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Strength in numbers

Don RogersDaily Managing Editor

Anyone who thinks three is the right number of county commissioners should have gone to the school board meeting Wednesday.The level of discussion among the seven members far surpassed the dialogue you will hear among the county commissioners. The school board conversation was richer, deeper, broader, more thoughtful and more respectful in disagreement than what we’ve observed among the commissioners this century. And not surprisingly, the school board made the most sensible decision for dealing with building needs in the not-so-distant future.The center piece of the discussion was whether, and when, to ask the voters to approve funding for a modern high school near the Colorado Mountain College campus in Edwards.Of intense interest to a group of Meadow Mountain Elementary School moms at the meeting was the fate of their children’s school. If Battle Mountain remains at its Eagle-Vail location, the most likely future includes Meadow Mountain closing to make room for more high school students.Given the passion of the audience, the climate was remarkably collegial. Board members really did seem to be listening, even if they didn’t agree with some of the parents’ points. Board members also seemed to listen to each other, particularly when they held completely different views. Now, this is how it should work.The persistent problem with the Board of County Commissioners probably is not so much the personalities as the number itself. This school board is a good, thoughtful group that works well together, true. But with seven members, two can speak frankly during a tour of Battle Mountain and Meadow Mountain this week with a newspaper editor. The county commissioners are not supposed to talk about anything approaching business when one sees another outside the confines of a properly posted meeting.There’s no guarantee, of course, that five commissioners would have been less hasty about, say, overspending county funds on Eaton Ranch, or provided more credibility in dealing with the county administrator who resigned under pressure that the current majority could not bring themselves to admit. From this vantage, though, we suspect that a larger county commission would have made a difference in both cases.The school board wisely chose to signal its interest in asking the voters to support a bond issue for a new high school in November 2006 rather then leap in the heat of the moment to a hasty push for an election measure this November. By doing so, they created time to develop a well-thought-out plan and the best chance of selling it to an always skeptical public. They increased their prospects for passage many-fold with that decision.Their choice will have an effect on the county commissioners’ decision whether and when to ask the voters for permission to borrow against the county open space fund for up to $40 million. Done right, the ability to issue bonds to extend open space preservation would be invaluable. Two controversial open space decisions (Bair Ranch and Eaton Ranch) without an apparent process, aside from the euphemistic “fast track,” might leave too much of the electorate unwilling to let the commissioners have more open space money to play with.The commissioners, too, would benefit from setting up a more-thought-out system for open space decisions, perhaps modeled closely on Great Outdoors Colorado, before trying to sell the voters on bonding. Then again, GOCO has chosen not to go the borrowing route.Of all the possible local election measures this fall, the one that makes the most sense for the county is asking the voters to head down the path of home rule. Handled well, that would improve county decision-making by increasing the number of commissioners from three to five.The county would benefit from sessions more like the school board’s than what we have witnessed in the commissioners’ chambers. There indeed is strength in numbers. Vail, Colorado


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