OURAY – The Ouray Board of County Commissioners were faced with a tough decision on Monday when they had to appoint four candidates to the Ouray County Planning Commission out of a pool of five “great” candidates. By the end of the board’s lengthy deliberation, which lasted a good part of the day, Bob Luttrell and Sheelagh Williams were both appointed to the commission’s two vacant regular seats while Karen Risch and Geoff Scott were both appointed as alternate commission member seats. Linda Ingo, after serving 12 years on the planning commission, was not reappointed.
Although the appointments were made with a unanimous decision by the board, Commissioner Lynn Padgett had a “minority opinion” that she would rather appoint Ingo to the first alternate seat than Risch.
“I would have preferred to appoint Linda Ingo because her knowledge is irreplaceable,” Padgett said. “I think it is a difficult decision to choose between having a person with expertise in the high country versus someone with such longevity of historical perspective and a very extensive knowledge of irrigation.”
“This is a difficult position to be in,” Commissioner Keith Meinert said. “We have five candidates and I would love to have all five of them for different reasons. These five people would be a very diverse, interesting board themselves, which makes it even more difficult to make a decision.”
Initially, there were two vacant regular seats and one alternate available. Then commissioners decided to create one more alternate seat that expires in one year and then every three years after that. Scott, who is relatively new to Ouray County, was appointed to that second alternate seat. (Alternate commission members fill in for absent regular members when they are absent.)
Scott and his wife moved to Elk Meadows last November. He is currently a principal at William Hezmalhalch Architects in Santa Ana, Calif. where his primary role is community planning and entitlement within the firm. While the commissioners expressed caution that they don’t know Scott as well as other candidates, they do like the notion of diversifying by appointing some “new blood” to the planning commission.
“To me, the bulk of the board should be experienced county residents,” Commissioner Heidi Albritton said. “By expanding the board, it gives us the opportunity to throw a wildcard into the mix and get a different perspective. It’s an opportunity we have never had.”
“I think [Scott] has the Elk Meadows, Miller Mesa kind of perspective that we haven’t had on the Planning Commission in a long time,” Meinert said. “I really like the idea of having new blood on the Planning Commission.”
In reappointing Luttrell, the commissioners expressed appreciation of the perspective he brought to the Planning Commission, noting he has gone above and beyond his normal duties as a planning commission member in the past.
“Bob is clearly the guy that did his homework when looking at plats,” Padgett said during the board’s deliberations. “He shows a lot of interest and participation in code [revisions] and its philosophical aspects.”
Like, Luttrell, the commissioners were also impressed with Williams’ dedication to attending public meetings for the past two decades and that her perspective would also be a good fit for the Planning Commission.
“I know for sure she would take the appointment seriously and do her best to be prepared,” Albritton said. “I think she is very conscientious in the way she approaches things.”
Padgett said she initially had concerns that Williams’ travels might get in the way of her work on the planning commission but was assured otherwise after Williams noted she has only one trip planned for the next year. “I know from her professional experience that she is detail oriented,” Padgett said.
With the board informally consenting to appoint Luttrell and Williams to the regular commission seats and Scott to the second alternate seat, it came down to deciding between Risch and Ingo for the first alternate seat. For Albritton, having a Ouray resident apply for the position was a factor in her decision. Risch’s husband, Bob, currently serves as Ouray’s mayor.
“I am excited to have someone from Ouray throw their name in the ring for this,” Albritton said. “Karen is so knowledgeable about trails and non-motorized areas.”
And with possible Land Use Code revisions for the high country coming in the future, Meinert said Risch’s perspective will be an asset.
“We really haven’t had anybody on the Planning Commission with that kind of perspective and knowledge,” he said. “I think [Risch] has a balanced perspective on the issues we are going to have to grapple with.”
Padgett took issue with both Meinert and Albritton’s notion that having a Ouray perspective is what the Planning Commission needs. Padgett said the Planning Commission needs members who put the county first, rather than any particular town, neighborhood or development.
“What I am hearing from you all is that it is important to have a Ouray-centric point of view,” Padgett said, “and that ruffles me a bit. I don’t think it is about being Ouray-centric or Ridgway-centric or alpine versus valley…What I am asking is that all of the folks become citizens of the county and put the county on a large scale first.”
“The way I was looking at this was that I didn’t want to lose Linda’s institutional memory and knowledge of water ditches and things like that,” Meinert said. “Karen brings a totally new and kind of a fresh perspective that I think we need and that is the Ouray representative and the representative of an approach to the backcountry and mining claims issues. It is a difficult balance to make. Recognizing that Linda has served for 12 years on the Planning Commission, I do think there is a danger in having a permanent planning commission member.”
“I would anticipate more contentious issues pertaining to the high country rather than the valley zone,” she said, adding that she would recommend Risch to the first alternate seat as well.
With that, Meinert made the motion to appoint the Planning Commission’s new members and his motion was unanimously approved. In closing, Meinert expressed a desire for the county to honor Ingo’s 12 years of dedicated service to the Planning Commission.