Proposal could boost Basalt’s voice in county government
Basalt and El Jebel could gain a guaranteed seat at the Eagle County commissioners’ table after spending most of the last 120 years as a forgotten corner of the county.Eagle County officials intend to ask voters later this year if they want to adopt a “home rule” style of government. Proponents are pitching the proposal as a way to eventually expand from three to five commissioners.Home rule allows a county to tailor its government to its needs. By default, county government processes and makeup are dictated by state laws.If there were five districts, one of the commissioners would almost certainly be elected from the Basalt and El Jebel area, said Peter Runyon, a county commissioner.Runyon was elected in November. Part of his campaign platform was changing the style of government and increasing the number of commissioners. He said that would increase representation.”One of the problems is Basalt doesn’t have direct representation, and it hasn’t for about 25 years,” he said.If voters say in November they want to pursue the home rule style of government, they would elect an 11-member home rule charter commission to draft a plan for the Eagle County government structure.A later election would allow voters to accept or reject the proposed home rule charter. That charter could potentially increase the number of commissioners from three to five.Eagle County commissioners Chairman Arn Menconi also supports popping the question to voters.”I made a firm promise to get it on the ballot,” he said. “It will progress. Peter and I will bring it to the ballot in November.”Unlike Runyon, Menconi is reserving judgment about whether Eagle County should switch to home rule and add commissioners. He said he must still contemplate the change.Jacque Whitsitt, a Basalt resident who unsuccessfully ran for Eagle County commissioner in 1998, said a change would benefit the Roaring Fork Valley. “It would be the first time we would have guaranteed representation,” she said.Whitsitt was the last candidate to run for commissioner from the Roaring Fork Valley. Candidates from the Roaring Fork are at a disadvantage because the population of the Eagle Valley side of the county is so much greater. County voters cast ballots in all commissioners races.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting also endorsed the idea of expanding the board of commissioners. “I think five, from a board number, is the best for decision-making,” he said.He also feels the Basalt area would benefit from direct representation because it is “isolated” from the rest of the county. “It’s no one’s fault, it’s geography,” Efting said. The drive from Basalt to the county seat in Eagle is about one hour when going the speed limit.Efting, who worked for six years as the manager of Avon, said he believes there is support among residents for the concept of expanding the board.Runyon said the home rule style of government doesn’t have the support of the third commissioner, Tom Stone, whose district includes the Eagle County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley.”Tom is against it. He argued that he represents Basalt very well,” Runyon said. Stone was in meetings Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment.If the home rule idea advances and Eagle County expands to five commissioners, the method of selecting commissioners would be open to debate. Menconi and Runyon said they would oppose simply carving the county into five separate districts and allowing voters to select only their representative.”You’d get a very parochial atmosphere,” Runyon said. Each of the five commissioners would be accountable only to voters in their district rather than the county as a whole.Pitkin County adopted home rule in the 1970s and expanded its board to five members. Commissioner candidates must live in the district where they run, but all voters can cast ballots in all races. Menconi said he likes the Pitkin County model.A public meeting will be held Wednesday night at the Eagle County government building in Eagle to discuss the process of pursuing a home rule style of government. The meeting will start at 6 p.m.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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