City listens to a few people at great expense

I think it only right to begin this column with a hat tip to The Daily Sentinel’s Emily Anderson for researching and writing a story concerning the expense of the city of Grand Junction’s “listening tour” and city officials’ unrequited longing for a massive public safety complex.

I knew the desire to build this monument has never been extinguished, and city bureaucrats have continued to hector citizens with quizzes, meetings and plaintive arguments, even after the project was rejected by voters in 2008.

However, I did not realize the expense to the city. That became clear after reading Emily’s article and especially after reading former mayor and blogger Gene Kinsey’s posting where he noted that last year the city paid $22,600 to the same marketing firm they spent over $36,000 with this year to take public comments about the project.

I had almost arrived at a point where I sort of admired the mulish determination of city officials to force this plan on the citizens of Grand Junction and their financing partner, Mesa County residents who shop in the city. But I had not really appreciated the resolve of our municipal plutocracy until now. After all, as Mr. Kinsey has so aptly pointed out, the city has spent a total of $64,000 to speak directly with 41 people.

That expense does not even begin to account for wages associated with this series of expeditions — staff time devoted to planning, discussing and head nodding in the direction of the city manager.

The city of Grand Junction has a long history of demonstrating that throwing good money after bad can, in fact, be a policy, but it is only under the present administration that it has reached this level of obstinacy.

Perhaps it is that this management team was hatched after the peculiar case of the disappearing city manager — wherein former chief executive David Farley was spirited away under such unusual circumstances that I keep expecting to see a Dateline special on it — and the current team feels the need to have a big win to show its fitness to govern. While that question seems to have been answered, the current officials have managed to show persistence.

In a quick review of stories in The Daily Sentinel, I see one filed Oct. 6, 2009, titled “City takes push for public safety buildings to residents,” in which the city manager is quoted as saying “in this case were going to take a step backwards to take a look at the need ... more about answering questions than beginning to develop a plan.”

On Jan. 17 of this year we were greeted with the headline: “Council takes fresh start with public safety issues.” In it, the same city manager is quoted as saying, “We have to forget we had another campaign.” To that I might say, mission accomplished.

April 15 brought us this gem: “City begins listening tour with survey.” This was about a plan where the city was hiring Mesa State business department students to stand outside public places and ask questions about the city’s police station, 911 call center and fire department.

The topper I’ve saved for last comes from the city publishing department itself, in the form of the February 2010 city of Grand Junction newsletter. In it, the city manager writes a message titled “Tightening the Belt One More Notch” with a subheading “Doing more with less.”

Here’s just one suggestion for where one might do a little more by spending less to listen to 41 people: Try repairing some streets like Crosby Avenue for instance. This road is now heavily traveled between the downtown area and Wal-Mart and looks as though it has been used as a target range for mortar practice. If you listen, you can hear drivers’ heads hitting the roof of their cars as they bounce from obstruction to obstruction. That might be some listening worth doing and it’s free. Also, $64,000 might get it fixed.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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