Yes to home rule
I’ve written about Eagle County going with home rule before as we prepared to vote on creating the Charter Commission last year.This is not a foreign concept. Both Vail and Avon are home rule towns, and a close neighbor, Pitkin, is a home rule county.At the present time we are limited to three commissioners by virtue of the Colorado Constitution and the population of the county. Until the Eagle County reaches 70,000 people, constitutionally three commissioners is all we can have. According to the 2000 census, we were at 41,659. But there is a way around it. The first step is to become home rule. Home rule is allowed as a result of a 1912 amendment to the Colorado Constitution and guarantees municipalities the “full right of self-government in local municipal matters.” It gives counties the right to decide the form and administrative structure of their government and also allows legislative power. What that means is that it also gives us the ability to decide exactly what number of commissioners is necessary to better represent our needs. And that last statement should be of particular concern to this county, which is peculiar in not only its geographical definition but also in its diverse needs.Most glaring in its physical layout is the inclusion of Basalt in Eagle County, a community located between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. As they are somewhat isolated from the rest of the county, most often their needs are not very well represented. Adding an extra commissioner to serve as their representative would only make sense.Within the confines of all the rest of the towns in the county, clearly the needs and demands are very diverse as you move east to west. The east end is becoming more and more resort-like in nature. And the west, while becoming more urbanized by the minute, still maintains a rural, agricultural component that has different needs. And the middle is the middle, with a lot of resort components but also serving as a huge residential base.Each of these communities, which add great diversity to the county, also pose great problems for representation. So it would seem that the sheer size of the population can’t effectively translates into what we really need in terms of each community having a legitimate place at the table. The table of course meaning, the table in the chambers in the Eagle County Commissioners Chambers.So how will it work? As concisely as possible, here goes.There will be five commissioners representing five districts that will defined by population and common interests. A candidate must live within the district he/she is running to represent. Two-hundred signatures gathered from within the district will be required to get on the ballot.Primaries will be held in each district, and candidates will be voted on in the primaries by voters in their respective districts. The top two vote getters in each district will run in the countywide election, which will be voted on by electors in the entire county. The first election will be in November 2007, and the winners will each be awarded a three-year term to get the process started. From then on, the terms will be for four years. These elections will be nonpartisan.These rules apply to the county commissioner seats only. County clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, sheriff and coroner will all remain elected offices and will be handled in the traditional manner. The surveyor is changed from an elected position to one appointed by the county engineer. Probably the most controversial element of the home rule charter is the section dealing with initiatives and referendums. They will require signatures of 15 percent of total registered voters and must be completed and delivered in 30 days. That’s a lot. It’s also a short period of time. Clearly the intent is to make it very difficult.The other controversy deals with the topics available to this process. It cannot be used for challenges to development, land use or the annual budget. These are some pretty serious issues that are off-limits and worth thinking about when you make your decision. Keep in mind, once the charter is adopted, future changes must be approved by the voters. So there you have it. And to be sure, it’s not perfect but neither is the current system, which I find just plain unacceptable. I also think there’s another simple fact. Holding together a coalition of two is extraordinarily easier than holding together a coalition of three. Look to the Vail Recreation District for an example. Three ran, joined at the hip, pledged to march down the path like the three musketeers. Well it lasted, but not for long. In fact, that group is now gone. And good for us that individual freedom of thoughts and votes is now more the rule than the exception.Is it the answer? I surely don’t pretend to know. But one thing is perfectly clear. In recent history the mentality of two against one that has ruled down at the Eagle County offices has been not only dysfunctional but ultimately has resulted in a disservice to the voters. Two against one is never a pretty picture. An additional argument raised by the opponents is the cost of adding two more salaries to the county budget. I would suggest that it’s peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, it’s a small price to pay at any number if it results in a better decisionmaking process.So for me, I’m voting yes. I don’t like the current system. Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado
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