The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) is a board of equals, all three elected by the residents of Chaffee County. Each year, one of their first duties of the new fiscal year is to elect who among them will be the chair for that year. This year that chairmanship falls to Commissioner Keith Baker.
Baker has assumed that role with a modest expectation. “I only want the job for one year. Those counties that I consider worthy of being emulated — they rotate the job on a yearly basis. That’s normal. There are several benefits to doing that,” he explains. “First, this is a group of equals, nobody is elected to the position of chair – it is selected by the board. By having rotations, you get a different set of areas of emphasis, primarily internally, on how things are done.”
Asked if he has a theme in mind for the year, Baker, a former military commander points out that he was trained and educated in service to the country, “and I intend to model that. I don’t have a set of words to express the theme. If anything, the theme would be to be an adaptive organization.”
“I believe in constant organizational improvement. It’s like steering a ship or flying an airplane and making the course you want with currents and winds.”
Baker pointed to that during his early weeks as chair, “I put a premium on developing the strategic plan – and acculturating us to using it — our first one on February 3 — our North Star for the county. It’s an internal document that lays out how do we do business in this county, how we improve our relevance [as a county government] to the county residents.”
While Baker gave kudos to the county staff for doing a great job, he pointed out that as with staff in other businesses, county government needs “that bigger animated picture of where we’re going as an organization.”
Asked for an example of what he meant, Baker chuckled and said, “there’s the old story about three workmen asked by a passerby what they are doing. The first says ‘I’m mixing mortar’. The second one says ‘I’m preparing these stones to be put in place’. But the third one says ‘I’m building a cathedral'”.
In my thinking, we’re building a unique county that does it the Chaffee County Way…. but it will never be completed.”
Asked to name the county’s biggest challenges, Baker responded, “Well housing, of course. And planning. It’s not just lines on a map, it’s a culture, a mindset and it’s never done. In any major endeavor, you’re constantly changing to deliver on time, and on budget.”
He went on to talk about implementing the updated Chaffee Comprehensive Plan, the continuing work on the Land Use Code, and then added the work being done on a sustainable development plan.
“The next big thing the county needs to take on, probably after Greg [Felt] and I are gone, the county needs to update our 1041 process. The state allows counties to tailor [1041 permits] for our unique interests for ‘areas under state interest’ like water, which belongs to the people. Each county can tailor it based on how much they have, where… a lot of counties are trying to use the 1041 process to put the brakes on water mining, for instance.”
Asked what success in this role would look like, Baker said it would include things like quarterly strategic reviews as part of the BoCC’s internal planning sessions, and smoother-running meetings. “As we improve our land use code, I’d hope that our staff is more empowered to approve things, so there are fewer land use decisions rising to the county commissioners for approval. The goal is to get the applicant through the process quicker. It would be good if people could be near the services they need; so people live closer to where they work and work closer to where they live.”
He paused and added, “I want [the BoCC] to spend our time on more strategic level things and looking further downstream, not just at the next few weeks.”
Asked what he hopes the county will look like in 20 years, Baker said, “Well, in 20 years I am hopeful that it does what [citizens] want: that they want the towns to look like towns and the rural areas to remain rural – and that the future development is in and adjacent to the municipalities, so rural and ranching can be saved. I’m encouraged by the word that the Gen Zs don’t want a huge house so they are house-poor…..they are more into experiences.”
As related to this year and the future, Baker brought up the BoCC advocacy role on behalf of residents or things like continued pressure regarding the U.S. Postal service and broadband, of making the workings of government more accessible to the public which an improved county website will help address.
He pointed to the need for better training for local government roles, including professional development and feedback, and the importance of mentoring to develop future leaders. “Our duty is to nurture and grow future leaders … you want to train your replacement. It’s not an active training, but demonstrating different ways of doing things — chairing a meeting for instance.”
“Getting experience on committees, the advisory boards and commissions — these are the feeder systems to government roles,” said Baker. “Start small. Just like in business, nobody goes right straight to the C-suites. Begin by attending meetings … get involved with the community and find your place like you do with a road on-ramp. You can be in the fast lane or the slow lane, just don’t be an impediment to how things are moving.”
Baker pointed out that there is no onboarding for commissioners (not that that wouldn’t be a good idea). They have to hit the ground running and the culture is fast. This means early experience on committees and advisory boards is critical.
I asked Baker, a commissioner six years into the job and term-limited in 2024, about the accomplishment of which he’s most proud. His list: the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the work on the Land Use Code, and the work in progress for the Sustainable Development Plan.
But according to Baker, he is impatient. “It took too long to get them started. There was a lot to overcome to get them started. Once underway, we have made reasonable progress. I guess you could say like the book about Winston Churchill, “Young Man in a Hurry.” I get impatient. I’m an old man in a hurry.”
Sounds good, but this county is not working to put people closer to services and their work. They have been doing the opposite for at least 20 years. Chaffee county is working to eliminate the workforce from the areas they want to overtake for ‘progress’ which I believe really means tourism and gentrification. Take a ride through downtown and all you will see is porta-potties, dust and construction as it has been and will continue to be under this pretense to ‘create’ the ‘workforce housing’ that was stolen from the people by those exploiting and developing our community out of existence. Those of us here for more than a decade did not offer to sacrifice our entire lives and quality of life for the profit of these greedy and discriminatory exploiters this county has not protected us from at all. It is my personal opinion that the county needs a lawsuit to make them do the right thing and stop doing harm and claiming it to be progress.