Proposal would add Eagle County commissioner for Basalt-El Jebel
Eagle County residents will vote Nov. 7 on a drastic overhaul of their governing system, including changes that could guarantee greater representation for Basalt and El Jebel.Voters will be asked to accept or reject a Home Rule Charter, which tailors the structure and some responsibilities of the county government. If approved, the charter would increase the Eagle Board of County Commissioners from three to five and establish a district in the middle Roaring Fork Valley.While most of the charter applies to relatively dry subject matter that only a political junkie could like, the prospect of greater representation should be enough to rally Roaring Fork Valley residents of Eagle County to the polls, according to Jacque Whitsitt, a Basalt resident who served on a commission that drafted the charter.”The people on this side of Eagle County should care strongly about Home Rule because it guarantees representation,” she said.Candidates for county commissioner from Basalt and El Jebel are often at a disadvantage because they lack name recognition of foes in the main part of the county. The core of Eagle County is along the Interstate 70 corridor, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Eagle and Gypsum. The Roaring Fork Valley corner of Eagle County has slightly less than 20 percent of the county’s overall population. Under the charter, the county would be carved into five districts of roughly equal population, giving the Roaring Fork its say.Whitsitt said representation is important as a locally based commissioner could better articulate Roaring Fork Valley views on issues like land use in the commissioner’s proceedings. Residents from the Basalt and El Jebel areas also could catch the ear of a commissioner without having to drive to the county seat in Eagle, 60 miles away. It also would guarantee that someone from Eagle County is participating regularly on boards like the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.Adding two commissioners at a salary of $75,000 each plus the necessary support staff would add about $250,000 to $300,000 in expenses to the county government, according to the Home Rule commission’s material.In an effort to further bolster representation, the charter commission proposed a unique way of electing commissioners. Primary elections for commissioners would be open only to residents of each district. The general elections would be open to voters throughout the county.In other words, only residents of the Basalt-El Jebel district could vote in the primary election that narrows the field to two candidates. The general election to determine who represents the Basalt-El Jebel district would be open to all county voters.The charter also proposes to diminish the formal role of political parties in the elections. Candidates currently run as the designated Democrat, Republican or Independent. Elections are structured much like national races, in which primaries narrow a field of three Democrats, for example, to one.The proposed system would eliminate party identification on the ballots. Candidates still could seek endorsement of parties, but affiliation wouldn’t be reflected on the ballot.Therefore, the general election could pit two Republicans or two Democrats against each other.Pitkin County, which is under home rule, has the same type of nonpartisan elections, although a candidate can choose to earn a party designation and use that identification on the ballot.Harvie Branscomb, a Missouri Heights residents who co-chairs the Eagle County Democratic party, said he had a tough time deciding whether to support or oppose the Home Rule Charter. He came down in opposition due to the elimination of the parties’ roles in the elections.”The local political parties will be much less effective if Home Rule in Eagle County passes,” Branscomb wrote in a letter to the editor. “Without a formal role for parties in local politics, state and national politics alone will not keep the local grass roots parties active and healthy.”Whitsitt responded that gaining representation by adding a commissioner district in the Roaring Fork Valley outweighed the partisanship issue for her.The entire text of the Home Rule Charter can be found at http://www.eaglehomerule.org.
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