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Don’t repeat the mistakes

The Town of Pagosa Springs is seeking volunteers for its Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission’s mission reads, “The commission serves as a liaison with town council and is charged with evaluating current recreation, open space and trails projects within the community. The commission is also expected to collaborate with town council regarding the research, promotion and development of new recreation initiatives.”

This commission has been part of the town’s flow chart for more than 20 years and, until the creation of a Reservoir Hill plan by the Town Tourism Committee, was the key element in the creation of parks and recreation infrastructure in town.

The fact the commission was largely pushed aside is one of the reasons the Town Council finds itself with a major problem looming: an April vote that, if passed, will send decisions on Hill amenities to the voters. The problem: the perceived failure of representative government, and how to remedy it.

The flow chart was circumvented when council gave the TTC leeway to expand its charge and create a plan for major development on the Hill. This is not uncommon these days in Pagosa Country, as a proliferation of committees and groups, appointed and private, develop “plans” and pose as community forces that will propel the area toward a bright future. The difficulty occurs when elected officials cede that role with little accountability and direction and direct public money to those groups.

Had council not allowed an end run, a commission that included town parks and rec officials and citizens with longstanding interest in parks projects would have assessed Reservoir Hill plans. Those plans would then have not broken into public consciousness with the force they did and would not have generated the alarm that ensued. The reality is that the town council has not given the go-ahead for actual development on the Hill, but its approval of the process that produced the plan has diverted attention from that fact.

In short, the council gave far too much rein to a process by not demanding plans advance on the traditional path. And, with the impending ballot issue, it all comes home to roost.

Now, the question concerns the competence of the council — something that should not come to a vote other than at a regular election of its members. Now, the voters are asked to take responsibility from council and engage in participatory democracy as concerns plans for the hill. We’ve seen the scorecard for participatory democracy and government by referendum, and it is not impressive. We have concerns if such a move succeeds in this case.

Two things seem obvious as an election approaches — both, we think worthy of consideration by council.

The first is the need to understand how procedural errors on the part of administration and council created the problem, and admit it. Show that a lesson has been learned; admonish those responsible for the mistake. Go back to the flow chart.

Second, under no circumstance should council use an ordinance to put a second issue on the ballot, countering the one in place because of a disagreement with ballot language. There is ample time for those for and against the issue to campaign and make cases to the voters in Pagosa Springs; another procedural move will not remedy the situation. It will confuse the point and, again, indicate weakness in leadership. And don’t think a proposed monthly meeting of town committees and commissions will succeed unless the flow chart is illuminated and enforced.

Effective leaders acknowledge errors and move to remedy problems; they do not repeat their mistakes.

Karl Isberg

This story was posted on January 31, 2013.