Phantom candidates don’t deserve to win

To the good citizens of Cortez:

If you truly know what’s good for you, you’ll turn out in droves to vote against recalling the five members of the city council that a few disgruntled malcontents and developers are trying to get rid of – for reasons that are so lame these opponents can’t walk a convincing walk, let alone run for the would-be vacancies themselves. (And now that I’m a prizewinning columnist, I expect my opinions to be given the great weight they so obviously deserve.)

Beyond that, however, I served for four years on the council and so can speak with some authority about the travails of making decisions that affect the welfare of several thousand people. The process isn’t easy and the decisions aren’t always right, but those who make them mostly do so only after careful deliberation. I was sometimes on the losing end of votes concerning matters I cared about deeply, but never had any doubts that those who prevailed had any motive other than acting in what they perceived to be the best interests of their constituents.

I also covered city government for 10 years prior to that for the former Cortez Sentinel/Montezuma County Journal, plenty of time to understand how the system worked and to form opinions of how I might do things differently and whether the members were well-suited for governance. Some of the folks I came to know were downright visionary and were largely responsible for creating our beautiful park system, recreation center and snazzy library.

There were also a few I found to be, well, less than visionary. But I never came to a conclusion that any of the counselors were so dishonest or incompetent that they should be run out of office. They had been legitimately elected, or appointed to fill vacancies, and did nothing that would have merited their removal through means other than the next municipal election – certainly not by holding a special election that essentially asks voters to overturn their own recent judgments.

“Are you sure about the choices you made just a year ago? We’d like to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars to find out.”

Proponents of the recall effort make vague accusations that people who signed recall petitions were contacted and “intimidated” by the council members in question, but name no names and cite no concrete evidence. They also allege that fulfilling the requirements to run for the seats they want vacated involves such onerous paperwork and financial disclosure that those who were considering it decided to wait and try to get appointed rather than stand for election themselves.

What bushwa.

How does that strike you as far as advocating true representative government and open democracy? Let’s get on the board through this devious path rather than tell the public why we want to be on the council and what we would like to do if we were.

More likely the scarce supporters of the foundering recall were too afraid of the public humiliation and embarrassment of being soundly rejected themselves.

I consider the members up for recall to be able and competent. But the way local government functions, of course, makes them all dependent – sometimes too much so – on the recommendations of the city’s full-time staff and department heads. These staffers are also remarkably able for a town the size of Cortez. But this doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes have a lapse in judgment and advocate a course of action that, upon reflection, might have been done differently.

Perhaps the decision to essentially subsidize a very small (four-lot) development in return for direct access to Highway 145 falls into this category. Frankly, the issue is so complex, and has been made even cloudier by the somewhat hysterical accusations of the recall crowd (if a few hundred souls constitutes this designation), that I can’t say I understand it well enough to decide myself.

But, as a young pop singer annoyingly points out, “Everybody makes mistakes.”

If this decision was such a moment, well, that’s unfortunate, but if it’s the worst one made in the history of this city, we’re in really good shape. It’s certainly nothing that warrants a recall, which usually occurs in cases of flagrant corruption or wrongdoing.

And I have no problem continuing to pay our present council members a measly $400 a month to wrestle with more of the same until term limits (a foolish idea, by the way) remove them from office with little more than a handsome plaque and a taste of underappreciation in their mouths to show for their years of faithful service. Work that involves reading reams of often-tedious reports and requests such as applications for conditionaluse permits so someone can build an oversized shed, or making a minor change to an outdated provision of the city charter, or (as once really happened) whether to consider a cat-at-large ordinance, which was quickly shot down by the town’s cat-lovers.

So be sure to vote “no” on Tuesday and bring a neighbor to the polls – a small way to say thanks to those who actually serve, not just carp and whine.

David Grant Long lives in Cortez, Colo. He was on the city council from 2002 to 2006.

From David Long, May 2011.