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County leaders hope change makes difference 

click to enlarge Amy Lathen says D-2 folks have been ignored. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Amy Lathen says D-2 folks have been ignored.

As an El Paso County commissioner, Douglas Bruce was known to blast colleagues, county employees and even visiting schoolchildren when their views (or violin-playing skills, in the case of the children) did not align with his beliefs or expectations.

As a state representative, Bruce has continued in the same vein; in his first week, he kicked a photographer, delayed his swearing-in and wrote a letter to El Paso County Republicans condemning his likely successor for what he sees as a inadequate devotion to the tax-cutting cause.

On Jan. 19, the Republican replacement committee ignored Bruce's comments and picked Amy Lathen to fill out his term. She is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 31, serving about nine months before she's up for re-election in November.

Though Bruce was on the losing end of a staggering number of 4-1 votes in his three years on the board, the commission seems likely to see changes after his departure. Here are some possible changes:

Shorter meetings

Bruce railed against wasting both money and time as a commissioner, and he abstained from voting on ceremonial resolutions honoring different groups and occasions.

"He felt it was a waste of time, but he'd tell you for 15 minutes why it was a waste of time," says Commissioner Sallie Clark.

Bruce's statements on these resolutions and on virtually any topic having to do with spending, constitutional matters or pet concerns could stretch meetings out by hours. Clark says she sometimes felt a need to curtail her own comments just so county business could be accomplished.

More local discussion

Many residents of the sprawling eastern El Paso County district that Bruce represented felt it was hard to get him to take up their local issues, according to Lathen and sitting commissioners. Lathen says she has been "inundated" for months with e-mails of residents who say they have not been heard.

Commission Chair Dennis Hisey says he has attended events and meetings in Bruce's district just to give those residents a voice, including one recently held to address the concerns of residents near Ellicott about roving packs of wild dogs.

Healthier debate

While Bruce often disagreed with his colleagues on the board, Hisey and others say there are reasons to anticipate more debate on county issues with his parting.

"I expect to see more free-wheeling discussion," Hisey says.

Hisey says Bruce's contentiousness made it difficult for other board members to discuss alternatives, while in some cases it pushed them to stand together. Though Bruce did not Mirandize his colleagues, Hisey says he and other commissioners learned that any statement they made could, and often would, be used against them at later meetings.

An inviting atmosphere

Bruce was known for directly questioning, and often criticizing, county employees and residents who appeared before the board.

With employees, Clark says, this approach often prompted other commissioners to defend the speaker, sometimes leaving important questions unanswered.

She suggests his approach might have deterred some residents from even voicing their concerns before the board.

Lathen, for her part, says she will always be respectful, though she might disagree with colleagues, county staff or other presenters. She says she has no problem speaking her mind, claiming to be something of a bulldog.

Or maybe the term is "bull-headed," she suggests. "My husband would tell you that."

lane@csindy.com

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