Mayors ready, willing to begin discourse with Garfield County |

Mayors ready, willing to begin discourse with Garfield County

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen is optimistic about a proposed Garfield County Forum put forth by newly elected county Commissioner Mike Samson.

“I think that would be great if we could sit down together,” Christensen said. “One thing that the municipalities always talk about is that the citizens of the municipalities within Garfield County are citizens of the county as well.”

And, to some extent, there has been a disconnect between county and municipal governments, according to Christensen.

“I think the city governments think that the county commissioners have not been as open-minded to some of the unique impacts on us,” he said.

It’s that disconnect that Samson wants to solve with a regular meeting for a representative of each of the counties’ six municipalities and Battlement Mesa, with Samson representing the board of county commissioners, to create a dialogue on issues that affect both county and city governments.

Samson proposed the forum in his first meeting on the board and commissioners agreed in a work session on Jan. 26 that the forum is a good idea.

Commissioner John Martin said that, while he thinks it’s a fantastic idea, there are going to be challenges to overcome.

“Politics,” he said. “Politics is always an issue. Since the creation of Garfield County there’s always been a turf battle between governments. We’ve got to go into it knowing that that is a reality.”

New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin agreed, noting that, while the relationship between the cities and the county government has improved over the past 20 years, there remains room for improvement.

“We all treated the other towns like we were rival football teams,” Breslin said about the condition of politics when he first came to the valley.

However, over time, mayors from Aspen to Parachute began meeting regularly to discuss common issues and challenges.

“When groups started meeting over common things, and the mayors started meeting, then it grew into something where we were all in this together,” Breslin said.

Breslin is happy to see the county commissioners want to be part of it.

The idea of a county forum is not a new one, Martin added. Similar meetings took place during his first term as commissioner, in the late ’90s, he said. The get-togethers fizzled over time.

According to Breslin, keeping the relationship going will be the biggest hurdle.

“We’ve all got a lot of work to do, and it’s very easy to let other people do their work and for us to focus on what we have to do,” Breslin said. “But I think this is a welcome addition to the progress we’ve made over the years. I’m very enthusiastic about that.”

Samson said he has recruited longtime friend and Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert to assist with organizing the other mayors to attend a meeting to be scheduled sometime in February.

While Samson has said the reason for the forum is to repair a “strained” relationship between the county and municipal governments, Lambert said he doesn’t define the relationship as strained.

“It’s more along the lines of tension between the city councils and the commissioners,” Lambert said. “And it’s not isolated to the mayors and the community leaders.”

Lambert said it’s been his experience that there has been a lack of dialogue between the commissioners and city governments, sometimes inhibiting compromise on issues of overlapping interest. However, he added, that there have also been instances of compromise.

Political tensions were evident during last November’s election, when several area mayors, including Christensen, supporting the Democratic challengers, Stephen Bershenyi and Steve Carter, in the county commissioner races. The two candidates were both defeated.

At one point, mayors Christensen, Lambert, Breslin and Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig stood in front of the Glenwood City Hall with a banner that read, “Gar Co for Sale.” The banner referred to campaign contributions supporting Republican candidates Martin and Samson from sources outside Garfield County.

Christensen said he hopes those instances will not hinder the forging of a future relationship between the city councils and county commissioners.

“To me that didn’t involve the candidates,” Christensen said. “I was more interested in why was the support coming in and is this appropriate in local governmental-level elections to taint the process with so much money being spent to try and influence an election.”

Christensen and Samson, though they haven’t met each other yet, both say moving forward is the key to improving the relationship.

“The main purpose I envisioned is I just want to sit down with them because I want them to know that they are a big part of the county,” Samson said. “You have to be realistic. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning a lot. This first year is going to be a learning period.”

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