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News in The SUN last week highlights a problem that has been growing for several years in Pagosa Springs.
Government by committee.
Last week, we learned the future of a proposed downtown restaurant development was handed over, in large part, to a volunteer Historic Preservation Board due to the fact the developer wished to purchase and demolish an “historic” building located on Lewis Street. The board agreed to the demolition, with conditions. Those conditions, and amendments, proved too much for the developer and he was gone.
Gone with him, a new high-end restaurant — a downtown development project that would have signaled a huge step forward for the vaunted Lewis Street zone and for the downtown area.
Also gone, the ability of the building’s elderly owner to sell the building and to obtain much-needed money at a critical juncture in her life.
What’s left? An eyesore with roof structure problems that, after several heavy winter storms, might collapse.
The town council, in its wisdom, failed to take control of a situation and expedite a valuable addition to the downtown area, allowing a group of unelected citizens, some of whom do not live in Pagosa Springs, to have a profound impact on downtown development and the local economy. A job well done by a council that trumpets its commitment to economic progress.
The other news item last week concerns the first meeting of the Friends of Reservoir Hill and a move to bring to election an issue that would require an affirmative vote of the people before proposed recreational amenities on the hill can become a reality.
The town council has not paid sufficient heed to a strong outcry against the proposed amenity package — most notably a chairlift, alpine slide and zip line. While one council member responded to criticism by claiming town government reflects a “republic” and not a “democracy,” and added that voters should remove elected officials if they are not satisfied with performance, the comment missed the fact that amending the Home Rule Charter does just that —effectively removing the council from the key part of the process. The reply to surprise on the part of any council member should be: “What did you expect to happen?”
In this case, as with the “historic” building, the problem began with the council giving an “all-comers” committee, the Town Tourism Committee, a tremendous number of taxpayer dollars and incredible latitude to use those dollars,with very little oversight. That committee, like the council, has paid scant attention to the outcry against its plan. Town administration has been deaf to complaints and, in at least one case, withheld from council a report critical of a key element of the development (the chairlift) until after a favorable vote on the plan by the council.
Economic development. Tourism promotion. Amenities and infrastructure.
These are functions of government, not for volunteer committees. These are activities for administrators and employees of town and county government to handle, with tax dollars budgeted for operation. Committees should not spend tax dollars, nor should committees have a part in a planning process other than to provide raw ideas and recommendations, or act as focus groups to examine projects. Government departments and personnel can be supervised and held immediately accountable by competent administrators and must be monitored on a regular schedule by those who hold the purse strings — the elected officials.
The notion of everyone being able to voice an opinion is one thing; turning over to committees the power to control development, make plans for a municipality and spend taxpayer dollars is another thing. The wrong thing.