photo by Lydia Stern

CB councilmen not really helping themselves

To be honest, I originally wrote an editorial for this issue that touched on the Dalai Lama, LeBron James and Gilbert Gottfried. It was not kind to the Crested Butte town council, a group that seems to want to wallow in marathon meetings and over-talk an issue into oblivion—oops, there I go again. I need to remember the Dalai Lama’s advice to practice kindness and compassion even though Monday night at about hour four of the six-hour meeting I threw the Dalai Lama out the window.

Let me touch on the council in the context of community or team. Community is strong here in this small town and valley. Communities remain strong through bonding, good communication and support. A crack or two always shows up in the general community, but if handled correctly, the cracks can be repaired and the general community made stronger.

The CB council is one of the more high profile teams in the broader community. The individuals on the team are solid. New guys, old guys, business owners, blue collars. Family guys, single fellas and retirees are represented. But the individuals don’t always morph into a good team.

At the highest level, a good council will focus on the general philosophy of legislation and direction for a community. It will then work with town staff to accomplish goals that come from a thoughtful, respectful, efficient discussion.

Too often, this council sets a tone of scattered panic, passive-aggressive decision making by non-decision, and a tendency to revisit details and re-plow the plowed ground of an already decided issue. This council has an ability to confound the town staff and the public. There is often a puffed up sense of the council’s importance that results in a lot of talk but not that much walk—other than Whatever USA and support for the county’s Anthracite Place project.
Granted, part of the reason is simple relationship chemistry. A lack of solid trust between council members keeps good chemistry at bay—and the strain between the council and the town staff is starting to cause cracks.

The town staff might shoulder some blame as they have bitten off some giant topics in a short period and seem to put off what appear to be some easy requests by the council. But they have been clear they are short staffed and they have been direct that if the council wants new priorities, the council needs to decide which current projects to put on hold. The council tends to look at them, nod and then put another piece of food on their already too-crowded plate. Communication between staff and council appears inefficient as do clear boundaries about roles. I put some of that on town management. But ultimately, the buck stops at the council.

It is not easy to sit on the council. I have done it. It didn’t take long to learn that you will make friends and enemies mad with every decision. But if this council wants to accomplish anything, they can’t be afraid to make people mad.

Here’s part of the rub and an example of a lack of long-term thoughtfulness and efficiency. A year ago, articles and editorials urged the council to start talking about a housing shortage. Karl Fulmer talked about resort trends with housing and how a hot real estate market would squeeze local housing. The page 2 editorial of June 27, 2014 encouraged the town to begin a real conversation on how to address the growing housing crunch, stating, “There is no easy solution. But the conversation needs to start now…”

It didn’t. But now housing is the crisis de jour after the council got bashed on Facebook for not magically fixing the situation. The council has spent hours talking about the issue over the last three or four meetings. In those discussions, these solid individuals spent significant time pondering things like whether to pay a temporary worker $12 or $15 an hour. They ignored the staff recommendation and debated whether the worker should be hired for six months or four weeks to conduct a survey of accessory dwelling units in town.

On top of this, the staff says they have the accessory dwelling information but individual council members don’t trust it. Some have suggested going all Big Brother and using the power of the government to impose their will on owners of the accessory dwellings to comply to their wishes.

In response to the council’s seven ping-pong balls on a wood floor in an earthquake frenzy, staff organized a good community housing meeting and began collaborative efforts to move real projects forward—but it was never fast enough for the council, so they didn’t buy in. For example, staff requests for a new regional needs assessment survey were turned down. Instead, a contract to install infrastructure for deed restricted housing was almost taken to the brink because the council suddenly wanted to look at density issues. That would have delayed the entire project but they talk about it still like they can change the engineering with a magic wand. They also failed to respond at all Monday to a staff suggestion to relax in-town camping rules on private property, instead ping-ponging into other topics. Weird.

Okay, let me try a few constructive suggestions instead of just a rant: The staff has made it abundantly clear it is short staffed. Giving the okay for a temporary $12/hour employee will not relieve that.

Why not seek out and hire a solid community outreach person who could take a little off the manager’s plate, a little off the planner’s plate, a little off the council’s plate? Town is growing and getting busier and bigger. There is plenty of money to hire a good person. Hire someone who will relieve some of the building steam and help move the town ahead.

Listen to each other instead of talking over each other. Seven alpha males making the same point a dozen times won’t convince everyone on the council to change his mind. Every discussion should flow toward a decision, not a non-decision. Make it clear to the staff what it is you want to accomplish and let them do it. If they don’t, give them consequences but don’t spend hours micromanaging their jobs.

Council is supposed to be there to set a positive tone and a clear direction for the broader community. That is not being done.

Community functions best when the lead council functions smoothly. That is not happening. That makes me sad for the Town and a little concerned for the whole community.

—Mark Reaman

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