Commissioners get in tiff over travel question
Simmering hostilities boiled over at the Garfield County Commissioners meeting Monday.Commissioner Trsi Houpt exchanged heated words with fellow commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin over a trip to the 2005 annual convention of the National Association of Counties in Honolulu on June 17.NACO will pay the way for Martin, who sits on the associations public lands committee. Houpt said she wanted to go at the countys expense to represent her constituency. McCown said he would not support the county footing the bill for her trip. My whole thing is we had $12,000 allocated for travel for the commissioners in the 2005 budget, and by the end of May she had spent over $6,000 over half the budget for the three of us, he said.Both McCown and Martin argued that if Houpt attended the conference as a representative of the county, she must put across the majority opinion of the board.Houpt has disagreed with McCown and Martin over a number of issues, with Houpt calling for stiffer regulations for everything from land use to energy extraction.Houpt argued that there is a huge constituency out there interested in energy issues, such as regulating the chemicals used in the natural-gas production process known as fracturing, and the county commissioners are not hearing that constituency. I was elected by a broad majority, she said. However, McCown countered that large majorities also elected him and Martin.We are elected by people who expect us to stand up on certain issues, she said. Are you telling me youre voting against me going to the NACO conference?In an effort to quell the rising emotional level of the conversation, Martin said he would take her concerns to the conference.But Houpt would have none of it. She acknowledged she and McCown and Martin have differences in politics, philosophy and environmental concerns, and added, You are standing in my way of representing people.I feel strongly enough about your going that you should have the groups that support you pay, McCown said.Houpt countered that the county has a $7 million reserve fund that could cover the cost of her travel.At one point, Houpt heatedly said she would bring the matter to the press so her constituents could know about the disagreement.Its wrong of you guys (to) block this. Im going to take it to the newspapers, Houpt said.After Martin assured her twice more that he would take her concerns to the conference, she said, That means nothing to me.To cool the temperature in the room Martin said, Well decide to agree to disagree and moved on to the next agenda item.After the meeting, McCown said he did not mean to prevent Houpt from speaking out about her issues.In no way did I want her not to represent her constituency, he said.His interest is in the budget, he added.I always have to be devils advocate about the budget.He also pointed out that in the past the commissioners divided up service on boards such as Colorado Counties Inc., NACO and the Rural Resort Region. However, since Houpt was elected, she has wanted to serve on some of those boards herself or attend meetings.That, McCown said, can put an extra burden on the budget.In the past we have been able to divide and conquer, if you will, each participating in different areas, so it didnt put financial burden on the budget. In the past one person participated in CCI, one Associated Governments (of Northwest Colorado), one in Rural Resort Region, but that hasnt held true last couple years, he said.Houpt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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