By Roger Baker
The agenda for the Gilpin County Commissioners’ meeting this week was deliberately light, as we generally try to keep it when one of the Commissioners is expected to be absent. But those of us who remained had one very pleasant duty we could carry out.
The meeting concluded with a small event (with cake, of course) celebrating the 70th birthday of our County Attorney, James J. Petrock.
Jim is a Michigan boy, but after graduating from Michigan State, he wisely came out to Colorado to obtain his law degree from the University of Colorado.
Completing service in the US Navy’s JAG corps, Jim went to work for the Denver Water Board, putting his name on several cases that still figure prominently in Colorado water law.
After a couple of years with Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph (which became US West, then Qwest, which was then bought out by CenturyLink), Jim hung out a shingle as a private attorney.
With his water law reputation, it’s no surprise that one of Jim’s earliest clients was the North Table Mountain Water & Sanitation District. But when John M. Yeager announced his resignation as Gilpin County Attorney in the summer of 1980, Jim applied for the position and was appointed in January, 1981; the Commissioners then were Victor Braecher, Charles “Van” Cullar, and Jerry Ward.
Lots of things besides the Commissioners’ names were different back then, and it is to Jim’s credit – and the County’s everlasting benefit – that he was able to so effectively guide the County through a period of unprecedented growth.
Four years later, I became the County librarian, and had occasion to work with Jim as he steered us through the change from an all-volunteer non-profit organization to a County department to (ultimately) a semi-independent Library District, all in creative yet legally legitimate fashion.
When working for the City of Black Hawk I got in on the tail-end of the process that gave birth to the Growth Intergovernmental Agreement among Black Hawk, Central City, and the County. The IGA was a pioneering document that showed the way toward the Mile High Compact that brought some order to the annexation wars then plaguing the Denver metro area. Jim worked hard to protect the County’s interests in the IGA, but also proved a deft and gracious negotiator in assuring that all the parties recognized the value of that agreement.
Just over 10 years ago, I was named County Manager, and since I was woefully unprepared for the job, relied very heavily on Jim not just for legal advice, but for institutional knowledge and sound guidance. He always delivered. I cannot imagine how I would have made it through without him, and I pretty much still feel that way today.
Though Jim is still exceedingly youthful looking and active (the occasional tennis injury notwithstanding), I know the siren call of a grandchild in Florida gets progressively louder in his ears every year. I’m just glad that attorneys don’t have a mandatory retirement age, like judges.
Still, as the names of the long-departed (from office, at least) County Commissioners remind us, change is the nature of government at any level. I’m sure we’ll have a new County Attorney one of these days. I just hope I’m not around to suffer through the transition.
And I hope County residents realize how very, very fortunate we have been these past 30 years.
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