At their March 5 meeting Commissioners Doug Atchley, Mark Roeber and Don Suppes made two appointments to the county planning commission. Steve Shea was reappointed for a three-year term. Jen Sanborn's three-year term had expired and Lucinda Stanley was appointed to that vacant seat. Sanborn lives in Midway; Stanley lives in Cedaredge.
When the county planning commission met on March 7 a group of North Fork residents attended the meeting claiming the North Fork had lost its representation on the planning commission and demanded that Sanborn be reinstated, at least for the 10 months remaining in the Master Plan update.
Planning commission chairman Bob Stechert devoted the first 30 minutes of the meeting to addressing the North Fork residents' questions. Stechert explained that the appointments to the planning commission are the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners. A year ago, the county commissioners, in order to balance representation on the planning commission across the county, decided there would be equal representation from each of the three commissioner districts. They determined that, as terms expired, they would fill some of those empty seats with new members from areas not then represented.
The North Fork residents resisted that explanation. Stechert told them the planning commission did not make the appointments; the county commissioners made the appointments. They would need to take their complaints to the commissioners.
At the March 19 meeting of the county commissioners, the North Fork residents arrived in force. Five of them spoke to the commissioners during constituent time. There was applause after their comments and some residents called out comments while North Fork residents and commissioners were speaking.
Jen Sanborn, the first to speak, said she felt disrespected. She had participated
diligently in the Master Plan update and was committed to the ongoing work. She said she had received no mention of the action taken by the commissioners on March 5. Had there been some discussion in advance, steps could have been taken to avoid the response from the North Fork.
Mary Jursinovic said she was disturbed that the commissioners did not reappoint Jen Sanborn to serve through to completion of the update. She urged the commissioners to reinstate Sanborn.
JoAnn Kalenak said making appointments to the planning commission is a public process and the commissioners did not explain their decision regarding the two recent appointments in an open process.
Natasha Leger went over planning area maps with the commissioners. She said representation on the planning commission should be from each of the five planning areas.
She said the seat held by Steve Shea, representing the Delta area, should be eliminated, Sanborn reappointed, and the appointment of Stanley rescinded.
Andrew Forkes-Gudmunson said the Upper North Fork seat is warranted because the majority of oil and gas activity is in that area; the Master Plan is a guiding document and eliminating the North Fork representative eliminates the voice of the North Fork. He agreed with Leger to eliminate the seat from the Delta.
Commissioner chairman Doug Atchley thanked the North Fork residents for coming to share their thoughts and concerns with the commissioners.
"I also want to make it clear that we deeply appreciate the time that Jen Sanborn committed to the planning commission and to the Master Plan update. Jen is a tremendous asset to the county and her contribution to the Master Plan process is appreciated by everyone," Atchley said.
"I don't think we can adequately show our gratitude to Jen or the other planning commission members. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty to develop what we hope is our soon-to-be-adopted Master Plan."
Atchley emphasized, "We want to make it very clear to each of you that the decision to shift the planning commission seat from the Paonia area was not to silence Paonia.
"Frankly, assumptions are being made about what our intentions are, and I want you to know I appreciate that you came here today so we can talk about it and you can hear for yourselves what we hope to accomplish, instead of relying on misinformation being presented to you.
"You are being told that we have made these changes in violation of the planning commission bylaws," Atchley continued. "This is incorrect information. The county commissioners created those bylaws to provide guidance to the planning commission as to how we would like them to operate.
"The bylaws bind the planning commission members, not the commissioners. Instead, the commissioners are bound by Colorado State Statutes, which allow us to determine the make-up of the planning commission and to appoint members to the planning commission. State statutes also state that planning commissioners will be appointed to a term of three years."
Atchley explained that a year ago there were seven members on the planning commission. Four of those members were from the greater North Fork area, two from the Delta area and one from the Cedaredge/Orchard City area.
The county commissioners (BOCC) considered that an unfair balance to residents of the county living outside the North Fork.
The BOCC adopted a plan to balance the representation on the planning commission, with equal representation from each of the three BOCC districts.
The commissioners increased the size of the planning commission by two, for a total of nine representatives. They added a new member from Delta and one from Cedaredge. The North Fork area still had four representatives.
Planning commission members became concerned that the BOCC might remove one of them to strike the balance. The planning commission proposed that the balance be achieved through expiring terms and attrition.
Sanborn's term was the next to expire.
Atchley emphasized to the North Fork residents, "We are at the end of the Master Plan update process and about to begin land use regulations update. This group of commissioners believes it is critically important that we reach a countywide balance on the planning commission before we begin land use discussions, and this is our opportunity to achieve that balance because of how state statutes work.
"There are three planning commissioners from the greater North Fork area. They are charged with representing not only your voice moving forward but also to think about what is best for the entire county.
"I assure you that the concerns you share are well represented on the planning commission by Tony Prendergast, Bob Stechert and Kim Shay.
"If you don't know these three individuals, get to know them.
"And to that end, get to know us. Come to our meetings. Read our minutes so you benefit from the entire conversation, and not just the selective pieces that are shared with you through social media," Atchley concluded.