Conflict-of-interest meeting on Droste land rescheduled after notice miscue
The first-ever meeting of Pitkin County’s conflict-of-interest committee ended quickly Wednesday after committee members realized they hadn’t given proper notice of the meeting.
But those folks might deserve a little slack for the oversight. “I did not post notice 24 hours in advance of the meeting, as required in the home-rule charter,” said attorney Brook Peterson. “I apologize for the oversight.”
The conflict-of-interest committee will meet again Monday at 4 p.m.
The committee has officially been in existence since voters amended the county’s home-rule charter in 1998, but there had never been cause for a meeting until this month. Three county commissioners have asked the committee for its opinion on allegations that they are unfit to decide a major land-use application on the Droste property overlooking Owl Creek.
“I think the committee is a good idea,” said Michael Kinsley, one of four committee members to show up for Wednesday’s meeting. “We have yet to see whether that good idea works, however.”
The Drostes own much of the undeveloped property along the valley and ridge line in the lower Brush Creek Valley. The county and the town of Snowmass Village paid the Drostes more than $7 million to place a conservation easement on the valley floor.
But now the family contends the county government owes them much more, because a hearing officer refused to let them build a road across the conservation easement and up the hillside to a potential building site on the ridge. The denial was based on the county’s 1041 regulations, which set strict limits for development in environmentally sensitive areas. The area is considered severe winter range for elk by the state Department of Wildlife.
They appealed the decision to the county commissioners, claiming a regulatory “takings” had occurred. A regulatory takings occurs when government regulations strip a property of all economic value.
When the appeal came up on March 13, the Drostes’ attorney said three county commissioners – Shellie Roy, Jack Hatfield and Mick Ireland – “are so biased and prejudiced against the Droste applications that their participation will deny due process of law to the Droste family.” As proof, Schroeder provided two newspaper articles in which the commissioners are quoted or paraphrased on the Drostes’ ambitions to build on the ridge.
The allegation prompted the commissioners to delay the appeal hearing for two weeks, until this Tuesday, to allow the conflict-of-interest committee to consider the charges. The committee members present Wednesday – Peterson, Kinsley, Jeffrey Evans and Monroe Summers – said they would like both sides present at next week’s hearing.
The discussion is likely to start with whether there is anything for the committee to decide. If they find a potential conflict that falls within their charter, they will likely quiz the Drostes about the allegation and the commissioners about their comments. The conflict-of-interest committee does not have the authority to remove a board member from a decision, but it is expected their recommendations will carry a lot of weight.
“The conflict-of-interest committee was created so that alleged conflicts of interest can be dealt with quickly by an impartial board,” said Peterson, who was appointed committee chairman over his halfhearted objections.
Kinsley, who chaired the Home Rule Charter Commission that proposed the formation of a conflict-of-interest committee, said the idea came up in 1997. A City Council member in a nearby community had declined to recuse himself from making a decision about a project for which he was a contractor.
“The council member turned to the town attorney and said, `Do I have a conflict?’ The attorney gave a vague answer, and the council member used it to remain seated,” Kinsley recalled. “He was turning to an employee for an opinion. That doesn’t work.”
Kinsley said occurrences like that are all too common in small-town America. “I think other local governments need to get very, very clear about how they define and deal with conflicts of interest.”
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