News Flash

Arapahoe County News

Posted on: March 9, 2020

The Role of County Commissioners - by Jeff Baker

Commissioner Jeff Baker

Many people ask us: “What do county commissioners do?” A complete answer would require more space than we have here, but I’ll try to summarize some of our authorities, duties and responsibilities.

  • First, the Arapahoe County Commissioners have an administrative role for the organization and management of the county government. One of the primary things we do in this capacity is approve the County’s annual budget, and all the commissioners also participate in community organizations by serving on numerous boards and committees. (You can see which ones by visiting each commissioner’s individual page.)
  • Second, commissioners have a legislative role that allows us to establish rules and regulations, primarily about land uses such as zoning (residential, commercial, industrial) and codes to be enforced. We also can make laws by passing ordinances that apply to county residents who live in unincorporated areas of the County.
  • Third, we have a quasi-judicial role in which we conduct public hearings and consider testimony to either approve or deny applications; again, these primarily apply to land uses.

Since I took office in 2017, the most controversial of our quasi-judicial decisions seems to have been about applications being proposed in the eastern part of the County, District 3, which is the district I represent. That probably makes sense when you realize that a proportionately greater amount of new development is taking place on the vacant land in the rural part of the county. The building of housing developments, commercial proposals, and oil and gas development are all examples of land uses that we hear about from our citizens most often.

The Commissioners are currently taking a balanced approach to considering the many additions or changes our Public Works & Development (PWD) Department has proposed to the County’s Land Development Code about oil and gas development. This is a result of Senate Bill 181, which state legislators passed last year. This should help produce positive economic impacts to the County, our residents, and our businesses, while also allowing flexibility for farmers, ranchers, and other citizens to negotiate surface leases or mineral leases. The Commissioners’ role in this is to weigh these potential benefits against the risks and impacts such industrial operations may have. The health and safety of our citizens is vitally important, and any denial of an application must be based upon a proven, substantiated health or safety concern.

An equally vital consideration is the fundamental property rights of landowners and mineral rights owners. Our nation’s laws uphold the property rights of citizens to “enjoy the quiet use” of their property, and if the government unreasonably restricts that, it could be argued that such an action constitutes a “taking” under the rule of law – possibly with the government entity being ordered to compensate the citizen for their loss.

Sometimes, when two factors conflict, we Commissioners must decide whether, and to what degree, one “right” takes precedence over another, and we’ll vote to either approve or deny an application based on this consideration. The public hearings about these matters often include scientific evidence, professional risk assessment, and the emotions of those involved on both sides, which can make our decisions very difficult. But ultimately, the Commissioners always vote in a manner that we believe is in the best interest of our constituents and the majority of our citizens.

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