Transparency, please

A move last week by two members of the Board of County Commissioners has some residents of Pagosa Country up in arms, and some residents cheering. That move: the vote to earmark $400,000 toward the ultimate construction of a multi-use building at a site next to the fairgrounds.

The building, say proponents of the project, would function as an indoor riding arena and as a site available for a variety of other uses — not the least of which would be annual fair activities now conducted under rented tents, and functions and festivals such as the Fiber Festival, the annual builders show, and numerous 4-H activities and events.

There are some who object to the earmarking of the funds, convinced there are other, more important projects that demand the allocation of the money. Some of the objectors point out that Ballot Issue 1A monies that are part of the earmarked funds can, legally, be spent on other things — most particularly road maintenance and improvement. Granted, the BoCC sold the Ballot Issue 1A proposition promising allocation of the tax monies in several areas, one of them roads, but there is nothing that says they can’t change their minds. Also, with economic tides uncertain the next four to eight years, stashing cash might be the best possible move for the BoCC.

Other objectors point to recreation projects higher on priority lists developed via surveys and by committees. Survey results do not list the building, and no one in favor of the project showed up to make a point when data was being collected.

Then, there are those who believe the building should be constructed, and constructed soon — creating an amenity that not only serves needs, but acts as one more signal of the community’s desirability.

There are, however, other aspects of the BoCC action that need attention, regardless of one’s opinion of the project and decision.

First, while realizing that earmarked funds are not funds spent, we wonder if it is wise for a board less than a month away from change to encumber a BoCC including two new members with a commitment of this sort and size. That commission can, of course, undo the commitment, but why should the new members spend their time on this issue when the plate is full. This county is hardly out of dark financial woods and there are important considerations at hand without the worry of this one.

Of more concern, however, is the manner in which last week’s decision was made.

A check of the agenda for the BoCC meeting shows an item listed under the heading of Old Business. That item is “Current status of the Arena project.”

Colorado Open Meetings law requires an agenda be posted in a timely manner and to be “full.” No doubt counsel can find a way to excuse what to some of us is an insult to the law so, the question at this point must be posed in terms of ethics — in light of the critical need for transparency in government.

“ Current status of the Arena project” in no way indicates a vote will be taken. As a result, no members of the general public were at the meeting to provide comment on this specific issue. Indeed, members of the county’s own PROST Task Force were not aware a vote on this issue would take place.

This is not right.

The business of government must be fully noticed, it must be completely transparent. Extravagant use of executive session by a number of local elected boards has been a sore spot, for some time now we must weigh the use of vague, uninformative agenda items to conceal the intent of elected officials. We cannot help but wonder how deliberate this obfuscation was.

In a situation such as the one we have faced in county government for several years now, this move is inexcusable and we hope it is not a portent of things to come.

Karl Isberg