Board, citizen relations at center of Eagle County commissioner races

Scott Condon

Three men who have proved popular with voters in the past are squaring off in a hotly contested race for an Eagle County commissioner seat this fall while a second commissioner race features two political newcomers.Voters in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, which includes El Jebel, part of Missouri Heights, most of Basalt and the lower Fryingpan Valley, can vote in both races.In one race, first-time Eagle County candidates Peter Runyon, a Democrat, and Richard DeClark, a Republican, are vying for the seat currently held by Michael Gallagher.In the race among the political veterans, incumbent commissioner Arn Menconi, a Democrat, is facing challenges from Republican A.J. Johnson and unaffiliated candidate Buz Reynolds. Menconi is finishing his first four-year term as a commissioner. Johnson won election as Eagle County sheriff five times and served from 1983 until 2003, when term limits forced him out.Reynolds hasn’t held countywide office, but he won election to an Avon Town Council seat in 1996 and won re-election in 2000. The council there selects the mayor from within the council; the board selected Reynolds in 2002. He will serve as mayor until November, when term limits will force him out of office.Each of the three candidates is touting his political experience as an advantage in the race.Menconi says he represents the peopleMenconi believes he deserves another four-year term based on his performance in office. He claims he is a good representative of the rank-and-file residents of the county.”That’s sort of been a theme – being on the inside but fighting for the citizens,” Menconi said.Menconi, director of a youth-oriented nonprofit organization called the Snowboard Outreach Society, was unapologetic about the legendary battles that have taken place among the three-member board of commissioners during the last four years. He often finds himself on the losing end of battles with commissioners Tom Stone and Michael Gallagher. The other two commissioners wouldn’t let him serve as chairman of the board, which is usually rotated among all members on an annual basis.Menconi acknowledged that he and Stone don’t get along, in part because Menconi has challenged the ethics of some of Stone’s actions. Menconi said he views it as his responsibility to speak up when he witnesses actions by an elected officials that he believes are unethical. But he said the divisiveness has overshadowed the times when the three board members have worked together. “We’ve done so many things well together,” he said.Johnson sees need for improvementOne plank on which Johnson is campaigning supports improving the commissioners’ internal relations and the board’s cooperation with other governments in Eagle County.”The commissioners should get along and not do the things they’re doing,” said Johnson. “It’s not about them. It’s about the community.”Although he didn’t single out any commissioner, Johnson believes egos and a desire to receive credit for accomplishments gets in the way of good governance too often.He said he doubts that the commissioners know what their constituents want. “I don’t know if they ask that question,” he said. “I know they don’t. They don’t communicate with the public enough.”Johnson believes he communicated well with the public during his 20 years as Eagle County sheriff. His experience as sheriff demonstrates that he can effectively run a multimillion-dollar operation like county government, he said. He is now the western states sales manager of a telecommunications company.Reynolds: Relations need mendingReynolds also contends he can improve the county government’s internal and external relations. As mayor of Avon, he said he has effectively worked with a diverse board of seven members. As a county commissioner, he would work to improve communication among the members.Reynolds, who has owned a contracting, development and excavation firm in Eagle County for 28 years, also believes there is room for improvement in the way the county works with other governing boards in the area. In his experience as mayor of one of Eagle County’s towns, he feels the commissioners “shut the door” on working with him.Reynolds also wants to increase the level of representation in Eagle County government. He supports increasing the number of commissioners from three to five, which would assure that El Jebel and Basalt would have their own representative on the board of commissioners.Reynolds would vote as a commissioner to place a question before voters on whether or not they wanted to expand the board to five.Priorities in other raceTwo themes of Runyon’s campaign are the need for greater representation and stricter growth controls.Runyon supports an increase from three to five commissioners to better represent county residents, which would require creating a home rule charter to define how Eagle County government operates.Runyon, a photographer, also wants to take realistic steps to limit growth. Projections by the state demographer show the county’s population will double in the next 23 years.Downzoning isn’t realistic, but he believes Eagle County residents are ready to elect someone who will get tougher on growth. He wants to create a blue ribbon panel to establish guidelines for growth.DeClark’s campaign concentrates on how Eagle County treats its residents. “I think land use is important,” he said, “but let’s not forget the people side.”For example, he wants the county government to take a lead in providing preschools, but not in running them.DeClark believes his success in operating a business helps qualify him as a commissioner. He helped to run his family’s business of developing flavors for food and beverage companies; at one point he oversaw the company’s 350 employees.His family sold that business and, after honoring a “non-compete” clause, he started a similar company after moving to the Eagle Valley.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is


See more