Pitkin County corrects differences with powerful state lobbying organization

Pitkin County commissioners and leaders of an association representing Colorado counties met Tuesday to try to salvage a strained relationship.

County commissioners had the opportunity to air their grievances in a 45-minute Zoom meeting and hear how Colorado Counties Inc. will respond to them.

Pitkin County officials last month discussed the possibility of withdrawing from the ICC, an organization that sets policy on behalf of member counties, lobbies the state legislature and provides resources on a myriad of issues . One of Pitkin County’s main complaints was that minority members are being prejudiced in the ICC process. Pitkin County often struggles to find a place at the ICC deliberation table and then has its voice ignored, the commissioners said.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, one of Pitkin County’s representatives to the ICC, also said some attendees were guilty of rude behavior, telling inappropriate jokes and calling a commissioner a “doll.”

Pitkin County pays $30,000 a year to belong to the association. He sent a letter on April 27 outlining his complaints.

“We have a lot of really ordinary people here…a lot more than the super rich people.” —Steve Child, Pitkin County Commissioner

CCI Executive Director John Swartout and Board Chairman Felix Lopez of Las Animas County said they appreciate Pitkin County’s participation in the organization and urged them to remain a member. .

“We had an emergency meeting after receiving your letter,” Lopez said. He emphasized that he wanted unity among CCI members so that they could work together for the benefit of all.

“I think you’ve hit on something powerful,” he said at the end of the meeting.

Swartout said bipartisan cooperation had all but disappeared at the federal and state level, so he worked to get county commissioners in Colorado to work together, regardless of party affiliation.

“It’s really important to me that people feel respected,” Swartout said.

He said the voice of each county must be heard and recognition must be given to those with a minority opinion on an issue.

He said he followed up on complaints filed by Pitkin County and told some offending commissioners that color jokes would not be tolerated at CCI meetings.

“It’s our job to make sure the decorum in meetings is appropriate,” Swartout said.

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman asked Swartout what specific changes would be made to protocols and procedures to address county concerns.

Swartout said the chairmen of the various steering committees have been reminded that it is their responsibility to ensure that meetings are civil, that all voices are included and that no personal attacks are tolerated.

“I’ll be honest with you, there’s a lot of tension right now between our members,” he said.

Swartout said he couldn’t attend all Steering Committee meetings and deliberations, but when he witnesses inappropriate behavior, he texts offending commissioners and tells them to “cut it off”.

Commissioner Steve Child, who also represents Pitkin County at some ICC events, said the county routinely faces bias and stereotypes from peers across the state. He spent his life on a family ranch, but many people he’s met at statewide gatherings can’t fathom that Pitkin County is only home to the wealthy elite.

“We have a lot of really ordinary people here, … a lot more than the super rich people,” Child said. “But people can still have biases.”

Pitkin County Commissioner’s Chairwoman Patti Clapper said after the meeting that the relationship with CCI hadn’t always been easy, but she felt it was beneficial to discuss grievances. She said she hoped it would lead to respect for minority voices and a seat at the table for Pitkin County and others who have a minority view on the issues.

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Aubrey L. Morgan