Menconi appointment roils water board

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Arn Menconi
Special to the Daily

Cliff Thompson
August 8, 2004

County Commissioner Arn Menconi has been appointed to the board of directors of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District representing the Avon area.

This bit of public service - which requires he attend monthly meetings - has created controversy for the Democratic candidate running for a re-election as county commissioner.

It goes like this: Menconi will have to step down from the water board when county projects come before that board because he cannot act as a representative for both. When he's wearing his commissioner's hat, he will have to step down on matters involving the water board.

Both instances - the county appearing before the water board and vice-versa - have already occurred during the year prior to Menconi's appointment. Eagle County appeared before the water board to resolve a water issue in Edwards and the water board appeared before the county commissioners with some of its development plans, also in Edwards.

Menconi's appointment fills a vacancy on the water board created by the departure of former town of Vail employee Larry Pardee. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation provides sewer service from East Vail to Wolcott and water service from East Vail to Avon.

Officials from other elected bodies regularly serve on multiple boards. Minturn's Mayor Gordon "Hawkeye" Flaherty also serves on the Water and Sanitation District board. Before he was replaced by voters in April, Avon Town Councilman Howard "Mac" McDevitt served on the water board, too.


Commissioner Tom Stone serves on the board of directors of the Colorado River District and also on the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. Summit County Commissioner Tom Long also serves on a water board.

State statutes support and allow elected board members to serve on additional boards outside of their elected positions. So there's no problem, right?

Not exactly. A number of public officials have taken issue with Menconi's appointment. Some are candidates running to unseat him while others simply have opinions on Menconi's new responsibility. While reality can be distorted during election campaigns, the philosophical issues raised by his appointment have withstood campaign rhetoric.



A deeper understanding?

"It compromises his ability to be independent," said Stone, a frequent critic of Menconi. "It should be obvious to everyone that Eagle River Water and Sanitation is a big advocate of the Wolcott Reservoir.

"My concern is that if Arn is not careful that he will allow the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora to argue that we treat different entities differently," Stone continued. "If we allow the Water and San district preferred treatment (Aurora and Colorado Springs) will seek the same treatment."

Stone is referring tangentially to the benchmark 1996 state Supreme Court decision on the Homestake II reservoir project that upheld the county's ability to regular large water projects. Eagle County denied the Homestake II application to expand the Homestake reservoir system and draw more Western Slope water to Colorado Springs and Aurora.

"That's the only thing that stopped Homestake II from happening," Stone said. "We have a responsibility to the entire headwaters region."

Menconi said he doesn't think the appointment will hinder his ability to represent voters.


"The water district board appointed me with the understanding that my first responsibility is to the citizens of Eagle County," he said. "The times I would have to recuse myself would be few and far between. I am better able to serve the citizens of Eagle County by being a county commissioner who has a deeper understanding of water needs."

He deflected the criticism as politically motivated.

"Why am I the lightning rod?" he said. "A certain amount of this is I'm Arn Menconi and this is an election year. I'm not the first person to go down this road."

He also criticized Stone, who was in the forefront over a now-settled spat between the water board and the county over water for the county's Miller Ranch project in Edwards regarding how much water homes there needed.

"I have perceived a rift between the county and the water board," Menconi said. " I have tried to work together with different government agencies rather than looking at it as us and them.

"I would hope the people would trust me to understand that if there was a decision that would compromise the board of county commissioners, that I would make the right decision."



'Who are you serving?'

Not all candidates are critical of the appointment. Avon Mayor Albert "Buz" Reynolds, an independent candidate for Menconi's seat, said it is important for the county to be involved.


"I think it's good if they have a representative on the water board," he said. "That way the county has some realization of what's going on with water."

The third candidate, A. J. Johnson, an Edwards Republican and former sheriff, said he doesn't agree with Menconi's appointment.

"I would not get on the board," he said. "If you have to abstain on voting on an issue you're not representing the board. You're just creating more problems. It's kind of common sense."

Fellow Commissioner Michael Gallagher, a Democrat, said the appointment could create some problems.

"I do see a potential for Arn being in a position where he has to choose which master he is serving," Gallagher said. "Sitting on the board in and of itself isn't a problem. We all sit on a dozen or more boards. It's when that other entity comes before the commission - who are you serving?"

But McDevitt, who served on the water board brought up another issue.

"It's a pretty time-consuming job," he said. "It's not a trivial thing. You can't just show up to the meetings and be prepared. I don't know how much time he has. If he's re-elected commissioner it might be too time consuming for him."

Menconi will serve until May 2006 and then will have the opportunity to run for the remainder of the term that expires in 2008.



Cliff Thompson, a writer working for the Vail Daily, based in Vail, Colordo, can be contacted via e-mail at cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling (970) 949-0555 ext. 450.