Times-Call Guest Opinion, printed Oct. 6, 2009: Deeds are Nothing for Council to Toot Horn About

Forgive me for shedding my rose-colored glasses. Somewhere between having children and paying a mortgage I seem to have misplaced them. You can call me what you will. “Old Guard”, pessimistic, a glass-half-empty sort. I’m actually a pragmatic realist who calls it like she sees it. I’m sorry if that isn’t civil to admit.

I’m afraid the recent guest opinion “Focus on what council has accomplished” has some glaring omissions and some gross misrepresentations of fact. First, I’ll address the majority of council’s (aka The Bloc’s) “accomplishments” as touted by the recent piece and then delve into some “accomplishments” that seem to have been forgotten.

  • Heralding a balanced budget as an accomplishment seems hollow as a balanced budget is required by law. If anyone deserves credit it is our City Staff, which has worked tirelessly trying to balance this budget as the bloc goes back and forth, hemming and hawing over making cuts or inventing fees (which is to say, levying taxes, but in such a manner that skirts a public vote). And frankly, furloughing city workers is probably not a selling-point to those workers. It certainly isn’t to me.
  • Taking credit for Circle Capital’s GE deal is either a gross misrepresentation of truth or a wholly naive understanding of business deals. Did the city offer tax breaks to GE that I am unaware of? I don’t think so, but if they did it was after they signed a lease with Circle Capital. I’m wondering what part of that deal they cut, or are they just taking credit for one of the few bright news items lately?
  • Attempting to take credit for an unfinished agreement with RTD on a deal that increasingly looks to be dying (Longmont’s FasTracks) isn’t exactly a fait accompli. And I think the whole town is pretty well-aware of the roadblocks erected by the bloc for Pannatoni’s mall redevelopment the past couple years.
  • The Shop Local Longmont campaign appears to be a dusted off version of a Chamber campaign from the 80’s. The real problem lies with claiming there are incentives involved. There are no incentives, it is an ad campaign that encourages local shopping. Which would be easier for all of us to do if they’d actually aided a mall redevelopment.
  • Dissolution of the Clover Basin Fire District Tax has not been finalized. Plus, it spreads the cost of the district to the whole city versus the homebuyers in the district who benefit from it and agreed to fund it when they chose to purchase there.

I will grant that some of the accomplishments listed have been attained. More parking spaces on Main. Undeniable. Increased recycling? Yep, good! Coffee with the public? Indeed! (Although whether they are actually considering input from attendees is open to interpretation. But hey, they are helping out local coffee shops on Saturdays, so that’s good.)

And now I am afraid it would be irresponsible not to mention some of the other verifiable “accomplishments” that are oft overlooked by their supporters:

  • Set a record for lawsuits accumulated. Three! Count ‘em, three, folks! Including one that is now a FEDERAL First Amendment case! It’s a hat trick, and I defy any other community’s council around here to boast such a feat.
  • An unprecedented raid of our streets and water funds to acquire open space that the open space fund can’t afford (maintenance fees to be worried about later, evidently).
  • $150k committed to study train noise. Here’s a tip: trains are noisy because they have government mandated safety horns. Saving that $150k on the study could have kept those furloughed workers working (a touted savings of $145k) with five grand to spare! Plus, I will not even charge a dime for that information: more savings!
  • Wasted around $14k on a rodent fence at the airport that was an immediate failure in protecting both aircraft and the federal grant money at stake for maintenance. Added bonus accomplishment? The new fence has increased danger to both aircraft and wildlife by acting as perches for large birds of prey!
  • Refused to fund LAVA in the way voters approved, instead deciding 25% of the money LAVA earned would be better spent in their general fund.
  • Ok’d some chickens in backyards.
  • Studied some traffic.

I respectfully submit the above clarifications to the citizens of Longmont to decide for themselves what the majority of council has accomplished.

A Failure To Communicate

What we’ve got here is failure to communicatefromCool Hand Luke(1967 Warner Bros).

