Reformers take ‘party’ out of county politics |

Reformers take ‘party’ out of county politics

EAGLE ” Drafting a new county charter requires a lot of nuts and bolts.

The Eagle County Home Rule Charter Commission is now down to the nuts and bolts part of its work drafting a new charter, or governing document, for the county.

The volunteer group has made its major decision about the number of county commissioners. If the group hits its deadlines, voters will be asked this year to approve creating a five-person board of commissioners.

If voters agree, the five-person board will be elected much as the current board is: Candidates have to live in the districts they represent, but all county voters will pick the board.

The big difference, though, is that the new charter will try to take the “party” out of local politics. Candidates for commissioners’ seats, and all offices, will run without party affiliation. If there are more than two candidates for any office, there will be a primary election to winnow the field down to just a pair for the November election.

That means two Democrats or two Republicans could face off for the same job in the November election.

The way it looks now, virtually all the county’s elected jobs will remain that way, with the possible exception of the county surveyor’s job. All those elected posts would also become non-partisan, with summer primaries winnowing the field of candidates down to just a pair for November.

The trick now is to figure out just how to split up the commission districts to ensure Basalt and El Jebel gets their own county commissioner. The problem is numbers, and where those numbers are.

In creating five commissioner districts, all those districts must be as close as possible to equal in size, each containing about 20 percent of the county’s people. But the Basalt-El Jebel area has a little less than 20 percent of the county’s population now.

The bulk of the county’s residents live between Edwards and Eagle-Vail, and those areas are growing faster than the Roaring Fork Valley.

While state law allows some leeway in the population of districts, at some point, the commission may have to break down census information to its smallest fractions to find a way to divide the county.

Another nuts and bolts issue is how to meet a state requirement for home rule counties to allow residents to appeal decisions by petition or put proposed new laws on the ballot.

Using information provided by Denver-based attorney Jerry Dahl, who is working for the commission, the group decided to make the initiative process more restrictive, following the model of Pitkin County, one of the state’s two home rule counties.

Pitkin County limits what can be challenged by petition, and has set a fairly high number of signatures to get a petition on the ballot.

“I would prefer not having a referendum process, but if we have to, let’s set the bar high,” commission member John Horan-Kates said. Other commission members agreed.

So far, commission members have been pretty agreeable in their discussions.

“We have differences, but there’s a common goal,” said Commission Chairman Don Cohen. “We’re headed in the right direction. And, I think, if this doesn’t pass, nothing ever will, and we’ll know we tried.”

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

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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