Two months later, French reflects
BRECKENRIDGE – Bob French skipped lunch for years before his July appointment by local Democrats to the District 1 seat on the Summit Board of County Commissioners. In an attempt to be gracious, French, 73, is imbibing in the many sandwiches and treats offered at dozens of meetings he attended as commissioner since he took the job two months ago.He roughly estimated he spends 20 hours a week in meetings but “I could easily spend 50 or 60,” he said. “I’m astonished at the amount of food served.” His slender figure has not expanded – yet. Aside from the refreshments, French said his first two months as a public official learning about problems facing local government were “a welcome change” from a 44-year career in law.
French was first assigned to a regional task force that aims to solve the Interstate 70 corridor’s congestion problems. The initial challenge will be to keep communities along the corridor united in an opinion on what approach will work to increase traffic flow from the heavily populated Front Range to the state’s mountain towns. Officials in Clear Creek County abhor the idea of widening the highway, French said. “We need to try to keep these folks singing together and I think it’s going to be difficult.”Water is also a complicated issue he acknowledged will take time to understand. French feels confident he can address the politics, understand the statewide plumbing system and be ready to lead the county in water issues when Commissioner Tom Long leaves the Board under term limits in four years. (Long is running unopposed Nov. 2 for his third and final term.)Comprehending water law is not a problem for French, a former lawyer who previously toiled in an office across the street from the Old County Courthouse in Breckenridge, where the commissioners’ chambers and his new office are located. He resigned from the law firm in July.
Accustomed to dealing with people’s problems, the switch from private to public life brought French face-to-face with a wider variety of citizen complaints. Public officials say they are regularly approached at grocery stores and the like by citizens. “People don’t like that,” French said. He deals with it by listening and “giving a damn” and further trying to respond to their concerns. French will face Republican Jim Stover in the Nov. 2 general election to retain his seat and finish out the term. He replaced Democrat Gary Lindstrom, who was appointed to a seat in the state House of Representatives and faces Republican Heather Lemon Nov. 2.French was criticized for offering lightweight answers in a June candidate forum that included six other Democratic candidates. He said Thursday he will be ready to debate issues such as growth and public policy during the October campaign.
“Some people thought I ducked those questions during the appointment process but I still think a snap answer is not in the public’s interest,” he said. French was sworn in on July 12 and several hours later sat with Long and Commissioner Bill Wallace through his first public hearing, in which the two other commissioners voted to deny the Copper Mountain planned unit development (PUD) modification – a long-term development plan that aimed to nearly double residential and commercial development in the village. It had been in the planning process for three years.”I was saved probably 100 hours of listening to tapes; I wasn’t sorry to miss that,” French, who abstained from the vote, said. “But I think it (the denial) was the right decision given the problems with what was largely seen as a reluctance (by the developer) to compromise and provide answers.”Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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