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Bruce: Pining for a June bride?

So the irascible Douglas Bruce has jetted off for an extended vacation to Russia and the Ukraine, perhaps to bring home what everyone is hoping for a bride.

In the meantime, the remaining four El Paso County commissioners have been left to figure out how to cut $7 million from next year's budget. Will roads remain unpaved? Will they slash a million from the child-support division of Human Services? Will they swap the county's vehicle fleet for junkers?

Despite having to deal with such issues, it will be six weeks of bliss. The other Republican commissioners, none of whom could remotely be considered a tax-and-spender, will enjoy their own break from the incessant hammering of Bruce, our loudest-barking, self-styled, anti-government watchdog.

During his vacation, Bruce, currently in his third year in office, will miss more twice-weekly meetings than any elected county officer since the mid-1990s. He's due back in mid-July, and yes, rumors that the lifelong bachelor may bring home a Svetlana have been making the rounds.

"He went on a singles cruise a couple of months ago I don't know where, but he's still single," says Sallie Clark, a fellow commissioner with whom Bruce frequently butts heads. "He has said he's going to Russia [this time]."

What for?

"Maybe one of those Russian brides?" Clark cracks. "It's a little rumor, but he did get his hair cut."

Bruce refused to comment on the rumor before his trip, telling the Indy, "It's none of your business." He also showed little patience for questions regarding his absence from work, noting, "There's always issues coming up. Some are important, some are not."

A point well-taken, especially considering some of the "issues" Bruce himself has worked into diatribes.

Want to talk about money for law enforcement or disasters or snowstorms or the DA's office? Or bulletproof vests for the sheriff or wildfire reimbursement or TESSA (which works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault) or even road projects? Get ready for a long-winded lecture on waste, waste, waste.

Let's consider the chunk of time that Bruce ate up during the May 24 commissioners meeting his last before heading out of the country as he talked about getting a vaccine. During the meeting, Bruce, clearly aggravated, launched into a story about getting his vacation shot from the county's health-service provider. The provider asked him to fill out a voluntary patient health survey. It had, Bruce said, "unnecessary and nosy questions" like these:

Do you use your seatbelt? Do you wear a helmet when riding your bike?

Have you had an abortion? A miscarriage?

Engage in recreational drug use? (Bruce: "I don't consider aspirin very recreational.")

And finally: "Do you feel safe in your current relationships?"

"I have a relationship with even you, Commissioner Bensberg, and I'm not sure that "safe' would be the right description," Bruce informed Jim Bensberg, another frequent adversary.

"This is ridiculous; the government shouldn't be doing this," said Bruce, talking about the survey, which is issued by the private health-care provider that contracts with the county. On and on he went.

Eventually, Bensberg got snappy, asking, "Did they give you your shot?"

"I got my shot," Bruce said, and then kept right on complaining.

Interrupted Bensberg: "Did you get your distemper shots?"

Bruce: "May I be allowed to complete my thoughts?"

There is no rule that bars elected commissioners from racking up absences. But the law allows elected officeholders who do show up to levy a fine on the missing commissioner of $10 per meeting if they choose to list the absence as "unexcused." The last time it happened was when former Commissioner Betty Beedy missed a meeting because she was politicking at the county fair.

Late last week, commissioner Wayne Williams, who generally tries to get along with everybody, said penalizing Bruce as "unexcused" is not likely.

In fact, for the sake of government efficiency, the commissioners probably would be happy if he stayed away all summer.

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