On giving ‘the business’ to 
the Grand Junction City Council

The clock is ticking.

Mail ballots for the Grand Junction City Council election arrive this week. Some of us may find ours in our mailboxes today. 

It’ll be an interesting election for a couple of reasons.

First, we’ll see voters’ reaction to the occasional tendency of a majority of the current council to shoot themselves in both feet. Examples abound.

They include the highly controversial decision to give three times the requested amount for the Avalon Theatre renovation project. With the local economy just barely showing signs of recovery, with another request to extend voter permission to keep revenues collected above limits of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights under discussion, you’d think the unsurprising political backlash over using reserves to allocate $3 million instead of the requested $1 million might have been obvious.

Then there’s the TABOR question itself, Measure B on the ballot. It’s still another demonstration of the alacrity with which council members have squandered the goodwill that resulted in seven out of 10 city voters OK’ing the unprecedented bond issue that financed the Riverside Parkway and then, a few years later, voters also saying “Yes” to a request to retain excess revenues to clear that debt early.

Instead of remembering that simple ballot issues, limited in scope and timing and clearly defined, are necessary in a fiscally conservative community, post-Parkway councils first over-reached with the public safety initiative and now put forth, a full two years before repayment of the Parkway bonds, an open-ended proposal with a laundry list of potential projects, none of them guaranteed.

The not-surprising desire of some to “throw the bums out” and get some new ones is, at least in this case, somewhat unfortunate. Two of the incumbents, Laura Luke and Tom Kenyon, question those decisions but could lose their positions.

But the likely front runners to replace them also carry worrisome baggage. 

The strikingly similar big blue signs we’re seeing around town were the first clue. The unsurprising Chamber of Commerce endorsements were the second. 

Pretty obvious, isn’t it, that there’s a chamber slate of candidates gunning to take over city decision-making? It includes a former chamber president (Phyllis Norris), a current board member (Rick Brainard), a self-described “numbers guy” (Martin Chafetz) and a pro-development consultant (Duncan McArthur). All want to bring “a business perspective” to the council.

I worry because the chamber’s politics in recent years have deviated from a longtime attitude that “what’s good for the community is good for business” to “what’s good for business is good for the community.”  That’s more than a subtle semantic difference.

A case in point is the recent chamber position against higher fees approved by the council for transportation improvements necessitated by new development. No evidence was presented that Mesa County’s fee waivers have increased development outside city limits. No matter that developers will only pay slightly higher shares of already subsidized costs, with taxpayers billed for the rest.

Could four new council members with an avowed business bent, joined by incumbent Sam Susuras, end up measuring city issues with a similarly narrow yardstick, perhaps to the detriment of most Grand Junction residents?

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking,” Gen. George S. Patton once said.

On a sign posted prominently in a well-known local business, another former military leader, Gen. Colin Powell, offered this warning:

“Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.”

In the real world, government isn’t and can’t be a business. It doesn’t get to target “customers” but instead must serve all of us. Data and numbers are necessary tools, but the revered “bottom line” involves more than dollars and cents. Service, not profit, is the goal.

There are no endorsements intended in this column. I’ll leave that to the chamber, The Daily Sentinel and others.  I’ll just observe that, while we’re never governed perfectly, we are always governed best when represented by varied community perspectives.

Jim Spehar offers his observations as a business owner, a former City Council member and mayor. Readers’ thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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