Pay hike approved  in secret

JOHN JUSTMAN

Members of the 521 Drainage Authority are balking at Mesa County Commissioner John Justman's appointment to the five-member board.

That's not because those authority members don't like Justman or don't agree that he is knowledgeable about drainage issues. It's because, in addition to serving on the authority, Justman also serves on the board of the Grand Valley Drainage District.

Some on the authority believe that could create a conflict of interest.

"Certainly we recognize Mr. Justman's lifetime of experience with drainage issues, value his expertise to be a director on the 521 Drainage Authority Board, and understand he believes he can separate his two board roles and represent Mesa County on the 521 Authority Board," Dave Karisny, vice chair of the authority and a Fruita city councilman, wrote in a letter to the Mesa County commissioners last month.

"Even if that's possible, we can anticipate the potential for this dual role to complicate the duties for both governing bodies, such as when developing and voting on intergovernmental agreements, IGAs, between the 521 Drainage Authority and the GVDD."

The drainage authority was created in 2004 by the county, Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade and the drainage district, all of whom continue to fund it. Its board consists of five members from each of those entities, who are not paid to serve on the panel.

In May, Justman, who is in the middle of his second term as a county commissioner, was elected to the GVDD board replacing Cody Davis, its former chairman who also represented the district on the authority. Last month, Commissioner Scott McInnis decided to step off the authority in favor of Justman, saying he is far more knowledgeable about such issues and should represent the county on that panel.

Other members also are elected officials. One each from the drainage district, the county, the Grand Junction and Fruita city councils and Palisade Board of Trustees.

"We don't tell other entities on the 521 who they can appoint, and neither should they be telling us who we should appoint," said Commissioner Rose Pugliese.

"Commissioner Justman knows more, in my opinion and with all due respect, than a lot of people combined on the current board about the drainage history, irrigation history … the commitments and the agreements made over the last many decades," McInnis added. "The benefit here is very clear. The benefit is not only to this board of commissioners, but also the people of this county."

County Attorney Patrick Coleman said conflicts of interest are restricted to anyone who might have a financial interest in a board's actions. That is far from the case here, he said.

Currently, the authority, the drainage district, the county and the three municipalities are in negotiations to create a single entity to handle drainage issues for the entire Grand Valley. How that might be done has yet to be determined.

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