City Council is elected to listen: Consultants are not necessary

Just what exactly are we supposed to make of this statement by Grand Junction City Councilman Bill Pitts? He had this to say about the city’s expenditure of more than $40,000 to “listen” to what people have to say about new police and fire facilities:  “You have to pay for information.”

Excuse me? You do?

With all due respect to the good councilman and his like-minded colleagues at City Hall: No, you don’t.

Some of us — maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it — are beginning to wonder whether city officialdom really wants to build new facilities for its police force, which is currently housed in a crumbling, tiny, inadequate structure that should have seen the business end of a wrecking ball years, if not decades, ago.

But every time city officials have a chance to do something to rectify the sorry situation, all they do is shoot themselves in the foot. Their poor feet are pretty mangled.

The latest assault on the good graces of the residents of western Colorado’s largest city was the revelation that the city spent $41,000 — most of it in consultant fees to a very capable advertising and research firm — to decipher what residents told them in a “listening tour.”

Let’s do the calculus. Forty-one people showed up to be “listened” to. That means the city spent about $1,000 per participant. Hmmm. Seems like a big number to me.

Look, I don’t begrudge the city spending that kind of money on anything. It’s not going to bankrupt the city. Not even in these difficult times when the city, like every other person and business, is struggling through a tough economy.

What the brain trust at City Hall doesn’t get, though, is that there are people out there who see dumb moves like that as yet another reason to not support anything the City Council might put before the voters.

Giving the city the benefit of every doubt, let’s assume all 41 of those people were opposed to any kind of new public safety spending, and they all walked away from those meetings convinced otherwise. So now the city has 41 new converts. But how many people will see that the city needlessly spent $41,000 and, because of that, decide to not support new police facilities?

I know, the question can’t be answered. But I bet the number would be much larger than 41.

Most people know that the city has already heard an earful about why the public safety initiative of 18 months ago failed. It failed for five broad reasons. None of them has anything to do with the need for new facilities. Just in case they weren’t “listening” then, here’s why voters said no:

✔ It was a tax increase.

✔ The city tried to tie it with a proposal to do away with constitutionally mandated spending restraints.

✔ It was poorly written, to the point that a lot of people didn’t understand it.

✔ The project was too ambitious and laden with too many luxuries.

✔ The economy went in the tank.

Those were the reasons in 2008 before the election. They were the reasons after the election and they are the reasons now. Sorry Mr. Pitts, but you don’t have to pay for that information. If you think you do, please see me about the proverbial real estate in Florida.

I’ve always thought that “listening” is one of the things we elect public officials to do. In fact, I don’t think they do anything more important than that. Surely we are not to the point where they have to hire consultants to tell them what they just heard. Are we?

One would think so, given the defense city officials mounted last week to justify the cost of the chats they had with 41 people.

Unfortunately for the police and firemen in particular, and the residents of Grand Junction in general, that defensiveness does nothing but dig the hole deeper.

What’s baffling is that this is a talented and capable bunch of people. It seems, though, that when it comes to the public- safety-facilities problem this city’s facing, they have on blinders. So take them off and get serious about real leadership.

Start by coming clean. Defend the “listening tour” if you must. I suppose it was a good public-relations move. But it wasn’t epiphanic. Don’t try to defend the money you spent on it. Every time you do it just costs you more support. It’s time to admit the error.

Surely you don’t want to be known as The Fifth and Rood Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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