Milestone meeting for atheists, council
Some stood, but more audience members chose to remain seated Wednesday during the first invocation by an atheist at a Grand Junction City Council meeting. No matter, the speech by Joe Alaimo was considered a landmark of sorts for the Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers, whose members applauded the remarks that centered on public service.
“Many believers and nonbelievers alike, dream of a day when the strength to take on the task of public service need not be found by bowing the head, closing the eyes and praying for it. We hope for a day when whomever chooses to serve can lift their head, open their eyes and with compassionate reason find strength in the hearts and hands of their brothers and sisters. On that day, perhaps today, we will have reached the greater goal,” Alaimo said during his roughly two-minute speech.
A couple years ago, after the atheist group brought the issue of prayer before meetings to the City Council, the board decided to change its policy to allow anyone regardless of faith an opportunity to speak before meetings. Those chosen to speak are picked on a lottery system, and Wednesday, the Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers group had its turn.
As with all meetings, audience members are advised by the mayor that they may sit, stand or leave the room as an invocation is given.
Alaimo said after the meeting that he spent some time crafting his words and wanted to focus on the role of a public servant and the idea of why there is a moment of silence or a prayer before conducting business.
“When you take a moment of silence, you’re looking for strength and focus of the task at hand,” he said. “That’s what it always should be. We don’t need to rely on the supernatural to figure this out. We can make our own answers.”
After some of Alaimo’s supporters filtered out of the chambers, the nearly-packed crowd that remained seemed to be pleased to hear council members questioning the city’s process and its justification for bidding on, and recommending itself, as the best candidate for a food and beverage contract.
A selection committee comprised of mostly city staff members, recommended that Two Rivers Convention Center, a city-owned entity, be awarded a new contract to operate Pinon Grill, a restaurant at the city-owned Tiara Rado Golf Course.
Council members, by a unanimous decision, struck down the recommendation for several reasons including vague estimates of costs for the city to employ further employees, philosophical questions of whether the city should be vying for work in the private sector and inquiries over the appropriateness of the bidding process.
Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich and Parks and Recreation Director Rob Schoeber said the contract with Steve Hoefer was up for renewal partly because of customer complaints and breaches in contract over missing financial statements.
Hoefer, who has operated the restaurant for past 14 years, shook his head vehemently in opposition to the remarks. He later said he has filed every month’s statements with the city and said he has never formally been told by any city staff of complaints or a breach of contract.
“It’s a surprise some of the things they’re saying,” he said, flustered after the meeting. “If there was a problem, I would expect them to make me aware of it.”
Council members directed staff to start the bidding process again, leaving Two Rivers out of the process.
A third bid was from Venema, a business owned by Ginny and J.T. Venema.
Council members approved by 5-2 vote to pay transportation fees of $106,140 for a new 60-unit apartment complex to be developed by Davidson Homes.
University Village project is slated for the area of 17th Street and Bookcliff Avenue; and developers requested the reduction because the project would bring jobs to the area and residents may be more prone to walking or using bicycles. Council members Gregg Palmer and Bill Pitts voted against waiving the fees because it sets an unrealistic precedent for other developments and that developers are a for-profit entity.
“I don’t think it’s the taxpayers responsibility to cash flow this development,” Council member Gregg Palmer said.