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Pitkin County patches differences with powerful state lobbying organization

County commissioners meet with Colorado Counties Inc. leadership over grievances

Pitkin County commissioners and leaders of an association representing Colorado counties met Tuesday to try and salvage a strained relationship.

The county commissioners had a chance to air their grievances during a 45-minute Zoom meeting and hear how Colorado Counties Inc. will address them.

Pitkin County officials raised the possibility last month of pulling out of CCI, an organization that sets policy on behalf of member counties, lobbies the state Legislature and provides resources on myriad issues. One of Pitkin County’s main complaints was that members with a minority position are shortchanged in the CCI process. Pitkin County often struggles to find a seat at the table in CCI deliberations, then finds its voice ignored, commissioners said.



Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, one of Pitkin County’s representatives to CCI, also said some participants have been guilty of boorish behavior, telling inappropriate jokes and referring to a female commissioner as “doll.”

Pitkin County pays $30,000 annually to belong to the association. It sent a letter April 27 outlining its complaints.




“We have a lot of really ordinary people here … way more of them than the super-rich people.” — Steve Child, Pitkin County commissioner

CCI executive director John Swartout and board of directors President Felix Lopez of Las Animas County said they valued Pitkin County’s participation in the organization and urged them to remain a member.

“We had an emergency meeting after we received your letter,” Lopez said. He stressed that he wants unity among the CCI members so they can work together for the benefit of all.

“I think you put your finger on something powerful,” he said at the conclusion of the meeting.

Swartout said bipartisan cooperation is all but gone on the federal and state level, so he has strived to get county commissioners in Colorado to work together regardless of party affiliation.

“It’s really important to me that people feel respected,” Swartout said.

He said every county’s voice must be heard and recognition given to those in the minority view of an issue.

He said he has acted on the complaints made by Pitkin County and has told some offending commissioners that off-color jokes won’t be tolerated at CCI meetings.

“It’s our job to make sure that the decorum in the meetings is appropriate,” Swartout said.

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman pressed Swartout on what specific changes will be made to protocols and procedures to address the county’s concerns.

Swartout said the chairs of various steering committees have been reminded that it is their jobs to make sure meetings are civil, all voices are included and no personal attacks are tolerated.

“I’ll be honest with you, there’s a lot of strain right now between our members,” he said.

Swartout said he cannot be at every meeting and steering committee deliberation, but when he witnesses inappropriate behavior, he sends texts to the offending commissioners and tells them to “cut it out.”

Commissioner Steve Child, who also represents Pitkin County in some CCI events, said the county regularly faces prejudices and stereotypes from peers around the state. He has spent his lifetime on a family ranch, yet many people he has met in statewide gatherings cannot comprehend that Pitkin County harbors anyone but the wealthy elite.

“We have a lot of really ordinary people here, … way more of them than the super-rich people,” Child said. “But people still may be prejudiced.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Chair Patti Clapper said after the meeting that the relationship with CCI has not always been easy, but that she felt it was beneficial to discuss the grievances. She said she is hopeful it will lead to respect for minority voices and a seat at the table for Pitkin County and others who hold a minority view on issues.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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