The recent hefty increase in pay for the new terms of Teller County commissioners, as part of state legislation, is definitely raising a few eyebrows locally.
In fact, say good-bye to earlier years in the mid-1980s, when county commissioners got about as much as a part-time store clerk. Whether it is justified or not, a huge inequity now exists for elected leaders throughout the county, and for that matter, the managerial and government salaries allocated for many positions and employees in the region.
Our county commissioners, for new terms, now make close to the salary of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has already been placed on the short-list as the next Democratic nominee for president in four years.
That’s not a bad compensation deal for positions that only require two regular public meetings a month. Meanwhile, the mayor of Woodland Park makes a whooping zero dollars, even though this person has to attend many more hours of local meetings than that as a Teller commissioner.
With this salary hike for commissioner, new changes are in order for the unknown profile of these positions and how these people are selected.
Unlike other Teller elected positions, the jobs of county commissioners still pose somewhat of a mystery. We have recently been bombarded with questions surrounding the job qualifications for these positions. Maybe, that’s why hardly any competition occurs for these seats.
Years ago, the county leaders, in their infinite wisdom, decided to no longer have the commissioners oversee certain departments. Take the politics out of the job was the argument, and leave that to the county managers. Unfortunately, this emerged as more of an excuse for eliminating responsibilities. This paved the way for a former commissioner in Teller County going AWOL around 1990 after getting the snub following a GOP assembly vote; leaving the area, and still receiving a salary for months for doing nothing.
Nothing like the good old days. Definitely, more professionalism has entered the ranks of the job in recent years.
Still, several key changes are in order to make sure our commissioners earn their money
First of all, the current meeting situation is a complete joke and needs some necessary adjustments. The current commissioner meetings only are attended by a handful of people, the vast majority of whom are county employees to receive awards. Frankly, although Commission Chairman Dave Paul likes to chastise the media for not attending these sessions, I even question their real value. The commissioners need to have more meetings in the evenings, and have them in other parts of the county, than just the Centennial Building. Get away from your home base a little, guys.
And they need to organize more forums on topics of concern. Former commissioner Lucile Fehn did that years ago, and that model is a good one to follow. The broadband Internet meetings, held last winter, organized by Commissioner Norm Steen, were another good example. Great discussions occurred, with much livelier debates than what occurs now at their ridiculous, ultra-boring, bi-monthly forced meetings. Right now, the commissioners are in a race with the city of Cripple Creek for the fastest government meetings in Teller County. Who can finish a meeting in 20 minutes or less? Right now, I’m giving the edge to Teller County, thanks to the sometimes lengthy but informative administrator reports of Ray DuBois.
Commission forums should be held on the situations with road improvements, capital projects, government restructuring, mining, economic development and much more. The lack of forums, held by the current board, is an area of definite needed improvement.
Another mysterious element of this job involves the state legislature, and the commissioners’ involvement there. We need a little more frank talk about the state situation, so people can get involved and help lobby our state leaders on key issues of concern. Some of the board reports unveiled at commissioner meetings are helpful, but lacking in real information. We don’t really care who attends what community functions or festivities?
The current commissioners need to recognize that many questions have been raised regarding their roles. I think the salary issue definitely played a factor in the decisive defeat of ending term limits last November.
Then, there are elections for the commissioner positions, a complete debacle. Currently, the only way an elected leader can win these slots is by schmoozing Republican Teller leaders. One former top bureaucrat I know was even interested in a county commissioner positon, and opted not to bother due to the fact that the pathway to success would have to occur through schmoozing and back patting Republican leaders.
Under the current situation, the next commissioner for District Two, currently held by Paul, could be determined by less than 100 people under the current good ol’ boy and girl assembly process. That is just not acceptable, especially for an annual salary that will allocate close to $80,000.
The process needs to open up a little through the caucus system. Some reforms are definitely needed to expand the caucus system to include more people.
And a good part of the blame is associated with the Democratic Party, uninvolved people not associated with any political parties, the local media and general apathy. With the changing dynamics in Teller County, it is difficult for a person outside of the Republican Party to snag an elected seat.
In 1994, Steve Stoors of Divide, running as a Democrat, only lost to Lucile Fehn by less than 200 votes. Several years later, Laurie Glauth, the leader of the Teller Democrats, made a good showing against Fehn and only fell short by less than 5 percentage points.
But 20 or years later, a Democrat candidate would be lucky to only lose by a two-to-one margin. Of course, the same obstacles confront Democratic commissioner candidates in El Paso County.
Unaffiliated contenders fare better, but still the cards are not in their favor. Mark Manriquez, the sheriff unaffiliated contender in the last race, lost by a 60 to 40 percent margin against incumbent Republican Mike Ensminger, despite running a pretty aggressive campaign.
As a result, the Republican Party needs to open their doors a little more, especially for political races like those of the county commissioners.
Otherwise, the validity of these positions will be placed in jeopardy.