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Maybe more is the answer

Kaye Ferry

What a week! It falls into the category of “will miracles never cease?” In the span of less than 36 hours, I agreed with Don Rogers, Steve Pope and Greg Moffett.First the easy part, my compatriots at the Vail Daily. Rarely do I agree with either of them, keeping in mind that I’m not sure how often they ever agree with each other.Yet sanity prevailed at the Vail Daily offices, as both the publisher and editor took the position of not just caution but outright opposition to using county general funds to finance open space in the form of the Eaton Ranch deal. To me it was like working for a long time on getting your parents to give you an allowance and as soon as they agree, you ask for an advance – and a big one.But the county commissioners OK’d it. Well at least Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon did. And I truly believe that at least the spirit of the law was violated by their decision. The voters of Eagle County gave their elected officials the authority to purchase open space by virtue of the measure that was passed and through the money collected.I do not believe they gave them carte blanche to deplete the open space fund and then dip, in a complete frenzy, into general fund dollars with no appraisal and no exploration of options. There’s a tax in place. Now there should be a plan and the patience to execute it.The town of Vail has purchased all of its open space with its own tax dollars – not a bad precedent for other communities. When the Edwards Metro District offered the commissioners a $2 million loan to help facilitate the purchase, someone should have insisted they donate that money as a partnership after it was subsequently determined that a loan would not be legal. But they didn’t.Don’t get me wrong. No one is against open space. And they shouldn’t be accused of such simply because they’re against last week’s process. But that was not what it was about anyway. It was not about open space. It was about responsible government. Or is that an oxymoron?To help avoid more of the same in the future, something that must be addresses sooner rather than later is expanding the number of county commissioners from three to five. It is the only way to stop these divide-and-conquer tactics that seem to control all decisions made for Eagle County.I personally listened to newly sworn in Commissioner Runyon state that he is fully in favor of expanding the current board. While I have never heard Commissioner Menconi say those words, I have been told that he, too, has said he is in support of a five-person board, or at least letting the voters of Eagle County decide if they wanted that. Let’s hope that was not just his position when he was the odd man out.As for Commissioner Tom Stone, after this last fiasco, I’d have thought he would support a larger group to spread the burden, vote, set-up, etc. But he doesn’t. He’s not convinced that it would improve the situation. But I’d beg to differ with Tom. It’s a lot harder to hold three out of five together than two out of three. With a larger group, you’d hope somebody would have a pang of conscience.How do we go about achieving a better balance and broader representation? We are limited to three commissioners by virtue of the population of the county. Until the county reaches 70,000 people, constitutionally three is all we can have. According to the 2000 census, we were at 41,659. But there is a way around it, and the first step is to become a “home rule” county.Home rule is allowed as a result of a 1912 amendment to the Colorado Constitution and guarantees municipalities the “full right of self-government in local municipal matters.” It gives counties the right to decide the form and administrative structure of their government and also allows legislative power. In strictly local matters, if a local ordinance in a home rule jurisdiction conflicts with state law, local ordinance prevails with the exception of certain taxing limitations.If we should go down this road, I would strongly urge that candidates run from the district they represent and are elected by the voters in their district.While I’m not suggesting this necessarily as the solution, it’s worth looking into. It would require a vote, a new charter and a lot of other things. It certainly won’t be easy or cheap. But we do have some examples to look toward. Many towns, including Vail and Avon, are home rule. Pitkin and Weld being the only two home rule counties in the state.Is it the answer? I surely don’t pretend to know. But one thing is perfectly clear: In recent history the mentality of two against one that has ruled at the Eagle County offices has been not only dysfunctional but ultimately has resulted in a disservice to the voters.So put your thinking caps on, see what you come up with and then start the dialogue. Call somebody. Write the elected officials and the newspaper. The current situation is just plain unacceptable. We deserve better.I’m out of space so I’ll fill you in on my agreement with Greg next week. JUST WONDERED: Did you see the Jan. 17 USA Today article on conference centers? Regarding Atlanta, aka GWCC, once one of the leading facilities in America, it was said: “If four little old ladies wanted to rent a room to play poker next month, we’d rent them a room.” Kind of gives you the feeling maybe they’re a long way from full up. Just a guess. Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. To contact Vail Resorts, call 476-5601 or e-mail vailinfo@vailresorts.com. For past columns, vaildaily.com-columnists or search:ferry. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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