Aspen snarled in CIMBAD
Ignoring the big picture of good government seems to be an Aspen political tradition decades strong, as review of city history should support.
Our past City Councils have given city staff a long leash, so long in fact the roles of those who should lead and those who should follow have been reversed. That is to say, the city’s management staff have now taken the role of directing the council.
“Tourist” is the moniker given to a council member by some city staff. Council directives seem as merely small course deviations for the city’s bureaucratic prime directive: to acquire more staff under management and more management control over the taxpayer and public.
After decades of City Council neglect of defining and monitoring duties, direction and philosophy of management for city staff, the city’s bureaucracy has embraced a method of control absent from most municipalities. We call this method of control, “Circles of Mutual Benefit and Defense” (CIMBAD).
An example of CIMBAD is as follows:
Take an ordinance of the Aspen municipal code, usually complex, convoluted, overly detailed, filled with ambiguities and contradictions, and put it at the center. Surrounding the center is the first circle of defense, a protective perimeter barring any change or alternate interpretation of the code.
Members of this inner circle of defense are: the city manager, city attorney, department heads and staff, all united in solidarity of purpose, where truth may have no place. The municipal code is the baby of the city’s bureaucracy and no one is going to touch their baby.
Outside this inner circle is another circle, complimentary and concentric to the inner circle. This outside concentric circle defends the municipal code indirectly through negotiation and mediation, so giving members of both circles the illusion of credibility, purpose and justification.
The outer circle is comprised of lawyers, architects and ex-city planners. The outer circle’s reinforcement and endorsement of the inner circle is rewarded by city staff acquiescing and recommending mediation to the City Council, but the code is rarely changed.
The financial best interests for all members of both circles is met by refraining from simplifying, streamlining or loosening the reins of excessive control mandated by the municipal code. It’s one cozy, mutually beneficial relationship.
Additionally, any cronyism, nepotism, entitlements or bribes which may exist between members of the concentric circles will further galvanize their solidarity. The only power capable of penetrating the inner circle’s defenses to align the code with common sense is the City Council, which historically has lacked the initiative or the resolve to do so.
Two standout examples of CIMBAD in Aspen are: the HPC and the Aspen Parks Department. With such a tacit understanding between resident consultants, committees and city staff, with Aspen’s blatant undercurrent of perniciousness to the property and business owner, the proverbial losers will always be the taxpayer, the public and, ironically, the city of Aspen (by the resultant loss of market share).
Scott and Caroline McDonald
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