The office of county commissioner is a challenging, diverse and complex assignment that encompasses a broad spectrum of issues and responsibilities. The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) consists of three elected officials, each representing a geographic district but all of whom are elected at large. Brad Blake is the District 1 Commissioner; Gwen Lachelt is the District 2 Commissioner and Julie Westendorff is the District 3 Commissioner. Generally speaking, District 1 consists of the western portion of the County; District 2 includes Durango and a portion of the Animas Valley; and District 3 consists of the eastern portion of the County. The term of office is four years, and in La Plata County, county commissioners are limited to two consecutive terms.
The office of county commissioner is one of several county elected officials. The others are the sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, coroner and surveyor. The BOCC has no direct authority over the other elected officials, except that the BOCC approves the budget for all of their offices.
As the governing body for La Plata County, the BOCC has myriad responsibilities including, but not limited to:
- Policy-making and legislative functions
- Administering land use regulations
- Advocating for citizens at all levels of government
- Adopting the county budget and ensuring stewardship of county resources
- Establishing the vision and setting the strategic direction for county government activities, programs and infrastructure
The BOCC meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month to consider business and administrative matters. Click here to view business agendas and minutes and to listen to audio of business meetings.
Policy Making and Legislative Functions
In Colorado, the BOCC can exercise only those powers granted to counties that are specifically authorized in either state statute or the Colorado Constitution. Counties are a constitutional subdivision of state government and are mandated to provide certain services in accordance with state law. Title 30 of the Colorado Revised Statutes speaks to the duties and responsibilities of county government.
By contrast, cities are not a construct or accorded specific responsibilities under the state constitution. Instead, cities are local governments created voluntarily by citizens desiring municipal incorporation and do not rely exclusively on statutes for their powers. (The City of Durango, for example, is a home rule city with its own charter.)
Within their mandated authority, the BOCC can make decisions and take actions that have the effect of law (i.e establish regulations) as well as create policy that is ultimately implemented by county staff. The BOCC is also authorized to take administrative actions to manage the business affairs of the county and to establish such offices as are necessary for the efficient management of the business and concerns of the county.
To assist in the fulfillment of day-to-day administration of the county, the BOCC appoints and directs the county manager, who performs executive functions including appointing and supervising department heads and hiring staff,coordinating and administering county programs, developing and maintaining intergovernmental relationships, drafting budgets, and advising the BOCC on policy matters, as well as the county attorney, who serves as legal counsel to the BOCC.
Administration of Land Use Regulations
Colorado is a "local control state" when it comes to land use planning and decision making, and the BOCC's authority to control land use in the unincorporated area of the county is a fundamentally important and challenging responsibility. (The unincorporated area of the county consists of all land outside the incorporated cities and towns of Ignacio, Bayfield, Durango and the Southern Ute Tribe Reservation.)
La Plata County consists of approximately 1,087,685 acres: approximately 42.38% is public land; 38.47% is private land; 19.15% is tribal land.
When the BOCC administers the County's land use regulations, it is performing a "quasi-judicial function." This means that the BOCC ultimately makes its decision after receiving written materials submitted by both County staff and the applicant, hearing evidence presented by County staff and the applicant, making findings with respect to compliance with the applicable land use code regulations, and ultimately making a determination on their findings.
The BOCC meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month to consider planning projects and related land use matters.
Counties are the closest and most accessible government to the people, and the BOCC utilizes that strong connection to represent and advocate for the broad interests of the community on a local, state and national level. Commissioners do so by taking an active role in boards and activities that provide a voice to the citizens of La Plata County.
Each commissioner serves in a number of county-appointed liaison assignments and participates in committees and organizations spanning a broad cross-section of local issues including economic development, affordable housing, senior services, criminal justice, tribal relations, transportation, health and human services, and children, youth and families. Participation in these organizations and activities enables the BOCC to create meaningful linkages to the County Compass (the county's strategic plan) and stay both well informed and accessible to their constituents.
Link to a full listing of the current county commissioners' liaison and board/committee assignments.
An ongoing responsibility of the BOCC is to advocate for our community through its engagement in the state legislative process. Commissioners participate in several committees of Colorado Counties, Inc. to carefully consider and offer direct comment to our state legislators on issues of importance to La Plata County.
The BOCC prioritizes intergovernmental relationships and meets with the governing bodies of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Town of Bayfield, Town of Ignacio and City of Durango on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern as well as opportunities for partnership.
Stewardship of County Resources
On an annual basis, the BOCC establishes the County budget and appropriates funding for all departments and offices. La Plata County is required to follow the Local Government Budget Law (CRS 29-1-101 etseq.), the Local Government Uniform Accounting Law (CRS 29-1-501 etseq.) and the Local Government Audit Law (CRS 29-1-601 et seq.). The County's fiscal year is January 1 through December 31. During the budget process, the BOCC examines the County's fund balances, projected revenues and proposed expenditures and works closely with the county manager and the other local elected officials (sheriff, treasurer,assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner and surveyor) as well as other local governments and services agencies, to establish the annual budget to fulfill the mandated (statutory) requirements as well as provide valuable discretionary services that benefit the community. To view the county budget, please visit: Financial Information.
In addition to budgetary responsibility, the BOCC's stewardship also extends to the County's real property holdings, buildings and grounds, roads, bridges and other infrastructure within the County's purview.
One of the BOCC's most significant roles is strategic planning,through which the Board establishes the vision and sets the direction for county government. The La Plata County strategic plan, the County Compass, serves as a guide and identifies core strategies and objectives that the County strives to attain through the wise utilization of its financial and human resources. To view the County Compass in detail, please visit: The County Compass
Initially counties were created to carry out programs and policies of the state; however, county duties, functions and responsibilities have expanded far beyond what could have been imagined decades ago. Consequently, over time, the role of the county commissioner will continue to evolve as well. It is important for the public of La Plata County to know and understand how their county government works for them.