Is commissioners’ power at risk?
VAIL ” Outgoing county commissioner Tom Stone says a small clause in the home rule charter is a big reason to vote against it. But drafters of the charter say the clause is business as usual.
The section of the charter, in the code of ethics, says the board of commissioners “shall not interfere with the administrative functions of the County or the professional duties of the County staff.”
The section says that’s consistent with the board’s “policy making authority.”
Stone says language in the section ” “shall not interfere” ” will make the board more hands-off. He said that will limit the board’s power to make discretionary spending decisions and personnel decisions and give more power to the county manager.
“It is a huge departure from the way the county board of commissioners has always acted,” Stone said.
But local attorney Rohn Robbins said the section does not give any decision-making power to the county manager.
“The only powers granted to the manager are to ‘administer’ and to ‘execute’ … the decisions made by (the board),” Robbins wrote in an e-mail.
Attorney John Dunn, who serves as Avon’s town attorney, noted that, historically, counties often were more hands on than town councils.
“I can kind of understand what Tom Stone is saying that that kind of language might in his mind impair the ability of the board to do what it has done in the past,” he said.
However, counties are charged with much more responsibility than they have been in the past, he noted.
“It sounds like Tom is grasping at something that just isn’t the way government is run these days,” he said.
Stone did not respond to requests from the Vail Daily to provide a lawyer who would back up his interpretation of the charter.
The charter was drafted by the Home Rule Charter Commission, an 11-member group that was elected by residents last November. Jerry Dahl, a Front Range attorney, was hired by the county to help draft the charter. Dahl did not return calls for this story.
County Attorney Bryan Treu declined to interpret the charter, citing election rules that prohibit public funds to be used for campaigns.
“If and when it passes, we’ll address those issues,” he said.
Commission chairman Don Cohen says the charter would not change the powers of the board, and that it’s “business as usual.” But he also cited county staff recently being “intimidated” by commissioners.
“County commissioners sometimes have a tendency to micromanage,” he said. “This isn’t really good management principles at any level.”
Jacque Whitsitt, another member of the charter commission, said the commission intended to maintain the status quo of how the board currently operates.
“It in no way disempowers people that were elected by citizens,” she said.
The state statutes, which the county now follows, allow commissioners to create the office of county manager “as may, in its judgment, be required for the efficient management of the business and concerns of the county. … Any persons appointed to such offices shall serve at the pleasure of the board of county commissioners.”
Stone says the home rule charter changes Eagle County government to “policy governance,” a term coined by author John Carver.
“The model enables the board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management’s job without meddling, to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organization; to truly lead its organization,” Carver writes on his Web site.
The charter allows the elected officers like the sheriff and the clerk and recorder to hire, supervise and fire their staff, within a “personnel system” adopted by the county manager.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.
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