Council moves into retreat mode
After a somewhat contentious election with tension evident even among sitting council members, the newest version of the Crested Butte Town Council is ready to retreat. Literally.
The council plans to hold a retreat to talk about communication within the council in general and specifically with the community concerning the potential molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons.
During the recent election, it was evident some people felt Mayor Aaron Huckstep was overstepping council boundaries with his talks with mine owner U.S. Energy. But he was reelected by a significant 60-40 margin.
Councilperson David Owen on Monday, November 18 submitted an idea to the council that would formalize future policy concerning talks and communication about the potential Mt. Emmons mine.
Owen’s 12-point proposal ranged from excluding any council representation on a negotiating team and instead leaving those duties to the town manager and town attorney, to making sure “key members of the community, including High Country Citizens’ Alliance, the Red Lady Coalition, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, Gunnison County,” have open lines of communication with any talks.
“I feel very strongly that U.S. Energy’s keeping HCCA away from the table divided the community,” Owen said. “The council is the leader in this community and we have a duty to try to bring it back together. I think we can move forward with a collaborative process to protect our watershed.”
“Is this policy really going to answer what is trying to be solved?” asked Councilperson Chris Ladoulis. “What are the unintended consequences? Is it specific to the mine?”
“I intended it to be specifically for the mine,” answered Owen. “It allows us to keep the community united in the protection of our watershed.”
“I disagree with some of your suggestions pretty strongly,” said councilperson Jim Schmidt. “We on the council are the elected representatives. This is a representative democracy. This is a political situation. It is very appropriate to have a council representative at the table.
“There are also a lot of ‘shalls’ in this,” he continued. “I think it could make everything a more cumbersome process. Frankly, I think coming out of this particular election, maybe we need to sit down at a retreat and talk about council communication in general, and this in particular.”
“The game has changed a bit in the last few weeks,” agreed Councilperson Roland Mason. “I think a conversation on this topic amongst the council is appropriate.”
“A lot of these suggestions already exist in our council handbook,” added Councilperson Glenn Michel. “I think a retreat to revisit and make clear what our expectations are from our peers is a good thing.”
“I feel our community is more divided than ever, probably since Snodgrass,” said Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz. “There were people with sharp pitchforks at the last meeting. I see this policy as keeping our partners at the table. We need our community to feel we are all one again.”
“The topic certainly deserves discussion,” said Huckstep. “I feel those pitchforks were pointed at my back. The notion of adopting a policy of some sort makes sense. A retreat makes sense. But we need to sit down with our town manager and set objectives for him. We need to focus on where he is pointed and where he spends his time. That should be part of the discussion.”
“Is having an elected official as a point person effective?” asked Owen. “We need to be thinking about what is effective.”
Citizen Susan Eskew wanted to make sure the policy discussion was held at a public meeting.
Jim Starr, a former county commissioner, said he felt the recent Voluntary Clean Up Project (VCUP) developments “presented a good opportunity for the community. I see the next two months as a critical time. If the VCUP is approved, we’re screwed. It may work but the problem is that it hasn’t been studied and the impacts in this valley aren’t known. The community as a whole needs to study it.”
“The council might be open to the VCUP process but it needs the facts,” emphasized Huckstep. “The council has always said any new concept like the VCUP needed independent technical review and openness with our partners and the community.”
“The VCUP on the surface looks like it could be a good thing,” added citizen Sue Navy. “But looking at it at any depth, it is obvious it has to happen differently from what is being proposed. The details aren’t as good as the concept.”
“I think we are all on the same page,” agreed Huckstep.
The councilmembers will look at their schedules and hope to set a date for a council retreat in early December.