Steve Wadley was nervous Monday morning as he readied himself to leave the house and put his phone in his pocket.
Come to find out, he had nervously grabbed his landline phone instead of his cell phone.
The phone, then, didn’t help him announce his appointment as Archuleta County Commissioner Monday morning following a meeting of the Archuleta County Republican Party Vacancy Committee at the courthouse.
Wadley and Bob Hart were the only two applicants seeking to fill the position left vacant by John Ranson’s March resignation that took effect April 6.
A press release stated that the members of the Vacancy Committee liked Wadley’s community involvement and governmental experience.
“He is a fiscal conservative who demonstrated his enthusiasm for the job. His extensive experience in governmental operations will be valuable during these difficult economic times and we look forward to his leadership,” the press release stated.
Head of the local Republican Party and vacancy committee member Jim Huffman further expounded that Wadley’s work with the Albuquerque Police Department gave him the leadership, managerial, budget and leadership experience to help Archuleta County.
“We felt he was the best qualified,” Huffman said.
“I’m grateful for the support of the vacancy commission. Even though I wasn’t elected in the general election, it is my intent to be an active and involved commissioner,” Wadley said shortly after the announcement of his appointment.
Wadley further stated he doesn’t intend to take a back seat, but looks forward to working and notes the importance of, “not bringing political affiliations into the commissioner chambers,” but of focusing on what’s best for the county.
Wadley said his biggest priority as he takes office will be to continue saving in anticipation of property tax revenue drops in 2012 due to lower assessed valuations.
Additionally, Wadley, who retired 10 years ago, said he looks forward to holding a job again.
Wadley was sworn is as commissioner Wednesday morning by Archuleta County Court Judge Jim Denvir.
Wadley and Hart, both vying for the appointment, took part in a well-mannered public forum Thursday evening hosted by the Republican Central Committee, during which interested citizens were able to ask questions of the contenders with the goal of the vacancy committee gaining information about the applicants.
Huffman began the forum by allowing each applicant an opening comment, which Hart used to list his priorities should he be appointed. Wadley touted his community involvement and previous work with public entities.
Huffman then posed a broad question to each applicant, asking them to identify the most critical issue facing the county today.
For Wadley, the biggest concern was the predicted drop in property tax revenues, which he predicted would produce a 30- to 40-percent drop in revenue.
Wadley proposed spending only when necessary and creating a savings account in anticipation of the revenue loss, and to invest in economic development. Wadley said he believed a proposed geothermal study (see related article) would be money well spent.
Hart, too, named the 2012 property tax revenue drop as the top issue in the county, stating his belief the county should institute budget steps similar to the town (where a 10-percent reduction in revenue signals a 15-percent budget reduction and so on, with the budget reduction staying 5 percent ahead of revenue drops).
Hart also stated the need to create jobs by helping businesses.
In response to a later question, both applicants touted experience with large, public budgets.
Multiple questions on the night concerned a possible county takeover of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District or the county aggressively pursuing issues facing the water district.
“A commissioner has much more of a responsibility to inject themselves into things in the community that aren’t working,” Wadley said in his first answer.
Wadley further stated that PAWSD and the county need to work together and spend money for the public good, noting the PAWSD board was elected and empowered to do certain things which they would have to “practically abandon” in order for the county to take over.
Hart said he believes the new PAWSD directors elections helped the water district, as did the creation of the community work group to help the district, both leading to a reduction in fees.
Hart also asserted that teamwork is necessary between all area entities.
Other questions focused on the organization of local governments, posing questions about home-rule charters, merging town and county governments, and government transparency.
Hart said he had not researched home-rule charters in terms of the county, but noted that it worked well for the town, further stating he felt five commissioners would be better than three.
Hart further said that a town and county merger would be something to look at, but that the two should work to better their relationship, which would allow them to accomplish many of the same things as a merger.
Asked how he would ameliorate problems with government transparency and the appearance of decisions being made before a meeting, Hart said he had been to meetings where the answer was decided before the meeting and vowed to discuss and make decisions at the time of the vote.
Wadley said there are a lot of positive aspects to home rule charters, such as more freedom in setting laws and policies, but added that a negative would be a more powerful county manager.
Wadley said he didn’t believe a town/county merger would be feasible because outlying areas in the county would be poorly served, and added that the town and county should have as little duplication as possible.
As for government transparency, Wadley said the spirit and intent of transparency laws needed to be followed and that business needed to be conducted in the open.
Questions about the ever-hot topic of roads focused on working relationships between county staff and the Road Advisory Task Force, a potentially management-heavy road and bridge staff, and alternatives to county staff maintaining roads, such as metro districts and privitization.
Wadley said the county perhaps needed to develop a new way of looking at roads, perhaps using metro districts in areas with higher density to alleviate some road costs for the county or looking at privatization to lower overhead costs at the county and have work done less expensively and quicker.
Wadley also said he would “absolutely listen” to a citizen panel put together by the county, stating “problem solving is problem solving.”
Hart, a member of the RATF, said it’s frustrating when the county-appointed task force isn’t listened to, but added the task force has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary maintenance work.
Hart also spoke of the possibility of putting more roadwork out to bid to compare costs and said metro districts can be effective if citizens and the county are willing to direct funds to the districts.
Additionally, Hart voiced his support of the five-year road plan currently in working phases for the county.
Still other questions focused on economic development and the possibilities of clean industry and technology companies moving to the area.
Hart spoke of incentives and tax breaks such as tax credits to help economic development and to diversify the economy, and said the county needed to utilize its citizens with specific knowledge in fields such as technology to bring more companies to the area.
Hart also said the county planning and building process should be looked at and sped up to be more friendly to those looking to relocate to the area.
Wadley, too, spoke of tax incentives and other ways of streamlining to attract businesses and create jobs, as well as using local talent willing to give their time to help new businesses.
Wadley also stated the county needed to take on an attitude of finding ways to tell people “yes” and move things along in an efficient manner.
One resident asked for the potential commissioners’ views on the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.
Wadley said he thought it could have a great impact on the county, both positive and negative, noting he is a believer in property rights and that the project is in another county.
Hart, too, pointed out the project’s location outside of Archuleta County, but added that the county needed to be on friendly terms to be able to alleviate problems possibly caused by the project in the future.
Only a few questions targeted one applicant, with those questions directed at Hart.
One questioner asked what Hart had done since losing November’s General Election to make the citizens comfortable with him as a commissioner, to which Hart responded that he has worked hard as chair of the Town Tourism Committee, has been involved with community service and would prove he could be commissioner if given the chance.
SUN staff asked Hart about the chance of an impending lawsuit between his company, Hart Construction, and the county’s insurance carrier. For more information on the issue, see related story.
Another question concerned Hart’s residing in District 2 at the time of his application, to which Hart said he ensured his actions (a proposed move to District 1) were legal before undertaking them.
Since Wadley’s appointment, Hart has changed his political affiliation to “unaffiliated,” citing frustration with the process of the vacancy committee and further alleging that the committee was not privy to all the letters of support received by Chair Jim Huffman.
Huffman refused to comment on the claims Wednesday, stating that the vacancy committee would not talk about specifics of the selection process.
Wadley began his duties as commissioner Wednesday.