I don’t talk much here about my day job (not at all yet) where communicating effectively can be the difference, literally, between life and death. I’ve been on both sides of that: from being the voice heard that saved a life or lives, or the last one to hear someone else’s voice on this mortal coil. That’s all that needs to be said about that, but know I’m not exaggerating. The importance of communication cannot be understated.

Where I may slightly differ from the general public is what I consider effective communication. In my case the message must be understood (and confirmed) or communication did not take place. For the rest of society, it’s not so dire. Effective communicating can just be making a good speech, or writing a good article with little to no concern in how it’s received or understood. For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about a two-way street. ( And yes, I know what “dialogue” is, just couldn’t slip in this “Cool Hand Luke” reference with it.)

I spoke at the 3/4/08 Longmont City Council meeting about campaign finance. Councilmember Brian Hansen, in the only comment or response to anything I’ve said, mischaracterized my comments. He said ” I know one person said something to the effect that we just are looking this after our latest election and that’s not actually true. We did look at this before that, and so we’re not trying to target anybody in that regard.” Either he has a bad memory or doesn’t listen well. Earlier when I spoke, and I said this clearly and looking right at council as it wasn’t part of my prepared remarks, ” I heard about this before the January election, about campaign finance.”

The other ironic thing is that on January 11th (which would also be before the special election) I sent all the councilmembers an email about campaign rules. To her credit, Karen Benker responded quickly to this email. Unfortunately, around the same time during a council meeting, she made the campaign rules personal against then candidate Gabe Santos. She paid the price for those comments by a lambasting by residents during the January 29th council meeting, and rightly so. How Mr. Hansen could forget that episode, which clearly showed people heard Ms. Benkers campaign finance opinions before the latest election, is beyond me.

As some of you may remember, I had a problem with a recent confusing vote for a board applicant. I wrote a very fair and friendly letter to Mr. Hansen, not an “open letter”, not sent to the Times-Call, not sent to all of the other council members, about his vote, or mis-vote, whichever the case may be. Considering we heard about how these new members would be so open and listening to their constituents, and that I made it clear in this letter I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, all I got back was silence. No, worse than silence, I got my comments twisted by my wards councilmember.

My previous ward’s councilmember, Doug Brown, who I didn’t always agree with on policy, never played this game with me or anyone I know who had dealings with him. I never expect a response when I write elected officials, it’s the main reason I do my “communicating” to them through websites and letters to the editor. At least Mr. Brown had the common decency to not misrepresent my words publicly, but also went the extra effort to call, email, or want to get together to discuss the issues. Perhaps he set the bar too high for any of his successors to live up to.

This behavior is very disappointing, and elected officials shouldn’t expect to enjoy endless benefit of the doubt. It has its limits. I asked for some inkling that there wasn’t this “bloc” mentality, and while silence alone may not have been enough to convince the true believers, what he did sealed the deal for me.

There is a ” bloc“, and they aren’t all great listeners. Deal with it.

Out Of Order

Something happened at the February 26, 2008 Longmont City Council meeting that so far has gone unreported, and is very troubling. A video of it can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeTDvIyK6WM

Let me set the stage, as the video alone may not explain it all. Late into the meeting around 10:30pm, the council was voting for members of various boards in the city. First, there was some discussion on the nominees, a motion, and a vote by a show of hands. When it was time for the Cable Trust Board, the eligibility of one of the nominees, Charlie Fellenbaum, was discussed followed by a motion by Councilmember Santos that Stephanie Baum be appointed to this board, followed by a second, then a call for a vote. Here’s where it got interesting.

Councilmembers Blue, Santos, Hansen, and Mayor Lange raised their hands, signaling a majority of council. Turn the volume up and you then hear Councilmember Benker saying ” NO“. As the camera changes angles, she’s clearly saying that towards Mr. Hansen, hand still in the air. Mayor Lange looks exasperated as he says ” Hey Karen?!” as she’s clearly out of order. Yet she just takes over the discussion, clearly angry over what just happened. She goes on to comment about Mr. Fellenbaum, who wasn’t the subject of the vote, and even claims he has ” more interest than the other candidate“! She ends her tantrum by throwing herself back towards her chair in disgust. Mayor Lange rightly points out that there was a motion, and a vote.

