OURAY COUNTY – Ouray’s tireless County Commissioner Lynn Padgett received a huge honor, and a big surprise, last week when she was named Commissioner of the Year by Colorado Counties, Inc.
CCI is a member-based, non-partisan organization representing all 64 Colorado counties and over 200 county commissioners. The award recipient is chosen by the CCI board of directors, which is made up of eight commissioners from around the state (currently seven Republicans and one Democrat). They selected Padgett for the remarkable number and quality of projects she has undertaken to benefit Ouray County citizens.
“I didn’t have any idea it was coming,” said Padgett, describing the scene at CCI’s winter conference in Colorado Springs. “It was the banquet dinner, commissioners together with county administrators, social services directors, road and bridge people. I was talking with someone at our table. I wasn’t paying 100 percent attention. They were announcing Commissioner of the Year. And I heard ‘Ouray.’ Did they really just say Ouray? People said my jaw dropped so you could have put a grapefruit in it.
“It’s a huge honor, obviously. And it’s neat to see a small county win it. We struggle to participate – to be heard or seen – in the same way that [Front Range] counties, like Arapahoe or Larimer, are. All of CCI’s meetings during the legislative season are on the Front Range. It’s hard to lobby on the phone; you can’t use facial expressions.”
Padgett was lauded for a long list of accomplishments in the last three years, including:
- Her facilitation locally of the governor’s Bottom Up economic development planning process – Ouray and Ridgway working together for community-driven economic development that focuses on consensus points and community value.
- Developed the Community Calendar project web site, which is now being used by both the Ouray Chamber Resort Association and the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce; www.ouraycountycolorado.org.
- Led Ouray County’s "Who Regulates What?” inter-agency education sessions on hard-rock mining, which is now a CCI-led initiative.
- Worked on the CCI Public Lands Steering Committee and the Bureau of Land Management Southwest Resource Advisory Committee.
- Worked on regional broadband coordination with Operation Linkup.
- Worked to ensure continuation of PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) and SRS (Secure Rural Schools) monies – initiatives that significantly affect Ouray County's roads and schools. She developed maps and advocacy materials that were used by CCI, the National Association of Counties, Senators and Representatives, and their staffers.
- Promoted efforts for a Good Samaritan mining bill, which would modify discharge permits for abandoned mine cleanup, improve water quality, and increase job opportunities in mining areas.
- Advocated for good science and information on the proposed Low Altitude Tactical Navigation flights (LATN) by U.S. Air Force trainees.
- Worked on REAL, an effort by many Colorado county commissioners and social/human services directors to make sure government is Responsive, Efficient, Accountable, and Locally driven.
-Testified in Denver for House Bill 1196, to get more flexibility for funding at-risk preventative services, to ultimately save counties money and have better outcomes for families and youth.
- Did extensive research on mineral and mining history, maps, geology, and potential for the proposed San Juan Wilderness bill, information which was disseminated widely from Colorado to Washington, D.C.
- She also identified a way to save Ouray County thousands of dollars on telephone and Internet access in 2012.
Asked what she was proudest of, Padgett said, “I’m really proud of the advocacy materials I created to extend PILT and SRS.” (PILT compensates counties with federal lands that are not subject to local property taxes. SRS helps rural school districts in counties that rely economically on forest lands. Colorado counties received $27 million in PILT dollars this year.)
In 2011, PILT was under attack by a cost-cutting Ohio congresswoman who didn’t understand the impacts on counties with large swaths of public lands; Padgett created maps that illustrated those impacts. The maps were disseminated from CCI to legislators and their staffs on Capitol Hill, and the Ohio bill was defeated. “It was very visual,” Padgett said of her materials. “People in D.C. said they’d never seen such clear info.”
Subsequently, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett has introduced legislation that would extend both PILT and SRS for another five years.
Why work so hard? Padgett says, “There are a lot of reasons to keep working. If we could get that fiber backbone [fiber-optic broadband] in our region, that is so important for business. It seems more and more in reach.”
Padgett received a shiny plaque commemorating her CCI award. But one gets the impression it’s not a laurel, on which she will rest.