As of last December, the Eagle County government was considering establishing a full-time administrative position in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Though the concept never really got past the “thinking-out-loud” stage, it nonetheless seemed to be inching its way toward a place on the Eagle Board of County Commissioners agenda.
That was then.
Now, the idea has not only been placed on the back burner, but taken off the stovetop entirely.
The idea of establishing an administrative position in the Roaring Fork Valley stems from the fact that many of the 10,000 or so people who live in the Roaring Fork Valley section of Eagle County often feel like bastard stepchildren. Those residents are geo-physically cut off from the majority of the county in which they live, work and play. Most decisions are made clear on the other side of Glenwood Canyon in a county seat that can’t be accessed from the Roaring Fork Valley without driving through Garfield County.
Eagle County’s government maintains a significant infrastructure presence in the Roaring Fork Valley — mainly headquartered in a well-used community building adjacent Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel. Still, the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County sometimes feels like a colony.
In an email interview with the RFWJ conducted in December 2018, Eagle County Manager Jeff Stroll indicated there was movement toward the establishment of a management-level administrative position who would work in El Jebel.
“The conversation is ongoing and something not only are we discussing internally at the County, but I also am going to continue meeting with Ryan Mahoney from Basalt and Jon Peacock in Pitkin County on their feedback,” Stroll said in December. “Preliminary thoughts are to stage a new position from the county manager’s office in the RFV that has direct access to the county manager’s office and of course the BOCC.”
Stroll at that point was not sure what manner of authority he envisioned for the new RFV position.
“We are still exploring what this will look like,” he said. “It is not so much the authority of the position we are focusing on as much as the visibility and accessibility. We have discussed the importance of the potential position to have a more active presence within the El Jebel and Basalt community and work on county relations within the business community, school district and of course our neighbors in Pitkin County.
“We slowed down the initial conversations because of how busy we were with the Lake Christine Fire and then of course we jumped into the county budget process,” Stroll continued. “However, we plan on looking at the concept in a more comprehensive manner after the first of the year. We want to be thoughtful and strategic in shaping the position and make sure we understand the gaps we are wanting to fill and make the effort meaningful.”
At that time, Stroll seemed stoked.
“Eagle County has been committed to serving our population in the RFV through all the services we provide,” he said. “However, we want to have a more visible presence on a more full-time basis. We are extremely pleased with our RFV county staff currently serving in El Jebel through the clerk’s office and Road and Bridge, but we want to explore how we can better partner with the Town of Basalt, Pitkin County, Crown Mountain Recreation District, the school district and the business community to tackle issues like affordable housing, childcare, affordable health care, mental health, sustainability, open space, trails and transportation. Of course, there will be ongoing efforts to manage mitigation of the Lake Christine Fire that likely will continue to require boots on the ground for a good part of the next couple years.”
Great idea, but it doesn’t seem like those boots gained any traction.
Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications, said last week, “We’ve decided not to move forward with anything formal for now and instead have increased the frequency of the commissioners’, county managers’ and directors’ time in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I am not sure [establishing a full-time administrative position in the RFV] was ever front burner,” Widlak said. “It was one idea as far as increasing visibility. We’ve made a concerted effort to not only increase presence there by county leaders, but to let people know we are there as well. This was always the intent first, before defining if/what kind of role is missing. The approach seems to be working, so creating a new position has not been top of mind and has not been recently discussed.”
Widlak, like Stroll, points to Eagle County government’s involvement in the RFV.
“Commissioners are attending community events,” she said. “Our emergency manager, wildfire mitigation specialist and engineer are actively involved in Lake Christine Fire recovery efforts. Road & Bridge just repaved a section of the Frying Pan Road, which cyclists seem to be appreciating. Our Housing Department partnered on the regional housing study that was recently conducted. We are a partner in the We Cycle program. We are live-streaming and archiving all our meetings in El Jebel through our TV station. While we already did much of this type of work in the RFV already, we are striving to make people more aware of our involvement.”