Four months after the idea of exploring “home rule” came up at a commissioners meeting, Ouray County will have a presentation about home rule counties at a special work session Wednesday night at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is available for anyone to attend virtually, as in-person meetings are currently suspended due to concerns about COVID-19 spread.
“Home rule” counties allow for more flexibility and control by local governments, opposed to statutory counties which operate under the set of rules set at the state level by statute, as the name suggests. In Colorado, the majority of counties are designated as statutory counties, meaning they operate according to the powers granted to them by the state.
In Colorado, there are only two home rule counties – Pitkin and Weld – according to the Colorado Local Government Handbook produced by the legislative council’s staff. Denver and Broomfield are also home rule, but they’re a different kind of entity as city-counties. It’s more common in Colorado for municipalities to be designated as home rule.
Home rule counties have more power to determine their own rules, and that includes everything from setting elected officials’ salaries to deciding whether some elected officials should be approved by voters or appointed to positions by commissioners or non-elected administrators. Home rule counties have the power to let counties decide whether they would like to elect or somehow appoint officials who are elected in statutory counties –including assessors, treasurers, county clerks and sheriffs. Home rule counties can also set their own term limits for some positions.
The discussion about Ouray County and exploring home rule status arose most recently when commissioners received complaints from constituents about Sheriff Lance FitzGerald. This was in January, when commissioners directed County Attorney Carol Viner to do research on home rule.
In January, FitzGerald attended a sheriff’s convention with his girlfriend and they called 911 on each other during an alcohol-fueled domestic incident from the conference hotel room. This came two months after another incident, in which FitzGerald and his girlfriend were both arrested in a previous domestic incident involving alcohol.
FitzGerald is now facing a recall election to remove him from office, after a local committee gathered signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Voters will have a chance to decide for themselves on June 30 during an election, in which they will be asked whether they want to keep FitzGerald as sheriff or choose from two other candidates – current Undersheriff Ted Wolfe or Justin Perry, former Ouray city administrator and police chief.
Home rule counties vary in how they have exercised their local control after receiving home rule status. For example, in Pitkin County the sheriff is still an elected position, but there are no term limits for the position. On the other hand, the coroner in Pitkin County is appointed by commissioners, and the treasurer is renamed the “director of the department of finance” and is appointed by the county administrator. Pitkin County continues to have an elected clerk and recorder.
The presentation about home rule at the Wednesday night meeting will be done by Eric Bergman of Colorado Counties, Inc., a nonprofit association supporting counties in the state.
The presentation is taking place during a special meeting Wednesday evening. The commissioners have another special meeting scheduled on Wednesday earlier in the day.
The agenda for the special meeting scheduled for noon on Wednesday includes items where commissioners will review and discuss the public health order concerning lodging and a variance request from the state regarding the “safer at home” order. They also have a discussion planned for a possible fire ban or restrictions, and other general business items including minutes approval and money for landscaping at the courthouse.
This is in addition to another meeting including the county’s unified command members and the “multi-agency coordination group,” commonly referred to as the “MAC” meeting, which happens from 2 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday.
There’s another meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday between commissioners, the Ouray City Council, and the Ridgway Town Council, which is a “joint policy group work session” between the elected officials, staff and members of Unified Command.
Click here for the agenda for the 5:30 p.m. Wednesday special meeting including the presentation on home rule. There is also a Ridgway Town Council meeting scheduled at the same time.
Click here for the agenda for the noon Wednesday special meeting involving the county commissioners meeting as the board of health, as well as another meeting as the board of county commissioners for general business