April 2011

Recall deserves to fail

In a 1984 fast-food ad, Clara Peller famously asked, “Where’s the beef?” She was talking about a hamburger, but the same could be asked about the proposed recall of five members of the Cortez City Council.

The recall was launched last summer by several citizens and has managed to garner enough signatures to justify a special election coming up on Tuesday, May 3.

On their web site, the recall’s backers cite a litany of complaints against the council so lengthy it would be worthy of King George III. But upon close examination, most of the complaints prove to be trivial, distorted, or completely erroneous. In other words, there isn’t much meat to them.

For instance:

  • The council allegedly endorses “city staff getting massages and working out at the Rec center on city time.” In fact, the city doesn’t let employees work out or get massages on city time. They do it on their own time at lunch or on other breaks. The city encourages this in the interest of improving employees’ health; it does allow them an extra 10 minutes to shower before returning to work.
  • The council charges outrageous fees for open-records requests – e.g., $25 for a DVD of a council meeting. That may seem steep, but it’s comparable to what the county charges, and no one has raised a ruckus about that.
  • The board refused to allow citizens to vote on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. That’s true a lot of local governments didn’t let citizens decide the medical-marijuana question. Instead, they made the decision themselves, figuring that as elected representatives of the people, that was their job. The Montezuma County commissioners likewise did not put medical marijuana to a vote of the people – and were praised for being courageous enough to decide for themselves.

The beefiest complaint against the council involves the controversial Flaugh- Clark subdivision. This is a small, fourlot subdivision east of Brandon’s Gate on the north edge of the city. The final plat was approved in August 2010 over the objections of a number of concerned citizens, some of whom then launched the recall.

The controversy lies in the fact that the city is going to spend about $325,000 to build streets and utilities to the private subdivision when such costs are ordinarily the responsibility of the developer. City officials say this is necessary because of special circumstances. They want to extend a road called Tucker Lane as an access to the large Brandon’s Gate subdivision, and to do so they would have to cross the Flaugh-Clark subdivision. Rather than just condemn a landowner’s property there, the city opted to negotiate with the owner to pay for property to extend Tucker. That access route was chosen partly because it conforms with the city’s 1999 master street plan, which showed Tucker as a possible thoroughfare to Highway 145.

Also, the contract with the landowners was negotiated by a previous city manager and public-works director and approved by a previous council, and current councilors said they felt bound to honor the existing contract.

The Flaugh-Clark issue is complex, and you could certainly argue either side of it. In fact, two of the councilors included in the recall attempt – Matt Keefauver and Donna Foster – voted against funding the extension of Tucker when it was proposed in 2008 but wound up voting for the subdivision’s final plat in 2010.

We can understand that some folks disagree with the Tucker Lane extension and city funding of improvements for this private subdivision, but one controversial decision does not justify a recall, and beyond that, there isn’t anything substantive to the complaints against the council.

In fact, it’s unclear why these five councilors – Keefauver, Foster, Betty Swank, Dan Porter and Robert Rime – were targeted. The proponents of the recall state on their web site that their action “was started as a direct result of the city council using our tax dollars to create another ‘road to nowhere’.”

Yet the two final votes taken regarding the measure on Aug. 24 were decided by majorities of 4-3 and 6-1, not 5-2. So why pick these five particular folks?

In court, when someone is being charged with an offense, the burden of proof is on the accusers to make their case. The same should be true of the recall – and the accusers haven’t made a clear and convincing case. Furthermore, they have been unnecessarily coy and secretive about who helped fund their campaign, and so far just one replacement candidate has been officially put forth in the event that the recall succeeds.

What voters should “recall” when they go to the polls May 3 is these council members’ dedication to improving the city and their willingness to continue serving despite a barrage of sinister innuendoes and half-truths.