Stone removes himself from Miller Ranch
In a memo sent Wednesday to his two, fellow-county commissioners, Arn Menconi and Michael Gallagher, Stone, the chairman of the commission, said he “may be entering into a business relationship with individuals (ASW Realty) that are currently associated with the development of homes at Miller Ranch.”Although I do not believe I have a conflict of interest at this time,” Stone writes, “this is the only responsible course of action in view of my strong opinions concerning both the appearance of conflicts and actual conflicts of interest.”Stone has said he sees potential for conflicts of interest among some members of the county’s Open Space Advisory Committee although other county officials, including its attorney, disagree. The committee, which comprises 13 volunteers – some of whom are also members Eagle Valley Land Trust board, another conservation group – will recommend projects for the new $3 million open space tax.”Responsible’ standardsStone’s decision comes more than a month after he acted as a selling broker for a $6.9 million real estate deal in Gypsum that involves ASW Realty, the developer of the Miller Ranch housing project.Stone, who acted as a selling broker for Slifer, Smith & Frampton, closed the deal to sell the Cotton Ranch development to ASW Realty on Dec. 23. The seller was a company known as Cotton Ranch, LLC.ASW will continue developing Cotton Ranch, said Stone, who already has been receiving part of his commission on the deal – calculated at about $400,000, or less than 6 percent of the total sale.”The new thing that may happen, and that is why I’m recusing myself from Miller Ranch development issues, is that Slifer Smith and Frampton may get the listing of those properties at Cotton Ranch,” Stone said. “In this situation, ASW Realty will be the seller and would be the one paying the commission.”That relationship could have the appearance of conflict of interest and so I’m holding myself to the same standards that I hold other people to,” Stone said. “That’s the responsible thing to do.”Policy decisionsMenconi, however, said he hasn’t been comfortable with Stone’s relationship with ASW for the past year-and-a-half.”I don’t believe Tom would have been fair and objective in dealing with ASW as a commissioner,” Menconi said. “During the time he’s been dealing with ASW in the Gypsum deal, (the Board of County Commissioners) has made other important decisions, such as buying the town of Vail out.”Menconi was referring to the county’s purchase of Vail’s interest in Miller ranch. He also mentioned the county’s change in policy on how much the homes there could increase in value.”We went from a 3 percent appreciation cap to a cost-of-living-based appreciation, those were beneficial to the developer,” Menconi added. “The board has made important decisions with ASW.”Both decisions cited by Menconi, however, were made before the sale of Cotton Ranch.”No influence’Stone said there are two separate issues and said no concerns have been raised either by former county attorney, Tom Moorhead, or the commissioners’ current legal adviser, Diane Mauriello.”The County Attorney’s Office has given an opinion on the sale of the land in Cotton Ranch. Tom Moorhead and county Attorney Diane Mauriello have said the reason that Cotton Ranch is not a conflict of interest is because it’s part of the town of Gypsum where I have no influence,” Stone said. “Also, the seller is paying the commission, not ASW.”State law defines conflict of interest as personal or financial gain. Mauriello didn’t return calls Thursday.Small mattersCommissioner Michael Gallagher said he doesn’t believe that there has yet been a conflict of interest.”If we discover otherwise, it’s different. I think it is something that should be questioned,” said Gallagher, who on Thursday wasn’t aware of the Gypsum real estate deal. “The question to ask is if there is a violation of the conflict of interest law.”We also need to see if in between the closing of the deal and today, Tom took any official action on the Miller Ranch project,” Gallagher said. “I don’t remember that we took any action.”Gallagher said there are two sides to conflict of interest – the relationship between the parties and the action being taken.”If I were to get in a business relationship, but I don’t take any official action, there’s no conflict,” Gallagher said. “There are few decisions still to be made on the Miller Ranch housing development. The big decisions are done. And those were: How many houses to build and which developer to pick.”The decisions left, for example, have to do with where are we going to plant the trees,” Gallagher said.Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.