On Wednesday evening, Grand Junction's City Council sat down in front of a half-full public auditorium to choose the candidate who would occupy the vacant seat left by Councilmember Duncan McArthur for the two remaining years of his term.
The City Charter provides limited guidance as to how a vacancy is to be filled, saying only that "A vacancy in the council, from whatever cause arising, shall be filled by the council from among the electors of the district in which the vacancy occurs if a district councilmember, or at large if a councilmember at large, until the next general municipal election, when a successor shall be chosen for the unexpired term."
The charter does not elaborate on the process Council should follow to accomplish that, much less provide guidelines for breaking the very likely 3-3 splits that may occur. Consequently, the process for Wednesday's meeting was decided on an ad-hoc basis and left Council fumbling through it, frequently turning to the city attorney for advice.
If you read The Daily Sentinel's coverage of the meeting in Thursday's paper, you might believe that the Council found itself in deadlock and nobly resolved the impasse after a conciliatory appeal for compromise. In fact, the reality was much less harmonious.
The process began with each councilmember naming up to three candidates from the six applicants they wanted to see considered for nomination. One candidate was named by five councilmembers and two others were named by just three. Those three candidates became the slate from which nominations to the seat would be considered.
What unfolded from there was a resounding rejection of cooperation and compromise. Despite having one candidate who had made five of the six members' short list initially, a bloc of councilmembers dug their heels in for their preferred candidate, leading to almost an hour of deadlock. It was finally broken when one councilmember pressured the mayor to "compromise" and change his vote, and the mayor acquiesced and changed his vote to a candidate who had not even made his own short list.
Ironically, the person who made the final appeal for compromise was one of the three who offered none.
Council should never have reached the point of deadlock on Wednesday. The process began with one candidate emerging with the consensus of five councilmembers. The other two candidates who made it to the slate did not have consensus. At that point, the outcome should have been decided.
To call this a flaw in the system is putting it mildly. This confusion caused by a lack of a clear procedure led to a slate that included two candidates who did not meet the requirements to be on the slate. This allowed a strategy of uncompromising obstinance to land the Council in a series of stalemates over candidates who did not have consensus to start. And worse, it allowed strong-arming, not deliberation and negotiation, to eventually decide the outcome.
Regardless of who your preferred candidate was, and regardless of the outcome, your Council failed you on Wednesday night. Our civic process was hijacked by bully tactics and uncompromising attitudes. This Council was not ultimately guided by an earnest desire to set politics and ego aside to do right by our constituents, but by something much less principled.
What the half-full auditorium witnessed on Wednesday was a breakdown in the integrity of the Council. You elected us to serve a higher interest than our own. And on Wednesday evening, members of Council placed the interests of party and person high above the interest of community or cooperation.
The purpose of a city council is to serve only the interests of the city and the residents of it. I hope that we, as a body of elected officials with that shared mandate, can recommit ourselves to the values that should guide public service and hold ourselves to a higher standard for the benefit of the city we all love and have sworn to serve.
Anna Stout represents District C on the Grand Junction City Council. The views expressed in this column are her own and may not be shared by her fellow council members.