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Things are starting to change around here.
Since Pagosa Springs Mayor Don Volger took over the reins from former mayor Ross Aragon, each town council meeting now begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence.
In the last two months, town council members attended a briefing by town attorney Bob Cole, in which Cole emphasized the need for openness and transparency when dealing with the press and the public. During a recent retreat led by Ken Charles from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the idea of fostering better communications with the public was once again a major topic.
As a result, for the last two regular meetings, town clerk April Hessman has posted the agenda, including all of the supporting documents, on the town’s website under Government>Town Council> 2014 Meeting Packets. Previously, these documents have only been readily available to the press and the council members.
“I have to say this is a great idea,” councilor David Schanzenbaker said at the June 3 meeting. “This is a good way for us to engage the public in the process. Thank you, mayor.”
In addition to putting more information online, the town has taken steps to encourage citizens to come to meetings and speak up about issues that concern them by implementing a new policy regarding how the agenda is set for town meetings.
“We’re not going to put anything in writing right now,” Volger explained, “but we’ve talked together at the retreat we had last week, and we all agree that we want to make it easier for members of the public to get items on the agenda, and also for council members to get items on the agenda.”
In the past, Aragon, with advice from the town manger, had complete control over how the agenda was set. Volger explained that one way to get an item on the agenda would still be to contact either him or the town manager and ask. If for some reason the item could not be included, Volger promised to contact the petitioner and explain why.
Former town council member Mark Weiler handed out a copy of Resolution 2012-10 to each council member and then explained that, according to this document, anyone, either a town council member or a member of the audience, may come forward during the public comment portion of the meeting and request or petition for an item to be placed on the agenda for a future meeting.
Councilor Tracy Bunning cautioned it would be illegal to discuss an issue that wasn’t already on the current agenda, but council could vote to include something on a future agenda.
Several council members agreed that by bringing the matter up in a public meeting and having a public vote on whether or not to consider it for future discussion, the process of agenda setting would become more transparent and would engage the public in a more positive manner, thereby eliminating some of the frustrations of the past.
Audience member Jason Nichols was the first to test the new system by asking the council to consider putting an item on the agenda for the July 1 meeting.
Nichols has come before the council twice before during public comment time to complain about LPEA’s installation of smart meters on local residences.
When Volger asked what Nichols wanted the town to do, Nichols suggested it could institute a moratorium on smart meters. The mayor then agreed to put the item on the agenda for July 1.