Two weeks versus two years: Lessons from school of hard knocks

Back in 2003, three continuing members of the Grand Junction City Council were joined by four newcomers for a retreat in Ridgway. It was a weekend discussion that would color their relationships for the next several years.

As is always the case in that sort of transition, much of the discussion was about unfinished business. But it wasn’t so much a discussion as a forceful push by city staff and the three veterans, including yours truly, to continue down the path set by the previous council. That shortsighted approach, rather than allowing some time for the new members to become educated about those issues, set the tenor for a sometimes bumpy future for that council.

It also put an exclamation point on one important, but little discussed, fact of life for city council members, county commissioners, state and national legislators:

You don’t get to choose your co-workers. Your employers, those who elected you, choose them for you with the expectation you’ll all play well together. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t work so well. We’ve seen both sides of that coin in our own local governments.

I’m not certain, in the aftermath of that retreat in Ridgway, that particular council ever really got over the hard push by the three veteran members to continue existing efforts regarding changes in economic development policies and other important matters without first seeking or considering the feelings of newly elected members.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about as I’ve followed discussions about replacing Bonnie Beckstein, who resigned from the Grand Junction City Council with two years left on her term just as two new council members were elected and one appointed incumbent won his first full term. Replacing Beckstein will create a council with three new members, three veteran elected members and a seventh who now has his own mandate from voters rather than just a majority of the council.

There’ll be plenty of tricky times ahead. That’s why the decision on who fills Beckstein’s seat ought to be left to the newly comprised council and made after May 3, rather than be made hastily next week by the lame-duck group.

There are several important arguments for some patience in making this decision.

I’m unaware of any pressing major decisions that would argue for a quick decision. The city’s budget is surviving trying times and the latest sales tax collections bring some hope our economic corner might have been turned. Ground has been broken on a new police and fire complex, the last residual decision by the current council that generated controversy.

It’s also important, I believe, to allow Bennett Boechenstein and Jim Doody the rare opportunity to participate in the decision about someone they’ll be joined at the hip with for at least the next two years, perhaps longer, as a new council charts the course for Grand Junction. And, to avoid leaving as one lesser legacy of Gregg Palmer and Bruce Hill — who were two of those new council members at that retreat back in 2003 — the appearance that they’re continuing to steer after they’ve stepped away from behind the wheel.

Perhaps most importantly, delaying this decision until a new council is seated allows time for a couple of important steps. One is some space for those who might be interested in serving to thoughtfully consider applying for the position. The other is allowing some time for public input regarding the candidates once their intentions are known. It’s worth noting that, just a week short of the current decision timetable, we don’t know yet who might even be interested.

There’s no doubt the expiring terms of a couple of council members are driving an aggressive decision timetable.  But, in this case, patience would indeed be a virtue.

Speaking of playing well together, how about those folks in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Did any of us, however we might have voted last November, really expect we’d choose a bunch content to lurch from week to week of indecision regarding the budget for the current fiscal year, much less for the next one?

Perhaps if leaders of both parties spent as much time actually working on budget concerns as they do in front of the cameras repeating their ideological points, there’d be a quicker resolution of spending issues.

Jim Spehar’s time in local and state government colors his thinking about public matters.  Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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