by Beecher Threatt
On Wednesday, June 12, the Board of County Commissioners appointed two regular members of the county planning commission and one alternate. Seven candidates, including the sitting members, applied for the three positions.
For the two terms that expired on Mar. 31, those held by Sheelagh Williams and Tim Currin, the board appointed Colona resident Craig Jackman and re-appointed Currin.
To replace the first alternate, Dudley Case, whose term also expired Mar. 31, commissioners appointed Sheelagh Williams, who told the Plaindealer she was willing to accept the move from voting member to alternate.
After two hours of interviews, Commissioner Lynn Padgett's motion to re-appoint Williams and Currin and to appoint Jackman as first alternate died for lack of a second. Fedel said those appointments would not get voting diversity back.
Padgett seconded Batchelder's motion to appoint Currin and Jackman, which therefore passed without a yea or nay vote from Fedel. Padgett later said she seconded because she felt that was the best compromise.
In addition to the candidates, most of the current planning commission members as well as about 10 community members were present on Wednesday.
Commissioners' rationales for motions and votes were evident during discussion prior to the vote. The word of the day was "diversity," in both questions and answers, with the assumption being made that the planning commission needs more diversity.
Batchelder said he was looking for a "voting balance" on the commission, calling out four current commission members' affiliation with Ridgway-Ouray Community Council as a perceived lack of voting balance. One of his interview questions for each candidate was what he or she would do about any perceived "dysfunctionality" on the planning commission.
"With all due respect to ROCC, that is the affiliation I am partially looking at," Batchelder said. "It is partly public perception as well. There may not be a huge factual basis in this, but there is a degree of public perception that if you have too much affiliation in the planning commission, then the public will be disgruntled with any decision. Perception becomes reality, even if it is not valid. I am leery to maintain that perception with the voting members (of the planning commission)."
Fedel agreed, saying perception is everything, but Padgett took exception to Batchelder's point.
"The public can find things to pick at like that. For example, you can say you have three people in the cattlemen's association," Padgett said. "The question is who is willing to do the work and find common ground. Sheelagh Williams has embodied the ideal planning commissioner."
Padgett pointed out that planning commissioners are chosen from the pool of applicants each time. "Until Mike Fedel came on the board, appointments were unanimous," she said. "The BOCC in the past has tried hard to de-politicize the planning commission."
"I was the negative vote on two," Fedel said. "We talked about balance and compromise and here we are today."
Other suggestions for making the planning commission more diverse included looking at candidates' age, number of years living in the county, area of the county, work experience, whether retired or still working, political leaning.
Fedel emphasized finding candidates who had resided in the county for a long time, pointing out that planning commission chair Ken Lipton's 13 years of residency was the longest on the commission. Planning commission member Karen Risch corrected Fedel, saying she had resided in the county 18 years and has had a residence here since 1972. Lipton, who was in attendance on Wednesday, responded, "Commitment to the community is not based on length of time here."
Fedel favored appointing Jack Flowers to the commission, given his long-term residence in the county. Padgett said she was impressed with the interviews of long-term residents Jackman and Daris Jutten, both from the north end of the county. Both seemed open-minded, good listeners and respectful of other opinions, she said.
Williams was disappointed to be moved to alternate, but she remained optimistic that she could still be influential.
"I don't see it as very different because during our discussions all members participate equally," Williams said. "My vote will just count a little less often. The important thing is participation."
Currin said the BOCC was diligent and thoughtful, and he did not envy their task in making appointments. With visual impact discussions behind them, he looks forward to the planning commission getting back to its quasi-judicial role of considering land use applications.
"It should be a lot different," Currin said.
In addition to Currin, Jackman and Williams, other applicants were Case, Flowers, Jutten and John Baskfield, current second alternate.