Mesa County commissioners spar over vote on timber business

Acquafresca criticized for trying to vote without attending board's hearing

A public hearing on a proposed business south of Whitewater turned into a verbal exchange between two Mesa County commissioners Tuesday when one of them sought to cast a vote without attending the hearing.

The board voted 2-0 to approve a conditional-use permit to Enviro Land Management, a timber storage and processing business that will operate on the east side of U.S. Highway 50 about a half-mile south of Kannah Creek Road.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca tried to join commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland in granting the permit but was rebuffed by Meis because Acquafresca was absent from all but the last few minutes of the hearing.

Acquafresca missed the meeting because he and representatives from the county and the city of Grand Junction were meeting with Colorado Department of Local Affairs officials regarding the 29 Road overpass project. The city and county applied for a $10 million grant from the state to help pay for the project.

Acquafresca walked into the hearing room after county planners gave a presentation on the project and commissioners took testimony from the business owner, a representative for the business owner and a neighbor who had concerns about the business. Rowland asked that Acquafresca not be permitted to comment or vote on the permit.

After quietly conferring with Meis, Acquafresca said he viewed the business as “a great benefit to the community” and that he supported it “wholeheartedly.” He asked that he be allowed to vote on the project.

Rowland jumped in at that point, saying that doing so would be tantamount to a judge making a decision without attending a hearing. She said it was clear Acquafresca had prejudged the project and wondered how many other occasions he had made up his mind on an issue without the benefit of a public hearing.

“I’m not going to interrupt you as you interrupted me,” Acquafresca said.

“You shouldn’t even be speaking,” Rowland shot back. “You haven’t earned the right.”

Meis then announced he wouldn’t accept Acquafresca’s vote and suggested the issue of commissioners’ voting without attending a hearing should be a matter the board takes up with County Attorney Lyle Dechant.

Acquafresca said he appreciated Meis’ “broad and progressive view,” then rose from his chair and walked out of the hearing as Rowland continued to chastise him. As he walked behind her and out of the hearing room, Rowland told him he owed an apology to officials from Wildewood Condos, who were scheduled to appear before the commission Tuesday for a land-use hearing but asked for it to be postponed for two weeks because they expected Acquafresca to be absent.

After the hearing, Meis told The Daily Sentinel that Acquafresca came into his office five minutes before Tuesday’s meeting started and indicated he would miss the hearing but still wanted to vote on the timber project. Meis said he told Acquafresca he wasn’t opposed to him commenting but wouldn’t allow him to cast a vote.

“What bothers me is if he were to vote on that, not having heard any of the testimony, he has essentially prejudged the item and caused a potential legal matter,” Meis said.


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