Rift opens on new council
Typically a mundane formality, the swearing-in of four new Grand Junction councilors Monday morning revealed tensions on several fronts.
For starters, protestors who have publicly rallied against Rick Brainard stood and turned their backs as the man accused in two domestic violence charges against his girlfriend was sworn into office.
Earlier in the morning, Brainard had a plea deal and sentencing date set for his court case — 4 p.m. May 17.
Immediately following the swearing-in ceremony, three of the four new council members voted in Councilor Sam Susuras as mayor, and new Councilor Marty Chazen as mayor pro-tem.
New Councilor Harry Butler abstained from the mayoral vote because he wanted councilors Jim Doody and Bennett Boeschenstein to be present. The two were absent Monday because of prior commitments. Their requests to have the vote for mayor and board appointments on a day when they could attend were not honored, exposing a glimpse of the contentious fissure and alliance between Susuras and the three new councilors against Doody and Boeschenstein.
Illustrating yet another tiff, three of the four new councilors, Butler excepted, voted to reinstate the city’s $6,000-a-year funding for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. Councilors, at their last regular meeting Wednesday, with the majority made up of mostly outgoing councilors, slashed the long-standing funding, arguing the chamber had become too political.
Indeed, the chamber did not endorse any of the three incumbents who were voted out of office in the April 3 election. Two of the four new councilors, Phyllis Norris and Rick Brainard have close ties to the organization, serving as past board members.
“Clearly, the chamber represents hundreds of businesses and these businesses employ thousands of our citizens,” Chazen read in a statement during Monday’s meeting. “I view the chamber as a valuable resource and vital economic development ally. In my estimation, the support and research the chamber provides far outweighs the value of dues the city pays to the organization.”
The number of supporters for the four new councilors outnumbered the roughly 20 people who showed to protest Brainard taking office. As he was sworn in, those protestors stood silently with their backs to the new councilor. Some protestors said after the display they will continue to defy Brainard’s presence on council and will follow through with a recall effort. Councilors cannot be recalled from office until after serving 90 days in office.
“It amazes me that many people would support an abuser. That oath just cost the city $45,000,” Mare Charlesworth said of Brainard, citing the cost of holding another election.
Brainard said he didn’t see the protest, but he didn’t begrudge the protestors their right to free speech.
“The people who voted for me voted for my business acumen,” he said.
Brainard said he would rather have waited to vote for mayor until Doody and Boeschenstein could have been present. Yet on the other hand, the two councilors, like the rest of council, had the opportunity to be present Monday, he said.