Local government decision-making: 
a circus dominated by sideshows

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.” — Jimmy Buffett

The jury may still be out on the chief Parrothead’s indecision. But verdicts are in on the decisiveness of our local governments. 

Latest to get an “F” in fulfilling responsibilities of their office are members of the District 51 Board of Education, who failed last Tuesday evening to reach consensus on filling the remaining four months of Harry Butler’s term.

(Sad, isn’t it, that the common denominator in the most recent examples of shaky governance is Butler, respected for applying his head and his heart but never allowing his personal politics to color his obligations as a city councilor and school board member?)

I hadn’t planned to attend the school board’s special meeting. We went shopping for a refrigerator for Bonnie and co-workers. When we delivered it to her office, the mass of vehicles around the Basil T. Knight Center indicated the evening’s proceedings were not yet complete.

Local government decision-making these days is a lot like NBA basketball: No need to pay attention until the last few minutes. So in we went, curious about the eventual outcome. 

Pat Kanda’s nomination had been moved and seconded by Ann Tisue and Jeff Leany with a 2-2 vote resulting in a deadlock, as did their support for Art Gardner. John Williams had been nominated by Leslie Kiesler but there was no second. 

In my experience on local governing bodies, seconding a motion was often an expected courtesy, allowing continued discussion and a definitive vote, but not necessarily indicating support.

But courtesy and common sense shouldn’t be expected when one member’s contribution to resolving the deadlock was a snarky, “Who are you going to appoint?” to the board president. Or when the most basic of meeting rules have to be explained publicly to members with a nearly two years of experience.

Kudos to Greg Mikolai for grace under fire. He patiently explained that meeting procedures didn’t allow him to make or second a motion. Faced with Jeff Leany’s taunt, he urged additional discussion to resolve the deadlock.

He sought consideration of other applicants, offering his possible support for a third candidate, Rick Langley, whom Leany had earlier offered unsuccessfully. But the clear intent of one board faction is to make any appointment an issue in Mikolai’s upcoming re-election campaign.

Even a motion by Kiesler to acknowledge that the board was deadlocked died for lack of a second.  Tisue and Leany wouldn’t even formalize the obvious.

The school board is only one example of the depths to which some of our local governments have sunk.

New county commissioners at least went public when backing the previous board’s attempt, without informing their own constituents, to renege on a partnership agreement with the city and county regarding funding for the Orchard Mesa pool. Public pressure forced them to reverse that.

Then there’s the ongoing Keystone Kops scenario over filling two vacant City Council seats, as well as the new council’s reversal of a previous Avalon Theatre funding decision and its subsequent reversal of that reversal.

Newly-elected councilors and Councilor Sam Susuras couldn’t wait to rub in their victory, ignoring long-standing protocol and scheduling a special meeting immediately after being sworn in to elect a new mayor and mayor pro tem. 

There’s the spectacle of Jim Doody, a master of backroom deals, stomping out of one meeting and later refusing to participate in selecting Butler’s replacement, leaving his constituents unrepresented. Doody and Bennett Boeschenstein, seeing no disconnect between advocating adherence to a City Charter provision they thought required a four-person majority, also argued (along with this newspaper) to ignore the charter provision requiring appointments rather than an election.

A former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Ron Strahle, once described the Legislature as “a circus dominated by its sideshows.” That disappointing description certainly applies to recent decision-making by the county commissioners, the school board and the Grand Junction City Council.

Perhaps, as the little girl in the Values.com television spot says, “Someone needs a timeout.”

“All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these everything is based.” — Henry Clay

 

Jim Spehar worries about what’s next in this continuing circus. Comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


COMMENTS

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Leany should go back to making biscuits and gravy.  At least he won’t embarrass himself that way.

Right on Jim!  I find it laughable that Leany calls Mr. Williams too liberal while his radical approach to introduce Glenn Beck into a ” new” history curriculum would rate as what?  Thank goodness Mr. Mikolai made a very good choice for this community and District 51.

Calling this a circus is apt. It is a three ring circus, the best kind for watching, with the City Council in one ring, the County Commissioners, in a second, and the School Board in the third, with the Chamber of Commerce as the ringmaster. Unfortunately watching circus acts doesn’t do the hard work of governing, and I am worried for my community. The best act I’ve seen so far is the appointment of John Williams. He has been doing all the things we would hope a school board member would do. Will someone pass the popcorn?

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