Planning official broke no rules in airport testimony

Comments called 'poor choice’

A Mesa County Planning Commission member broke no rules when he testified earlier this month before his superiors on the county commission against a proposal by Gateway Canyons Resort to expand its air tour operation.

But all three county commissioners agreed Tuesday it was wrong for Mark Bonella to testify May 12, three weeks after the planning commission voted 4-3 against the resort’s request. Bonella was one of the four against it.

The County Commission, however, unanimously approved Gateway’s request.
Gateway Canyons Resort wrote the county commission a three-page letter saying Bonella’s actions were inappropriate.

“It is troubling that Mr. Bonella would go out of his way to make reckless and false statements that are obviously not consistent with the testimony before the Planning Commission,” read the May 18 letter from Gateway, signed by John Williams, legal counsel to the resort.

The county commissioners discussed the situation Tuesday with Mesa County Attorney Lyle Dechant.

“I think it was a poor choice (to testify) on his part,” Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

“I have to say I am a little concerned,” Commissioner Craig Meis added.

Commissioner Janet Rowland said it is “egregious when a planning commissioner hurls accusations like this.”

The accusations, according to the letter from Gateway Canyons, include: false statements about the resort’s air tours already operating; that the resort is attempting to sidestep the county’s permit process and start a commuter airline rather than an air tours operation; that the resort would use more than the two aircraft described in its permit application; and that Gateway Canyons Resort owner John Hendricks is a liar, attempting to deceive every one of his current and past intentions.

The county does have five “guidelines” for appointed members of boards and commissions. Each member of the 10-member Planning Commission is appointed by the full board of the Mesa County Commission. But no one on the County Commission, not even Meis, who served on the Planning Commission prior to being elected to the County Commission in 2004, knew the rules existed prior to Tuesday.

“It’s not like they give you a training session when you become a planning member,” Meis said.

Because of the lack of formal training, the board found it hard to take action. But at least one said some action was required.

“If these are the rules (referring to the five guidelines), and they are not enforced, then they are not even worth the paper they are written on,” Rowland said. “We need to do more than just shrug.”

The board directed Dechant to research how other counties regulate their planning commission members and report back in a couple weeks. Acquafresca said he would personally write a reply to Gateway Canyons Resort.

Bonella could not be reached for comment on this story.


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