Owsley to step down from Pitkin County board Tuesday, leave town in spring
When Michael Owsley steps down from Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, it will not only mark the end of his 12 years in government.
Tuesday also will mark the beginning of the end of Owsley’s nearly half-century in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I’ve been here too long,” Owsley said during an interview last week. “I’ve been here as a ski patroller. I’ve been here as a father and a grandfather. It’s time to do something else.
“(Forty-five years) is a very long time to be in one place.”
So at the end of this winter — probably in May — Owsley said he plans to give away most of his belongings, move out of his rented home in Woody Creek, load up his truck with whatever’s left and head down to the house he owns in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
“I’m going to hang out, travel and explore Mexico,” he said. “It’s a completely different approach to living (there). This country is a little more hard-nosed than Mexico.”
Owsley, 67, has served three terms on the board of commissioners, and was term-limited from running again. Greg Poschman, who was elected in November, will take his place Tuesday.
Despite the term limit, Owsley said he wouldn’t have run for a fourth term anyway.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was also an experience I don’t want to repeat.
“I want to do other things.”
A political newcomer
Owsley had no political experience before he was elected to the county board. He was on ski patrol, and then worked as a carpenter in the construction industry before his involvement in the Woody Creek Caucus led him to run for commissioner, he said.
Such fellow caucus members as the late Hunter Thompson and former county Commissioner Dwight Shellman encouraged Owsley to run, he said.
“I went to (Thompson’s) house and said I was running for commissioner,” Owsley said. “He said, ‘Let me get my checkbook.’”
When Owsley took his seat at the commissioner table, he discovered he liked it.
“It suited me,” he said. “First of all, it was better than construction.”
Owsley said he liked setting goals, discussing problems and coming up with solutions that benefited his community. And while those solutions often took a long time to come to fruition, that’s how government works, he said.
“I take a lot of pride in government on the local level,” Owsley said. “Local government gets things done that are important to its constituents.
“I encourage people not to be discouraged by what they see on TV and get involved in local government.”
Some of the things Owsley said he helped establish in Pitkin County include the current push to increase broadband access in rural areas of the Roaring Fork Valley and nudging the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to purchase natural-gas buses instead of their diesel-powered counterparts.
“(The natural-gas buses were) cool because they got considered and they got on the street in a relatively short period of time,” Owsley said. “It took a lot of work by a lot of people to get that done.”
Owsley also said he’s proud of making the county more transparent, specifically by helping prompt the broadcast of the commissioners’ work sessions. Prior to his tenure, only the board’s regular meetings were broadcast, he said.
“In many ways, the work sessions are more important than the regular meetings,” Owsley said, because the nuts and bolts of the decisions ratified at the regular meetings are worked out in the work sessions.
The one drawback to work session broadcasts?
“It’s been tough because it’s hard to talk frankly on TV,” he said. “First of all, you have to watch your language.”
Owsley’s colleagues on the board said they’ll remember him for his unique perspective, his dedication to making Pitkin County a better place to live and frequently wearing mismatched socks.
“Michael has been a very strong, guiding hand on our board,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “He brings a perspective others hadn’t thought of.”
Commissioner George Newman called Owsley’s viewpoint “out of the box” and said he “brought a lot to the table.”
“He could look at an issue from a slightly different angle than I looked at it,” Newman said. “It gave me pause to think about and have a dialogue about.”
Commissioner Steve Child said he and Owsley have very different personalities, which sometimes made working with him a challenge.
“I always thought I wouldn’t miss him and I’d want someone else in there,” Child said. “But yeah, I will miss him. I will miss his viewpoint on things.”
Child also said he’ll definitely remember Owsley’s socks.
“He’s (often) wearing two different colors of socks,” he said. “I always thought that was part of his contrarian thinking to be different.”
But mainly, Child said, he’ll remember Owsley’s dedication to Pitkin County.
“He cares very deeply about what’s happening in the county and wanting it to be a better place,” he said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper also said she got off to a rough start with Owsley, but that he’s become a good friend over the years.
“I will miss his philosophical comments, his out-of-the-blue quotes, his mismatched socks and his ice cream,” Clapper said. “He loves ice cream.”
Clapper said one of her lasting memories of Owsley occurred recently, when he angrily chewed out a Red Mountain homeowner who illegally cut the tops off of numerous trees on his property.
“When Michael came across the table at this gentlemen who had no respect for the Board of County Commissioners — that was a special moment,” Clapper said. “If that table would have been lower, Michael would have been across it.”
Owsley, who is divorced with two daughters who live outside the Roaring Fork Valley, said that he feels grateful and lucky to have been a Pitkin County commissioner.
“I’ll always remember that,” he said. “It was serious work, and it’s not all that often you get to do serious work.”
He said that as he enters a new chapter in life, his 45 years in the valley will remain with him.
“There will always be the memories,” Owsley said. “But I’m looking forward. I’m not looking in the rear view.”