Wrapping up reform | VailDaily.com

Wrapping up reform

Scott N. Miller
Dawn BeaconThe home rule charter would also remove party politics from elections for county offices.

EAGLE – If Eagle County’s home rule charter was a house, it would nearly be ready for prospective buyers. But a few things need to be fine-tuned first.The 11-member commission that was elected last fall is just about ready to hand a proposed new county charter over to the Eagle County Commissioners. The commissioners will then put the charter on the November ballot. If voters pass it, Eagle County’s government is in for some big changes.Before the charter goes to voters, though, the commission continues to hammer out some major and minor details.Here’s a look at a handful of those issues:

If the charter passes this fall, it will create two new county commissioner jobs and re-draw the current districts. How to make that move has taken a lot of time.”We’ve had the greatest trouble with these questions,” commission member John Horan-Kates said. “The rest of it is pretty straightforward.”A lot of the transition involves questions such as what if two commissioners end up living in the same district after the new districts are created.If that happens, the commissioner who’s lived in the district the longest would be the commissioner for that district. The other would represent the next-closest district until the 2007 election.

This has been one of the biggest sticking points in finishing a charter. The state, which sets pay for county officials, has authorized a hefty raise for elected officials who take office in January.That raise, the first in several years, will boost the salaries for county commissioners elected this year and in the future from the $51,827 per year to $72,500 per year.Commission members Dave Mott and Kara Heide both said they’ve heard from people about the costs of paying another two commissioners, which, by the time benefits are included, will hover around $100,000 per year per commissioner. The most recent draft of the charter paid all county officials what state law allows, but had language setting up cost of living adjustments for the commissioners.Mott suggested splitting three commissioners’ pay five ways, with incentives built in for more work.That idea went down quickly.”My compensation is going to depend on the rest of the board?” said commission member Michael Bair, who is also a candidate for county commissioner. “If the majority of the board disagrees with the work I’m doing, I won’t get compensated.”Commission member Jacque Whitsitt said keeping the state’s pay rates might open up the commissioners’ jobs to more people.”If you look at the boards today, they’re all self-employed or retired now,” Whitsitt said. “I want to change that. Wouldn’t it be great to have a nurse or a school teacher as a commissioner?”While there was some argument over whether or not county commissioner is a full-time job, the majority of the commission dumped the cost of living language out of the charter and stuck with the state’s rules.

During the discussion on paying new county commissioners, commission member Charlie Wick floated an idea that could make the county government more accountable to residents.The idea involved an annual report from the county commissioners that would present the public with details about meeting attendance, voting records, and membership and attendance at the various boards and committees commissioners participate in.”I really like this,” said commission member Tom Edwards, who also is running for county commissioner this year. “But I wonder about throwing it into the home rule charter.”In the end, the commission gave Wick’s idea to Jerry Dahl, the Denver-based attorney for the group, to put into either the charter or one of its side documents.

This was a last-minute item at Thursday’s meeting, the result of talks between Dahl and County Attorney Bryan Treu.Dahl told commission members that Treu is worried that some parts of the charter’s code of ethics could open county officials to a constant flood of lawsuits. Part of that could be fixed by changing a few “shalls” to “may” or “mights”.But, Whitsitt said, a code of ethics embedded in the charter – and especially a prohibition against elected officials exerting “undue influence” – is going to be important.”I’ve seen it happen. This is critical stuff,” Whitsitt said.

The commission will hammer out the final details of the charter in August. The County Commissioners will probably put the charter on the ballot at their Sept. 5 meeting.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

Support Local Journalism