Snowmass Election Q&A: Candidates talk council openness
October 14, 2014
Six candidates are running for Snowmass elected office this year — three for mayor and three for two open seats on Town Council. The Snowmass Sun is posing a different question to them every week leading up to the election, which is Nov. 4.
This week's question: The council took criticism for dissension and a lack of transparency on the issue of hiring a new town manager this year. What will you do to help facilitate constructive dialogue among council members and with the public?
Four different scenarios create dissension, and the perception of lack of transparency:
1. Executive sessions sole purpose is seek legal advice from the Town Attorney on issues of personnel matters and/or negotiations between the Town Attorney and parties, such as potential land acquisitions, potential legal concerns of our Town.
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2. Discussions/negotiations held "outside" of Council chambers that are substantial amongst more than one Council member.
3. One council person demanding a work product of Town Staff without the majority of Council consenting to the work to be performed.
4. Comments made in Council chambers by Council members to the public, an applicant or Town staff with a tone of intimidation creating the feelings of disrespect and mistrust.
If elected Mayor, the plan to increase constructive dialogue amongst Council members and public:
1. All Council members will attend a session conducted by (Colorado Municipal League) on Ethics, Liability & Best Practices for Effective Councils, and then develop a "pledge" to the community on "how" we will conduct ourselves at Council meetings, and in the community.
2. To the extent possible, have the Town Attorney provide a brief summary of Executive Sessions to the public.
3. Host open public sessions similar to Town Council work sessions on specific matters of concern to the public.
Council dissension, debate and disagreement are often signs of a healthy representative government reflecting the diverse opinions held within a community. Constructive public dialogue requires a commitment to a collaborative, consensus-based decision making process that invites all sides to be heard, and ensures the thoughtful and respectful consideration of those opinions or positions with which we disagree.
I have a long track record, through my work at CORE and in local government, of facilitating constructive public dialogue and building consensus among diverse groups and individuals. As Mayor, I will provide the leadership to establish an organizational culture committed to a collaborative public process, and a high standard of transparency, responsiveness, and procedural accountability. I believe these are essential to building public trust and inspiring confidence in our elected leaders, and are the foundations of good governance and effective leadership.
I believe that the public's business should be done in the public view. From my previous 10 years on council, I realize that sometimes this is a difficult idea to follow, but follow it we must. I would make sure that executive sessions of council are limited to only those which are absolutely necessary and which strictly conform to the "Sunshine" laws. Executive sessions should be the exception, not the norm. As mayor, one of my first priorities would be to ask Council to approve a special council meeting (retreat) to dialogue, in public, between council members and appropriate staff, concerning the legal and ethical requirements of a councilperson and when, where and how to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Facilitating constructive dialogue between council members who don't like, respect or perhaps even hate each other is a more difficult, but not insurmountable problem. In my opinion, the mayor is supposed to provide leadership of the council. I would reinstitute the institution of "beer 30" after each council meeting. I am of the opinion that people who get to know each other informally, will find common ground to respect each other's views and will find common ground upon which to work together for the public good.
There are only two positions of the Town's Organization in which the council members have any involvement of employment. These are the Town Manager and the Town Attorney. We did not take these responsibilities lightly. We had a number of meetings in Executive Session to try to see if there was any ability to reach consensus. After seeing the same outcome after each meeting, it was decided by the majority of council to bring the discussions out of the Executive Session process and to let the community see the issues first hand. It was not pretty and it was difficult to go through for the council and the community together but I felt it was necessary to be as transparent as possible with the community. We need to, and I will always strive for civil dialog and respect between all parties, whether we are in the council room, grocery store or talking with anyone from friends/family, staff, applicants and consultants. We all want and deserve these basic needs. The council needs to make certain to always keep this in mind as we conduct ourselves and the town's business. As long as I'm involved in the town's political process this will be a major factor for the future conversations we will have.
The hiring of a town manager was the main issue that got me motivated to run for a position on town council. I became deeply concerned that the political process in Snowmass was broken, so I have decided to run for a seat on the council with the goal of bringing a team building spirit to the process. In the end, I believe we got the right man for the job, but the process was painful for the community. Clint was the recommended choice by an advisory group but a majority of the council members did not want to make a change. Personally I like Gary and I believe he has done great things for our village, but he quickly became a lightning rod that polarized our council and our community. It was an unfortunate situation that I feel could have been avoided if the council had acted initially on the recommendations of those involved in the search process. I believe Clint brings Snowmass Village a new perspective and a willingness to move our town forward and I would like to work with Clint to provide our village with a fresh point of view.
In order for a committee such as the Town Council to effectively work together, the members must have a mutual respect for one another and the community. That's what's been lacking from our present Council.
During the last six years the Planning Commissioners have had differences of opinion on issues also, most recently with the Marketing Group Sales request for a blanket Temporary Use Permit for events on the Base Village lawn. Some members felt the Town Code was being modified by the request. As Chairman, it was my responsibility to recognize the issue and facilitate its resolution. Through open and civil discussion where each member was shown respect to explain their position, the Commissioners came to a mutually agreeable consensus that will work well for Snowmass.
As a member of the Town Council, I will strive to immediately get to know my fellow Council members and learn their visions for Snowmass Village, combining them with my own vision. That way I can anticipate areas of disagreement and work with my colleagues and constituents to find the right solutions. I will maintain full transparency and open communication with the public by listening to residents and guests and meeting periodically with business and local service groups letting them know what's going on and what I plan to do.
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