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Water District won’t advise on appointments

Brief by Central Staff

Water – May 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board voted unanimously to eliminate the district’s participation in any advisory committee for director nominations.

The action came at an April 13 board meeting. In general, conservancy district directors are appointed to four-year terms by District Judge Charles Barton in Cañon City. The advisory committee, consisting of one commissioner from each of the four counties in the district (Chaffee, Custer, western Frémont, and a sliver of Saguache along Silver Creek), interviewed applicants for director seats, and made recommendations to the judge.

Board members represent divisions in the district, and are apportioned along school-district boundaries. Each division (Salida, Buena Vista, western Frémont, Custer County) gets two seats, and there is one at-large seat.

This advisory committee was set up in 2002, after the first — and so far only — election of a director to the board. In the spring of 2001, Citizens for Water Integrity, a Chaffee County group, successfully petitioned for an election for one seat, won by Jeff Ollinger of Buena Visa.

The process was difficult and expensive for both CWI and the UAWCD, so they agreed on the advisory committee. With it in place, CWI would no longer petition for elections.

That agreement unraveled at the March board meeting. Some UAWCD directors said the appointments recommended by the advisory committee were “too political,” and the board voted to replace the county commissioners’ committee with an advisory board of water managers from around the state.

Formalizing that was on the agenda for the April meeting, but before it came up, the board addressed a proposal by Ollinger that it not be involved with any advisory committee. “State law says the appointment is between the applicant and the judge, and there’s no place for us in the process. So we should stay out of it.”

His motion passed unanimously. Judge Barton can still seek whatever advice he wants, so the county commissioners could still make recommendations. As for elections, the main movers in CWI were Mark Emmer of Salida and Butch Butler of Buena Vista. They sent a letter to the UAWCD and local media, advising that their agreement not to seek elections in the future is now null and void, as a result of the district’s March vote, and they may petition for elections in the future.

It might be noted that the water conservancy district law dates to 1937, and back then, judges were elected in Colorado.