Whats this home rule all about?
September 26, 2006
EAGLE Supporters say it will create better representation for the county. Opponents say its just not necessary and costs too much.The final decision rests with the voters, who will decide whether Eagle County should become a home rule government with its own charter.Home rule will allow the county to have five commissioners instead of three. Some say that will bring more ideas to the table and give better representation to different parts of the county.Our county is big and its geographically diverse, said Kathy Chandler-Henry, a member of the Home Rule Charter Commission, the group that drafted the charter. Being able to have five county commissioners ensures you have someone whos close to home.Supporters also say an increase in the number of commissioners is appropriate in light of Eagle Countys growing population.But Dick Gustafson, a former county commissioner, said home rule would complicate decisions and bring unnecessary compromises and personal agendas into the mix.Whenever you have a decision-making process, the fewer people involved in the decision-making process, the more efficient the decision is going to be, he said.Opponents also cite the cost of additional board members. In light of salary hikes for county officials recently approved at the state level, two additional board members could cost about $190,000 per year in additional salaries and benefits.A group called Citizens for Home Rule has been formed to campaign for Question 1B, which asks voters to adopt the charter. Chandler-Henry said shes not aware of any organized opposition to the home rule question.Roaring Fork repUnder home rule, one of the five commissioners would represent Basalt and El Jebel, an isolated portion of Eagle County in the Roaring Fork Valley. Supporters say thats a good thing.Its a pretty much foregone conclusion that candidates from (the Eagle Valley) side of the county will get elected, said County Commissioner Peter Runyon, who spearheaded the drive for the home rule question.But Gustafson said all parts of the county can get good representation, as long as commissioners make a good effort to communicate with constituents.When he was county commissioner, dozens of people showed up to meetings in Basalt and El Jebel with the commissioners, Gustafson said.We made the effort to go over and have meetings over there, he said.No more parties?Home rule changes more than simply the number of seats on the board. It would also remove party affiliations for county candidates. Supporters say party affiliations are irrelevant for local elections.Ive never felt partisan issues were appropriate for districts, cities or county governments, said Charlie Wick, a member of the Home Rule Charter Commission.But local political party leaders oppose the measure. Harvie Branscomb, co-chair of the Eagle County Democratic Party, said the local party voted not to endorse to endorse the nonpartisan aspect of home rule. Partisanship helps with recruiting candidates, and it also prepares people for statewide office, he said.And partisanship doesnt bring rancor into the political arena, Branscomb said.Its the people, not the parties, that cause that to happen, he said.Home rule would also allow two commissioners to talk about county business outside of public meetings. The states open meeting laws prohibit that because two commissioners constitute a majority. Supporters say non-official discussions would be productive, but opponents say it will move county business out from the publics eye.Home rule would also remove the elected position of county surveyor, transferring those duties to within the county engineering department.Also under home rule, residents would be able to propose ballot initiatives to challenge commissioners decisions. However, they could not propose changes that deal with land use, development or the budget.Chandler-Henry said the commission wanted to encourage participation in the public meetings that lead up to development decisions not try to second-guess those decisions after they are made.Long-discussed issueThe only counties in which voters have decided to change to home rule are Weld County, in 1975, and Pitkin County, in 1978.Home rule has long been discussed in Eagle County, and came up again in 2004 as a campaign issue in the county commissioners election. Two of the supporters of home rule, Runyon and Arn Menconi, were elected to the board.Runyon and Menconi voted to put the home rule idea on the ballot last year. The other commissioner, Tom Stone, opposed the move.You are being asked to write a blank check for a pig in a poke, Stone said in a Vail Daily column last year.In November, voters agreed by a slim margin 51 percent to 49 percent to form a commission to explore the idea of home rule. In the same election, voters elected 11 people from across the county to form the commission.If the charter is adopted, there would be an election in November 2007 to elect two board members to three-year terms. After the charter is adopted, future changes would have to be approved by voters.
District 1: Vail, Minturn, Red Cliff, Beaver Creek.District 2: Avon, Eagle-Vail.District 3: Arrowhead, Edwards, Singletree, Lake Creek, Squaw Creek, Wolcott, Bond, McCoy.District 4: Eagle, Eby Creek, Gypsum, Sweetwater, Dotsero, Burns.District 5: Basalt, Fryingpan, El Jebel, Missouri Heights.