Let’s explore home rule for Eagle County
September 22, 2005
Over the last two decades, many Eagle County residents from the Roaring Fork Valley have struggled to increase representation and involvement in county affairs. There is often a disconnect between the thinking in the Vail and Roaring Fork valleys with regard to budget priorities and land use. I served for six years on the planning commissions, both countywide and local, and several task forces in an effort to improve communication and representation. Now, based on the interest of people throughout the county for better representation, we have a chance to make a major step forward.In early October, mail-in ballots will be sent to all Eagle County voters and there will be two items related to “taking a look” at Home Rule. The first (1A), asks voters to vote for creating a Home Rule Charter Commission to study the issue and bring a proposed charter to voters next year (vote “Yes”). The second asks voters to select 11 members to the charter commission. I encourage you to vote for Jacque Whitsitt and me. Local residents may already know that Pitkin County is a home-rule county and that the towns of Basalt and Carbondale are home-rule municipalities. Here are the reasons that I believe we should explore a home-rule charter for Eagle County: One size does not fit all: Without a charter, the organization and structure of county government is largely set by the state Legislature. Only by becoming a charter county can we insure adequate representation for the Roaring Fork Valley by expanding the board from a state-regulated three commissioners to a local charter-regulated five commissioners. We represent about 20 percent of the population of the county, but have not had a county commissioner from our area for at least two decades. The county budget is now over $100 million, and five commissioners will be able to provide better oversight and prevent a team of two commissioners from diverting dollars into pet projects or favored areas of the county. Greater geographic diversity on the board will also bring additional local knowledge to sidewalk, road, park, land use and social service decisions. Taxation without representation is not fair: All citizens of Eagle County would be better represented by five commissioners, each from distinct geographic regions of the county. Boundaries can be drawn to reflect our topography and unique communities. Having a local commissioner could also improve coordination and problem-solving with the town of Basalt.Our current representative (quick, can you remember his/her name?) lives in Gypsum, about an hour from here in good weather, and the previous commissioner lived in Burns, almost two hours from Basalt. Wouldn’t it be great to run into your commissioner at local events, in the grocery store, at school activities or other routine locations and speak to them about current county issues? Better decisions and more diverse candidates: Becoming a charter county could also allow us to remove partisanship from the commissioner elections. Candidates currently run through the Democratic and Republican caucuses, and some people feel that adds to the rancor that we have seen among commissioners over the last several years. The charter commission could explore whether a nonpartisan approach would attract a more diverse set of candidates who would focus on issues rather than ideology.Residents of our area have the most to gain from studying home rule and will need a strong turnout of “yes” votes to insure that a commission is authorized and that there is representation from our portion of the county on that commission. By voting in favor of a charter commission, you are voting to ask a diverse group of citizens from throughout the county to study the best manner in which to organize the county and represent the people and to bring back a proposal for voter approval next year. Please look for your mail-in ballot and return mail it to Eagle County or drop it off at the El Jebel office before Nov. 1.Bob Schultz is a local planning and organizational development consultant, recipient of Eagle County’s Distinguished Service Award and candidate for the Home Rule Charter Commission.
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