Hopefully most of you see what’s wrong here, but since I know some of you will defend some of these councilmembers no matter what, I guess I have to explain it. I don’t have my Roberts Rules of Order handy, but this was so blatantly out of line it’s not even funny. How often do you see councilmembers, during a vote, telling other councilmembers how to vote? Never for me. The Mayor is the chair of this committee, Karen Benker wasn’t recognized by the chair, the chair was making it clear with his words and body language that he was not thrilled with her behavior. Didn’t stop her though, did it?

So, was Brian Hansen expected to vote a certain way? It’s not inconceivable that he misheard Fellenbaum for Stephanie Baum. But what if he really meant to vote the way he did, who is Karen Benker to tell himNO“? I thought each member was independent? I haven’t harped on this ” Benker 4” or ” bloc of 4” since the election, figuring I’d evaluate each one separately. And some members of council have been making noise about the general public tearing into the new members. Do you want to know why? THIS is why. The point was just proven.

In a private letter to Brian Hansen, who is my ward’s councilmember, this is what I said about this so-called ‘bloc': ” The accusation and assumption (of a bloc) is a lack of independence by individual members, and a vote-by-committee agreement or arrangement. What transpired Tuesday night only reinforces that mindset.”

So what was reinforced? The opinion that, a) certain councilmembers pre-coordinate votes as a group, b) perhaps their nominee was a plant – who on council knows him? What were the circumstances of his nomination? I’ll leave it to someone else to connect the dots, and there are dots. c) Don’t cross the group or show independence without pre-coordinating that – or face the wrath, television cameras or not, and, d) parliamentary rules be damned, there’s an agenda to be pushed.

Personally, I’m getting pretty tired of councilmembers like Sean McCoy and his weekly insults (that now include the Times-Call and its TC-Line) and whining about citizens perceptions of the new council. Those perceptions now have some base in reality, as proven above. So please, tell me, with a straight face, that you don’t discuss as a group upcoming votes. That you think it’s alright to skirt the rules plenty of other councils have abided by. That it’s okay to tell other members how to vote during a meeting. This is a disgrace.

One thing I try to keep in mind, especially with my kids, is that it’s easy to remember the truth – there’s only one version of it. But when you are scheming behind the scenes, and there are a few people involved, it’s not as easy to keep your ducks in a row, now is it?

GUEST EDITORIAL: Rich Yale on City Council

From time to time I’ll run a letter submitted to me when the author asks that it be, or approves of it. I try to run things that are fairly unique and not rehashes of other peoples writings locally or nationally. This next letter fits that bill, whether you agree with it or not. I’m also a believer in “if someone has something better to say, and a better way of saying it, why copy or alter it?”

With that in mind…

Amoral opportunity on City Council exploited by 4 Continue reading…

Election Autopsy Pt. 2

This next part about the recent election has to do with who voted, and more importantly, who didn’t.

Roughly, half of the residents of Longmont are registered to vote, and roughly half of those actually did vote. About 17,000 people bothered to vote, that’s pretty sad. With a turnout that low, no one on either side can claim any mandate, message, or claim “the people spoke”. Barely anyone actually won by a majority (50.1% or higher). But, of those that did win in city council, the new majority comprises a different direction. Continue reading…

Fair Access For All

A local subject near and dear to my heart is access to local government, as written a few months back here, and in appearances before city council. My main beef was the reduction in access with restrictions put on speakers during “public invited to be heard”. So you’d think I’d be ecstatic about council member (currently running for Mayor) Karen Benker‘s comments in a story titled ” City needs to listen more” with quotes like “I think government hasn’t been listening like it should.” “Sometimes it’s a matter of respect, listening to folks…” Well, you’d be wrong. Here’s why.

