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Ruffled feathers at BoCC

The Archuleta County Commissioners are ringing in the new year with a bit of tension.

It was business as usual as the commissioners approved liquor license renewals, the consent agenda and an extension for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District to turn in its annual report (see related story) at their first meeting of 2012 on Tuesday, until it came time to designate one commissioner chair of the board and divvy up board appointments.

At the beginning of each year, the Board of County Commissioners is required to take a number of actions to organize the board, set meeting times and posting places, as well as to appoint commissioners to boards requesting county representation.

A motion was quickly made by Commissioner Steve Wadley to retain Clifford Lucero as chair of the board, as well as to retain Michael Whiting as the board’s vice chair.

Whiting offered a second on the motion.

When it came time to vote, however, Whiting noted that he was abstaining from the vote.

In a later SUN interview, Whiting discussed his reasons for abstaining from the vote, stating that, as part of a previous board, Lucero and his fellow commissioners had determined that chairing the board and running for reelection were incompatible activities.

Whiting said he felt conflicted, however, because he feels Lucero has served the board well as chair, and didn’t want to vote against Lucero.

When asked why he seconded a motion he declined to vote on, Whiting was also unsure.

“I actually don’t know why I did that,” Whiting said, adding that the process of nominating Lucero for chair was sound, and he was not opposed to the process.

Lucero and Whiting were retained as chair and vice chair with a 2-0 vote.

In an interview, Lucero said he had no concerns serving as chair during an election year.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do it, that’s fine, but next year someone else will have to do it.’” Lucero said.

Two votes later, tensions rose as the BoCC contemplated board appointments.

Before the selection began, Wadley suggested that the commissioners choose their appointments based on seniority, with each commissioner, beginning with Lucero, taking three appointments and the pattern continuing until the appointments were all taken.

Lucero began by stating he would continue serving on the Southwest Transportation Planning Region, Southwest Council of Governments, and would take the appointment to the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC).

Whiting then said he would like to remain on all boards he currently served on, which included the CDC.

Wadley then reiterated his suggestion, which was made into a formal motion seconded by Lucero and approved 2-1.

Before the vote, however, Whiting stated that, traditionally, board appointments were made on experience, willingness to serve, expertise and continuity.

After the vote, Lucero chose the same three boards. Later, Lucero volunteered to serve on the board of Archuleta Seniors, Inc.

Whiting, then, chose to remain on the boards of the San Juan Basin Health Department, Club 20 and the Area Agency on Aging. He will also serve on the Southwest Basin Roundtable.

Wadley will serve as the county representation to Archuleta Housing, Housing, Inc., and Colorado Workforce.

County Attorney Todd Star will serve as the county representative on the Region 9 board, and Administrator Greg Schulte will serve as an alternate on the SWTPR and SWCOG.

In commissioner discussion before the appointment vote, Whiting stated that he wanted to point out he was being removed from the CDC not by choice, but by force.

Whiting said the move was no surprise to him because he was pushing the CDC board to be accountable, but that either “people or a person” with the town were pushing Lucero and Wadley to remove him from the CDC board.

In a later interview, Whiting refused to name the person with the town pressuring for his removal.

In the interview, Whiting said he has served the CDC with the encouragement and consent of his fellow commissioners, and was urging the CDC to have a balanced budget, fund-raising plan and strategic plan — things he said the CDC lacked during its budget hearing with the county last fall.

Whiting said two particular people didn’t like him questioning the CDC’s accountability and that one of those people “compelled the two most politically vulnerable commissioners” to take him off the board.

“Until quite recently, both of my fellow commissioners had told me I was the right person for the CDC,” Whiting said.

“People in this community understand the power structure that’s in place now,” Whiting continued, adding, “There is an individual of great power that is not interested in the questions I’m asking or interested in answering the questions I’m asking.”

But Whiting’s fellow commissioners deny that any particular individual urged them to take Whiting off the board.

“It was time for a change. Right now, I feel the CDC needs to move forward,” Lucero said in an interview, adding that Whiting was a good board member, but that new blood sometimes helps things to move forward. “I did it because that’s what I thought was best for the community.”

Lucero said he had talked to several current and past CDC board members concerning the change.

Wadley, too, denied being directly approached by anyone.

“I felt like it was best to make a change on the CDC board,” Wadley said in an interview. “It’s at a very crucial time in the life-cycle of the board, and I felt like we needed to make a change in the representative from the county.”

Wadley said that, while he agrees with the questions Whiting is posing to the CDC, he felt like Whiting’s relationship with the other CDC board members got off to a rocky start.

Wadley also said he suggested the appointments be chosen by seniority to save any embarrassment for Whiting, but that Whiting chose to publicly address the situation.

“I did not want to cause Michael any public embarrassment, and I felt that was the best way to do it,” Wadley said, adding it was not his intention to hurt Whiting, professionally or personally.

“I think we’ve hit a little rough spot, and we’ll get past it,” Wadley said, adding, “Ultimately, we serve the taxpayers and not each other’s feelings.”

In other business at the meeting:

• The BoCC approved the 2012 fee schedule of all fees assessed by the county, with several new building department fees, such as for over-the-counter permits, extending building permits, and making appeals to the Board of Appeals.

Also in the fee schedule are the fees for medical marijuana centers, with new licences and license transfers costing $3,000, and renewals and location changes sitting at $2,000. Business name changes, corporate structure changes and modifications of the premises ring in at $500.

• The BoCC authorized the chair and the other commissioners to sign county warrants, and, in the case of child support warrants that must be signed within 24 hours, authorized County Administrator Greg Schulte to sign in the absence of the commissioners.

• The board will continue to hold regular meetings the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 1:30 p.m. in the courthouse, with the exception of quarterly meetings that will be held at 5:30 p.m. to allow for greater public attendance.

Additionally, the commissioners will continue the tradition of holding fifth-Tuesday community forums throughout the county.

The May 31 forum will be held in Pagosa Springs, the July 31 forum is slated for Chromo, and the Oct. 30 meeting will be in Arboles.

The official posting locations for the BoCC announcements will continue to be the bulletin boards located outside the clerk and commissioner offices.

• The board again appointed Schulte to serve as budget officer.

• The commissioners approved the annual Cooperative Service Agreement between the county, the USDA, La Plata County and the Southern Utes for animal and plant health inspection services and wildlife service.

The agreement, which totals $79,920, includes an Archuleta County portion totaling $13,136, paid quarterly.

The agreement primarily helps to resolve problems with wildlife to protect agriculture and human health and safety, said USDA Wildlife Services District Supervisor Dalin Tidwell.

Audience member Chalyn Fitzgerald questioned the agreement, adding that she didn’t agree with the elimination of problem animals because it simply opened up an opportunity for another animal to cause the same problem.

Clayton Wilson, Wildlife Services Tech for Archuleta County, said the USDA works closely with the Division of Wildlife to deal with problem animals, adding that, if the DOW’s nonlethal methods and the USDA’s technical assistance on better protecting agriculture fail to work, elimination is usually a better option than relocating a problem animal, which would then either cause problems elsewhere or return to its original location.

Wilson added that area predator populations are not being hurt by the USDA’s program.

The next regular meeting of the BoCC is set for Jan. 17 at 1:30 p.m. in the courthouse.

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