Five commissioners becoming hot topic in Garfield County

Talk of expanding the Garfield County Commission to five members is resurfacing, this time in connection with the race for two of those three commission seats.

Asked about the idea at a recent election forum, Democratic candidate Steve Carter said he favors expanding the commission’s size.

“I think it’s actually too much power to put in the hands of only three people,” Carter said.

Rifle City Council member Alan Lambert, who put the question to the commissioner candidates, agrees. He said two commissioners, or even one, often end up with final say on an issue. Democrat Tresi Houpt and Republican Larry McCown frequently vote in opposition to each other, and Republican John Martin becomes the swing vote, often siding with McCown.

Expanding the commission would provide more balance, he said.

“I think five people will give more voice to various parts of the county,” he said.

None of the commissioners lives in the Carbondale area, but Mayor Michael Hassig said he thinks Carbondale is better represented on the commission now than in the past. Still, he thinks expanding the commission’s size would be helpful, “given the complexity of decisions that commissioners are asked to make.”

Former Glenwood Springs Mayor Sam Skramstad and others from the Glenwood area unsuccessfully pushed to expand the commission size around a decade ago.

“Most of your cities have five to seven (elected representatives) for a lot less people,” he said.

Expanding the commission would require the county to go to home rule, which would require voter approval. Hassig said there can be advantages to home rule, such as, in Carbondale’s case, the ability of citizens to challenge town board votes through a ballot initiative.

Democrat Stephen Bershenyi, who is running against Martin this fall, said adding commissioners would mean additional costs for their salaries and benefits, but give the county home rule powers such as being able to loan severance tax revenues to municipalities.

Martin said home rule entitles counties to far fewer powers than in the case of municipalities. He questions the benefits of the idea, but said he would support it if that’s what voters want. Mike Samson, Carter’s Republican opponent for the seat McCown is vacating, said he doesn’t think a bigger commission is needed now, but it might be warranted if the population grows.

It was a little under 54,000 last year, the U.S. Census Bureau says. Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc., said once a county population exceeds 70,000, it can expand its commission size without having to switch to home rule.


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