I was somewhat a regular at city council meetings, not always speaking, but occasionally. If someone spoke to my issue in a coherent way, I didn’t bother getting up as to not waste anyone’s time. I made phone calls and sent emails, and while I always acknowledge that these people had lives outside of council, I was usually responded to with the same respect I showed them. Then things started to change, and while I had my suspicions why, I was never quite sure until recently when an unnamed source within the city verified my suspicions.

As I suspected in an earlier piece, it was our local cabal that floats from action to action that brought on the change in policy. They’d go on and on for an hour or so, repeating themselves, tying up meetings, and shutting the rest of us out of our access to our representatives. Sure, they’ll cry their ” freedom of speech“, but what about ours? Does theirs rate higher or something? I think not.

You pick the topic: Walmart, anti-growth, Walmart, Lifebridge Annexation, and of course, Walmart. And usually they’d be on the losing side come vote time, as would Ms. Benker. That’s no coincidence; this same group is backing Ms. Benker for Mayor, as well as candidates Levison, Hansen, and McCoy, the “block” of candidates sharing ad space you may have heard of. So what’s the answer to being on the losing side of votes? Shut down meetings with these tactics. Very democratic, not.

I’m not asking for less access or speech for anyone, just equal and reasonable access without some ulterior motive. Since it appears Ms. Benker is the undeclared leader of the above mentioned group (recently referred to as her “noisy supporters”), there’s no way I could ever consider voting for her or the others above if they share this twisted version of representative government.

Election’s Only The Beginning

There will be a special election in early 2008 in Longmont, we’re just not sure yet who or what will be on the ballot. If Roger Lange wins the Mayor seat, his ” at-large” seat goes up for grabs and Karen Benker remains the Ward 2 councilmember. This means more than likely the two candidates who didn’t win the “at-large” seat in November’s election will run for this seat. Not a bad deal, a second chance at winning a seat. So it’s possible that two candidates that go at each other very well could later be sitting next to each other in city council chambers.

On the other hand, if Karen Benker wins the Mayor seat, her Ward 2 seat needs to be filled by a special election. I don’t know if any of the at-large candidates actually live within Ward 2, but if they don’t, someone we don’t currently know of will have to hustle and get some signatures to run for it.

The other item is the Lifebridge Annexation question. The 10/17/07 Times-Call article may have left a few confused about what really happened in the most recent City Council meeting, hopefully as you read this or soon it will be a little more clear. They ” agreed” to put it to voters, but won’t actually ” vote” to put it on the ballot until October 23 or November 13. This may be just a small procedural issue, but if I’m reading past stories correctly about this, they may not necessarily vote YES to put it on the ballot. Then what happens?

I suspect they will vote to put it on the special election ballot, or expect pitchforks and torches at their doorstep. There always is the option of rescinding their earlier annexation vote and leaving it up the next council to handle it. On the surface this may seem a victory for the petition gatherers, as an election is not a sure winner. But in reality the new council may vote the same way, probably not 6-1, but 5-2 or 4-3 is very likely.

I’ll ask some of you to remove your rose colored glasses in your hoped-for election outcomes, and ponder this prediction. Here is the future (post special election) council: Lange (Mayor), Rawlins, Benker, Blue, Levison, and Santos. Ward 3 is too close to call, but even if McCoy wins, that’s not an anti-annexation friendly council. Of course this all changes if Benker becomes Mayor, but not by a lot. And it is just my prediction, which might not be worth the paper this is printed on.

Don’t be in a rush to cast that vote. Watch the candidate forum that is being played on Channel 3, visit the candidate’s websites and read their positions and platforms. Call or write them, see where they sit on issues important to you. Be suspicious of the ad pushing a ” block” of candidates, not saying you shouldn’t vote for them, but beware the ” package deal“. Unless you prefer someone else to do the thinking for you.