John Messner steps down from county commission

Accepts an appointment to the state

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County District 1 commissioner John Messner announced on Tuesday that he was stepping down as a county commissioner in order to fulfill a role on Colorado’s new professional oil and gas conservation commission. The county Democratic Committee will make an appointment to fulfill the rest of his term through 2020, and to take his place on the ballot this fall.

Messner was one of five people appointed this week by Governor Jared Polis to serve on the newly formed board, and one of two from the Western Slope. Messner was a voluntary member of the commission before it became a professional appointment. His is a four-year appointment, which begins on July 1.

During the regular Tuesday morning commissioners meeting, Messner made the official announcement of his resignation. “This will be my last meeting as a Gunnison County commissioner,” he said, as his new full-time position “will require me to step down as a Gunnison County commissioner by the end of the month.”

Messner read a letter to the community (see page 6) to the board and reflected on his time as both a citizen of Gunnison County for almost 30 years and his time as a commissioner for the past four years.

“While I am incredibly humbled and honored to be appointed to this important role with the state and I am excited about the important work I will be doing, it is a bittersweet feeling as it means I will be stepping down from my role as a county commissioner and stepping away, at least for a time, from the community that I love,” he read.

He paid tribute to many of the county’s leaders, stating, “While we may not always see it, we are a model for the state in how we work together as a community.”

Messner also thanked his fellow commissioners, past and present, “for teaching me what it means to be a public servant.”

Commissioner Jonathan Houck, who is chairman of the board, took a moment to recognize Messner’s work and to congratulate him. “It is well deserved,” he said. “The work that you’ve done, long before you were a commissioner as a member of the Planning Commission, Gunnison County’s long-standing proactive approach to oil and gas development is really important and has helped the state model. And then your time [as a commissioner] is a really good demonstration of leading not just when it’s easy but also when it’s really hard. I appreciate your uncompromising style in standing up for the citizens of Gunnison County.”

Houck recognized Messner’s role in securing state funds for the county to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. “You’ve never wavered in being a strong voice for this community. I think some of those direct actions that not just Gunnison County but a lot of rural communities benefitted from were your willingness to stand in the fray and look for resources and look for funding,” he said.

“As your colleague and as your friend I want to say I really appreciate that passionate level of service. I’m going to miss you,” concluded Houck.

Commissioner Roland Mason also spoke of his exceptional drive when it comes to the county. “It’s been a real benefit to our county,” he said. He credited Messner with putting Gunnison County on the map for many statewide issues. “It’s been an eye-opener for me, what you have accomplished for such a small population.”

Mason also said, “It will be a good step for Gunnison County having someone on that commission that knows Gunnison County. That’s going to be important.”

County manager Matthew Birnie commended Messner, saying,  “This is a tremendous appointment by the governor. Your attention to detail and ability to really grasp very complex policy issues are impressive and I think this is a really good path for you.”

Messner is now preparing to move to Denver, although he said, “I won’t be gone forever.” He reviewed in more detail the accomplishments of the county over the last four years as well. “We have broken ground on a new 76-unit affordable housing project in Gunnison, developed a number of affordable housing units in the north end of the valley, developed and implemented the STOR committee—and it continues to do incredible work—acquired and began the process of creating the Shady Island River Park project, took great strides in implementing our climate action plan, had success in developing a number of methane capture projects in the North Fork and courageously have taken strong steps in addressing the biggest public health crisis in generations.”

Messner, who will make $150,000 per year in his new position forecasted, “As to my new role I am very excited to continue working toward implementing the elements of SB19-181 and evolving the commission in its mission to regulate oil and gas development in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife resources. Having a full-time commission will enable the time to be dedicated to rulemaking, stakeholder outreach and collaboration and ultimately the continued development of a regulatory process that both enables the oil and gas industry to be successful and protects public health, safety, welfare [of] the environment and wildlife resources.”

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