Sound and fury over "conflicts’
The sound and fury surrounding the Eagle County commissioners over what constitutes conflicts of interest may in the long run prove healthy.
After all, the mere notion that ethics has a real place in government is promising on its own.
This latest round smacks more of political punching in the pejorative, though.
To recap, in brief: Commissioner Tom Stone recently questioned the efficacy of two members of the nonprofit Eagle Valley Land Trust board also serving on the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee.
We happen to share his concern about the two bodies sharing board members, though we do recognize we’re talking about two people on a 13-member body – a group that can only make recommendations about open space proposals.
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Stone has a rather larger toe dipped in these conflict waters, considering his business relationship as a Realtor with the same developer building the Miller Ranch affordable housing project in Edwards.
His critics, naturally, are only too happy to point this out, including that Stone will profit handsomely from his association with a developer that came into being because he’s a county commissioner.
He’s announced that he will recuse himself from future county decisions dealing with the developer, something we believe he should have done well over a year ago when he set them up with Cotton Ranch with the intent of earning paychecks in process. Between then and now, Commissioner Stone has cast many votes dealing with a developer through whom Stone would profit in private life.
His chief adversary, Commissioner Arn Menconi, has not been shy about questioning all this. But Meconi’s own critics have a point bringing up the SOS founder’s reliance on Vail Resorts to keep his community service organization operating. Shouldn’t he refrain from voting on matters concerning the valley’s big dog when he must stay in their good graces as the very backbone supporter of the Snowboard Outreach Society?
And so it goes. Lines can be drawn to preclude pretty much everyone from public service because of their ties to real life. At least in theory.
Legally, none of the cases mentioned fit the criteria, at least according to the county’s legal counsel.
Menconi et al may not like Stone’s ties to the Miller Ranch developer, Auerbach Southwest Ltd., but the county’s attorneys have determined that Stone had no legal conflict of interest in voting on issues dealing with them.
Likewise, there’s no legal conflict with Land Trust board members serving on the Open Space Advisory Committee and only a rhetorical raising of the eyebrows over Commissioner Menconi’s ties to Vail Resorts.
Of course, Stone also has a Vail Resorts connection in that the ski company owns half of Slifer Smith and Frampton, the real estate company Stone works for.
As for the Miller Ranch developer, the commissioners unanimously chose Auerbach back in 2000 to develop the project, and in 2002 unanimously approved the development plan.
In at least major decisions concerning the project in which there was a split vote among the commissioners, the issues have a lot less to do with a developer’s interests than deed restriction philosophies and Vail’s wishes to be bought out of the deal. To use the language of Al Gore, Stone was not the “controlling authority” in major decisions about the developer at Miller Ranch. Linking his ties to the Auerbach to the manner of deed restrictions on the project and buying out Vail are a reach.
Also, it bears reminding that Stone’s involvement with the developer was reported widely before his re-election to office in November 2002. What changed is the contract he arranged finally closed just before Christmas 2003.
Likewise, Menconi’s invol-vement with SOS and its reliance on Vail Resorts was widely known before he won election to office in November 2000.
Shakespeare’s line about “sound and fury” ends appropriately for this chapter in the soap opera at the county building: … “signifying nothing.”