Brainard’s chamber challenge cost him dearly
With time left on the clock before a petition to recall him could be completed, Grand Junction City Councilor Rick Brainard abruptly resigned Monday. The selection of his successor will be a defining moment in the city’s political history.
Brainard was one of the original “chambermades” selected by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and was elected with financial support from its new 501(c)(4) charitable organization. Along with Councilors Marty Chazen, Sam Susuras and Phyllis Norris, Brainard made a majority on the council who had presumed allegiance to the chamber.
Like the chamber itself, these partisan council members are meant to serve the chamber members, rather than the community. As Chamber President Dianne Schwenke said, “We aren’t here to be responsible to the community at large so much as we are to be responsible to our members.”
The chamber resisted pressure to withdraw its support from Brainard when he pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse. Despite widespread opposition, especially among women, Brainard took his place on the council with the chamber’s support.
With its comfortable majority on City Council, the chamber was poised to impose its will on the city. Despite the decision of the previous council to fund the Avalon renovation project, the chamber depended on its “chambermades” to stop the project.
But Brainard had other ideas. Being what he called a “free thinker,” Brainard decided to investigate the plan to defund the Avalon for himself. “He was conscientiously working to learn the issues,” Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said.
Later, Brainard voted to continue funding for the Avalon restoration and for Las Colonias park, raising the ire of his sponsers at the chamber. He may have also gained some support from former critics, but that is speculative.
The movement led by women to recall Brainard was growing rapidly, but he gave it little credibility. “You are welcome” (to your opinion), he told them in an email letter to the city manager. “But be perfectly clear on this, my stepping away has NOTHING to do with you.”
Even allowing some leeway for exaggeration, this is a strong statement from the one person who knows what his motivation is.
The reason Brainard gave for his resignation is unreasonable pressure from his colleagues. “I would get phone calls all week prior to a vote,” he told The Daily Sentinel, from councilors who wanted to know how he planned to vote on certain issues. “I’m kind of a wild card. I rarely told them where I stood. I’m a person who sits and listens to the issues.”
Brainard complained he got critical notes about his votes, “written in anger,” with “underlining and exclamation points” from Chazen.
“And I certainly did not sign up expecting to have a father figure that feels the need to talk down to me because he somehow has the idea that I need his assistance,” Brainard said of Susuras.
In the telling, these may seem like trivial episodes, but the stakes were high. In the most controversial of his votes, Brainard defied pressure from Susuras and Chazen and voted to fund the Avalon restoration project and Las Colonias park. His vote also marked the end of Brainard’s short and troubled political career. Even if he could have survived the likely recall vote, his power base in the chamber is gone.
For the rest of us, the fall of Brainard should be a warning against allowing the chamber, or any other private organization, to introduce factionalism into city business. There is a good reason our city elections are nonpartisan. Neither should they divide along economic special-interest lines.