Spate of resignations by officials cost voters experience

Bob Gordon

Garfield County’s elected boards have lost a significant number of officials to resignations recently, which in each case is a loss of the voters’ choice in representation and in some cases a huge loss of experience and institutional knowledge gleaned from the official’s years of service.

All of these recent resignations have come because the official is moving outside of her or his district, and board rules won’t allow them to serve while living outside the district.

However, there seems to be no strong common denominator among these resignations.

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot announced her resignation in late April, and former New Castle Mayor Bob Gordon’s came the week before that.

Bernot has said her family got a deal on a house in Redstone they simply couldn’t pass up, in an area that has family significance.

Gordon also got a good deal on a property in Battlement Mesa, and after 17 years serving on the New Castle Town Council and two years as mayor, he’s ready for retirement and travel with his wife — which he told the Post Independent while visiting his son in New Mexico.

These are big losses for these communities, where both of these mayors have been highly regarded, said acting Glenwood Springs City Manager Andrew Gorgey.

Carbondale Trustee Katrina Byars, whose family has been displaced from the rental in which they’d lived for 12 years, has questioned whether she’ll be able to continue to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Two local school board members, one from the Roaring Fork School District and one in the Re-2 school district, submitted their resignations only months after winning election or re-election in November.

Daniel Biggs had been on the Roaring Fork School District board for five years and resigned last week because he was moving out of District D, though not out of the school district entirely.

And Tara Rumery was forced form her newly won position on the Re-2 school district board after she’d moved her family into a bigger home outside the district in expectation of her soon-to-be-born twin sons.

Rumery hadn’t intended to resign when she moved her family to a house between Rifle and Silt. But she after discussing her move with the board, she was informed of the requirement that officials live in their district. Her replacement was appointed this week.

Jeff LaValla resigned last fall from the Silt Board of Trustees with about seven months left to go in his term, citing a rising cost of living.

In more distant memory, Hans Parkinson resigned in 2014 only 11 months after he was elected to Rifle City Council. Parkinson owned a water hauling business that slowed significantly alongside the oil and gas industry, and he abruptly sold his house and moved back to his hometown in Utah.

Parkinson’s premature resignation was the first council resignation in about 14 years in Rifle, said Matt Sturgeon, city manager.

Sturgeon said the recent string of resignations does seem to be abnormally high. But that they’re happening around the same time is probably an anomaly, he said.

People forget that elected officials are just normal people dedicating their time, and life circumstances sometimes arise that force a decision about whether they can keep doing it, he said.

“It’s also unusual to have resignations so soon after an election.”

But in Sturgeon’s experience people running for office are very committed to serving; they don’t take resigning lightly.

Gordon does, however, believe an expensive economy can hurt the elected boards by driving away what would otherwise be dedicated public servants.

Just as teachers and police officers have struggled in Garfield County, elected officials aren’t immune to the demands of increasing costs of housing and living, he warned. You’ll often hear a rosy description of the economy, but with the coal and oil and gas industries shutting down, the area’s economy really isn’t good, he said.

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