Sides weigh in on home rule | AspenTimes.com
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Sides weigh in on home rule

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY Those who think Eagle County would be better off as a home-rule county say the government will make better decisions, have better communication among the commissioners, and will give better representation to all county residents.Opponents argue home rule is unnecessary, will make government more complicated, and has the potential to cause trouble within the county’s bureaucracy.Eagle County voters are in the midst of a mail-only election campaign to determine whether the county should switch to home rule, as opposed to being governed by state statutes. It is the second time the county’s voters have been asked the question; voters rejected the idea last year. Ballots are due back in the county clerk’s office no later than 7 p.m. on May 1.If approved, the home rule charter, drawn up by a charter commission elected in 2005, would expand the Eagle Board of County Commissioners from three members to five. Each commissioner must live in the district which he or she will represent, and the commissioners will be elected at large as they have been historically.The charter also calls for creation of a “redistricting committee,” which would redraw the five commissioner districts periodically, according to changes in population distribution. Further, the charter would allow county voters to have a direct effect on local government either by initiative or by referendum.The one big change in the current proposal, say its proponents, is that partisan politics is retained in county elections. It was eliminated in the rejected charter.Pitkin and Weld counties are both home rule, and the city and county governments of Denver and Broomfield also have opted out of rule by statute, according to Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc.And, Kallenberger said, “In fact, I’ve been kind of surprised there aren’t more people interested in pursuing home rule.”But, he said, CCI takes “absolutely no position at all” with regard to whether home rule is better than statutory rule.Eagle County’s home rule charter was proposed by the charter commission and placed on the ballot by the county commissioners; it has the support of the mayors of Vail, Avon, Eagle and Basalt. “Citizens For Home Rule” are campaigning in favor of the charter. “Citizens For Responsible Government,” headed by former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, is against home rule.”I don’t think that it’s necessary,” said Stone, when asked why he opposes the measure.He believes the charter sets up a complicated redistricting procedure that will actually diminish the representation offered to citizens of Eagle County who live in the Roaring Fork Valley.Because the charter mandates that each district be made up of 20 percent of the county’s population, and the Roaring Fork Valley has only 18 percent, it will be necessary from the start to add other communities to the district containing Roaring Fork voters. And, Stone maintains, the population of the main portion of the county is growing faster than the Roaring Fork portion, meaning whatever district encompasses the Roaring Fork communities ultimately will be further and further diluted by the addition of other areas.Don Cohen, who chaired the home-rule charter commission, said Stone is throwing out “scare tactics” to confuse and distract voters.”When you redistrict, it is almost impossible to get perfection,” Cohen said. “The charter does, however, require that representatives live within their district, and those communities will be very close to each other within the districts. It will still be a heck of a lot more fair than it is now.”Stone also objects to what he claims will be a county government improperly dominated by the “county manager.” The charter would give the county manager authority to draw up basic personnel rules for the entire county government, including departments run by elected officials such as the sheriff and the assessor.”It just gives him, or her, total control,” Stone said. “That’s dangerous.”But Cohen countered that the existing authority granted to the county manager is no different from what is proposed in the charter.”The charter reflects … the way county government works today,” Cohen said, explaining that “there is a great deal of autonomy” in the various departments in terms of the creation of personnel policies, which would continue under the charter.Stone suggested county voters can add two more commissioners once the county’s population reaches 70,000 (it now stands at around 45,000), and predicted that change will be possible “by the next census” in 2010. Cohen said the county won’t hit 70,000 residents until 2020, and he said county voters have indicated in polls that they are eager for a more modern government.”There was a very strong sense that we were stuck with a sort of 19th-century government,” he said, referring to those elected to the county charter commission in 2005.Cohen dismissed Stone’s numerous objections to the idea of home rule, arguing, “This [the charter] is so in line, and so standard in practice. We wanted to keep Eagle county government running the same as it does now.”For more information on the election, call Eagle County at 704-2700 in El Jebel or at (800) 225-6136 in Eagle, and ask for the clerk’s office.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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