Pugliese, Justman put stamp on Mesa County government
The future of Mesa County includes a thinner land-use code, an expanded Mesa County Fairgrounds and greater emphasis on the economy and government transparency, according to the ideology of Mesa County commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman.
The pair have been on the job for a little over a year, serving alongside Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, whose term in office ends at the close of this year. Change has been on their minds from the start.
Within the first month of the new board’s existence, all three commissioners decided to ask for the resignation of then-County Administrator Chantal Unfug. She was replaced by Tom Fisher.
County Attorney Lyle Dechant retired last month — but earlier than planned, by his own account, saying Pugliese and Justman had hinted they wanted him to go. Pugliese and Justman voted to accept Dechant’s resignation letter, which stipulated terms of a severance, while Acquafresca voted against acceptance of the letter. Dechant got three months of severance pay, while Unfug received six months of pay. Dechant’s position is expected to be filled in May.
While Pugliese and Justman declined when asked to delve into their thoughts about Unfug, Pugliese said Fisher is helping the board meet its strategic plan goals of fiscal restraint and communication in county decision-making. Justman said Fisher is an efficient leader.
“I’m very comfortable with his advice,” he said.
As for Dechant, Pugliese said at the time of his retirement Dechant had gotten used to a certain way of running his office after nearly 31 years on the job. She would like to see the next county attorney explore potential cost savings by outsourcing less legal work, get information to commissioners and the public “in a timely manner,” and possess a wide range of expertise.
“A county attorney familiar with federal issues would be helpful because we seem to be dealing with those a lot,” Pugliese said.
Justman said he would like to hire a county attorney who can run an office efficiently and tackle a variety of issues the county may face.
As for their first-term goals, Justman said he would like to focus on growing the fairgrounds, which he sees as an economic development opportunity. Commissioners earlier this month approved a construction contract for a project that will place an arena and RV hookups on the east end of the fairgrounds and committed to a BMX venue project on the west end of the property. Justman said he can envision Orchard Mesa needing a nearby hotel to accommodate out-of-town users of the fairgrounds, plus a boost in restaurant and gas sales.
“We can’t just have it strictly for the fair,” Justman said.
Justman said he’s also excited about an upcoming venture with CGI Communications, a New York technology company that will work with local producers to make videos about parts of the county for the county’s website. Justman said the videos will not cost the county money and will be paid for with advertising dollars. He hopes the videos will help highlight the community for a broad audience.
Both Pugliese and Justman said they want to speak with stakeholders and find ways to streamline the county’s land-use code in order to find out what parts of the code have been cumbersome for users. Editing the code to make it easier to develop in the county could take up to two years, according to Pugliese.
Pugliese said she didn’t campaign on transparency but after taking office quickly developed an interest in making the process by which the county makes decisions clear to the public. She wants to focus her first term on revamping the budget process to include input from employees, finding ways to save taxpayer dollars and helping businesses and organizations network with each other.
“Mostly what we do (for the economy) is through capital investments but also networking. All we seem to be growing is human services because of the low economy,” she said.
An upcoming article in a U.S. Airways publication talks about the county’s interest in tourism, real estate and technology start-ups.
“Let’s brand it and get young professionals to build their businesses here,” Pugliese said.