. No matter which party is in office, the only thing they do well is outrageous spending.

Here are some of the problems of home rule:

1. The cost of five commissioners is more expensive and is paid by you, the taxpayer. These costs are greater salaries, travel expenses, benefits, offices, furniture, additional elections and charter committee expenses, just to mention the obvious.

2. The powers are limited by the state and are not similar, or equal to, municipal “home-rule” powers.

3. Charter committees can also make poor decisions that affect the county. A perfect example is the Citizens Committee in Weld County. This committee, created by the charter committee, removed most elected officials powers granting them to the Citizens Committee. The commissioners are only a rubber stamp to the committee.

4. Charter committees may also give powers to the commissioners to appoint currently elected officials instead of electing them. For example, the sheriff, treasurer, assessor, etc.

5. Large commissions create manageability problems, which may result in compromise decisions.

If the electorate wants better government (and I believe that is an important concern in Eagle County today), it should elect better qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, candidates, who are not burdened with personal agenda. If the electorate is unhappy with the decisions made by its elected officials, it has none to blame but itself for electing those officials. It should not compound the problem by adding two additional officials.

In summary: Home rule for Eagle County is a bad idea. Increasing the number of commissioners to five (or any other number than three) is a worse idea. I intend to vote against it. The best solution is to replace officials who are not looking out for you and/or your property and to elect those who will. Less spending is good. Less government is better.

Dick Gustafson is a Vail resident and former Eagle County Commissioner.


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