Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lathen coronated again as head of commissioners

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2012 at 11:23 AM

Amy Lathen was elected this morning to serve another year as the chair of the El Paso County commissioners, but the decision wasn't unanimous.

Commissioners Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton opposed the leadership appointments, with both saying they weren't consulted about the decision prior to today's meeting.

Lathen: Queen for another year.
  • Lathen: Queen for another year.

Traditionally, all commissioners discuss ahead of time who will be voted upon as chair and vice chair.

Not this time, apparently.

"I wish I would have been asked personally for the support of each one of them," Littleton said, referring to Lathen, Sallie Clark who will continue as vice chair and Dennis Hisey who was elected as "third commissioner" who fills in if the first two aren't available.

Earlier in the meeting, Glenn said, "I haven’t had a conversation with anyone about that. As a courtesy, there should be a conversation about that."

Clark then buttered up her ally by saying, "I just wanted to thank you for doing a great job as the chair the last year. A lot of things have happened. We’ve managed to stay within our budget. You’ve showed great leadership. I look forward to working with you and be vice chair … and support the chair."

Lathen responded by noting the chair and vice chair have no greater weight when voting on the board. The important thing about selecting a leader, she says, is being susre that person is able to spend "a significant amount of time in the office" and provide "constant interaction" with the staff.

She also said experience in how things work is important for the chair, which, she said, "is why I never pursued it until my third year" on the board. Neither Littleton nor Glenn said they wanted to hold one of the leadership posts. They just wanted to be consulted about it, which they weren't.

Which leads to another decision made this morning, after Littleton and Glenn called foul.

Glenn: Debate is healthy.
  • Glenn: Debate is healthy.

Buried in the rules and procedures of commissioners adopted annually was a change requiring three, not two, commissioners to approve of an item being placed on the agenda. As Glenn pointed out, if that rule had been in place last year, the public debate over the controversial term-limits measure wouldn't have happened.

As it was, Glenn and Littleton were able to force commissioners to hold hearings which led the board to promise to allow voters to revisit a ballot measure they approved in 2010 that gives commissioners a third term, but not, of course, in time to prevent Hisey and Clark from seeking their third terms.

Clark, Hisey and Lathen supported the term limits measure adopted by voters in 2010, which asked if terms should be limited to three, four-year terms, rather than asking if they should be extended. All three are up for re-elected in the November 2012 election and all three have drawn Republican opponents — Karen Magistrelli, Auddie Cox and Phil McDonald — who are basing their campaigns mostly on the term limits issue.

"That has a very chilling effect if we move in that direction," Glenn argued in opposing increasing from two to three the number of commissioners required to "pre-approve" items for the agenda.

"We should have a discussion with regards to that," he added, "It smacks of the term limits question. A lot of us on the campaign trail made commitments to bring certain issues forward. It’s good to have debate. To increase that requirement can only be interpreted as having a chilling effect on that public debate."

Hisey chimed in that he didn't care whether it was two or three commissioners giving permission, but that he would oppose allowing one commissioner to place something on the agenda by him- or herself. That's odd, considering he even noted that some commissioners in the past have complained that county staff people who can placed items on agendas have more power than commissioners.

The requirement of two commissioners dates to some 10 years ago when then-Commissioner Jeri Howells wanted to open the door for debate about the county's information technology department and the millions of dollars it was spending. Other commissioners, who drank from coffee mugs provided by at least one contractor and handed out sole-source contracts for IT work, blocked her by imposing the requirement.

The rule came in handy when anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce came into office, and often found himself on the losing end of 4-1 votes.

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