A key aspect of productive political leadership is the creation of public confidence. In times like these, it holds particularly true: at the national level, we see how negative news affects the public (look at the ongoing economic crisis — consumer confidence, consumer spending, market fluctuations). It also holds true at the local level.
Take, for example, Archuleta County government and its problems with public trust. The going has been rocky for Archuleta County government; public confidence was destroyed by a dysfunctional county commission that blundered and battled through four embarrassing years. Then, the county financial crisis — which lingers and will do so for a few years.
Two new commissioners were elected, accompanied by big hopes on the parts of voters. The core of rebuilt confidence: transparency, with facts and processes clearly visible.
Unfortunately, the manner in which the new BoCC handled the planning commission situation, caused concern among many residents of the community. Last week, the inevitable: a letter to the editor stating, “ … the sudden and unannounced plan by the BoCC to unilaterally dissolve and restructure the planning commission in order to achieve these predetermined goals is reminiscent of the worst past actions of bygone Boards of County Commissioners, in that those boards were certain that their ‘means’ were justified by their own desired ends.” And, “… to have acted on (allegations) without ever having given the planning commission members an opportunity to respond was, at best, a politically clumsy and individually hurtful and humiliating move, and, at worst, yet another BoCC decision that was predetermined behind some closed door of which we, the public, have no knowledge.”
Critical language: “behind some closed door …”
And now, fuel for the fire. Suspicion of motives and means concerning a controversial decision is to be expected, but why does the BoCC do things that encourage such suspicion?
Case in point: The BoCC “Rolling Calendar,” which the commission posts as a public notice of upcoming activities. The calendar notes, “One or more County Commissioners may be in attendance at any or all of the following meetings or events.” In other words, these “may be” public meetings, subject to the law as regards notification, and subject to the spirit of the open meetings law regarding quality information being provided to citizens who are interested in attending the meetings.
The February calendar lists, as examples of the BoCC’s failure to meet the spirit of the law: “Commissioners Lunch Elkhorn Café,” “Commissioners Lunch The Rose.” A “commissioners” lunch implies more than one commissioner; if so, what is the agenda? How is a public meeting going to be held at a local restaurant, during the lunch hour? Seating provided? Time given for public comment?
Another calendar entry: “Meet with Wells Fargo.” About what? If two commissioners are there, it is a public meeting; where is the agenda? Yet another: “Conference call with Ellen Roberts.” About what? Where?
This is not an overreaction. Given that commissioners’ offices are adjacent to each other, we find it reasonable to assume two or more commissioners might get together to “talk.” It would be extreme to suggest they shouldn’t. But, meetings announced on a public notice? Without the information needed by engaged citizens? In locations not befitting a public meeting?
To be fair, on occasion the Town of Pagosa Springs is no better. Witness a notice of a joint town and county work session and its “agenda.” The agenda reads: “Discussion of items of mutual interest.”
There are people who care to know what those “items” are. It matters to them, and they base their attendance on knowledge of the “items.”
Please, stop undermining public confidence and remedy the situation. The public has the right to know what you are doing, when and why. And you need our trust. Karl Isberg