Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
Aspen, CO, Colorado
It seems as if the past year just ended with a remarkable spate of people in power flicking their hands and telling the little people (that’s us, folks), “Go away, children. Don’t bother us. Shoo!”
I am thinking, specifically, of three instances in which elected officials made it clear that residents really should just shut up and leave them alone.
It happened in Basalt – which was surprising and disappointing.
It happened in Garfield Country – which was less surprising but still mighty annoying.
And then it happened with Colorado Mountain College – which just flat outraged me.
Basalt came first, with the uproar over the suspension and resignation of the chief of police.
I’m sure we’ve all heard at least enough – if not entirely too much – about that little spat. But still: The chief was first suspended (for reasons we were never told) and then resigned (for reasons fated to remain murky) and then was handed a generous settlement check (for reasons that were apparently none of our damn business).
So a major public figure was kicked out the door for what might or might not have been wrong-doing, and he was handed a not-insignificant pile of public money along the way.
It was all hidden from view as “personnel matters.”
And the public was told to run along and leave the business of government to the “professionals.”
I expected a lot better of the people who run Basalt.
Then, next up, was the decision by the Garfield County commissioners to approve a trash-collection center on the road between Catherine Store and downtown Carbondale.
Now perhaps a regional trash-collection and -sorting center really is exactly what that little rural road needs.
Right now, all that road really has going for it is the town rodeo grounds, plus occasional grazing for a few hundred head of cattle: both reminders of the Old West that has been neatly destroyed by hordes of newcomers (like me and most of you too).
So maybe trash hauling really is the future of that quiet stretch of road.
But one thing was certain: Everyone who lived there – or anywhere near there – thought it was a really terrible idea.
Time and again, crowds of local residents turned out to argue against the trash center. Local governments went on record against it. Even the local school district said it was a bad idea.
And the Garfield County commissioners – those upstanding guardians of free enterprise and profit and the public be damned – pretended to listen, pretended to care … and then voted unanimously to approve the project.
In doing so, they simply rejected any claims that a trash facility could possibly hurt property values in the area. What, after all, could be nicer than living with a parade of semitrucks trundling along your charming, rural two-lane road?
Who wouldn’t jump at a chance to buy property there?
“Sounds good to us!” cried the commissioners. “Approved!”
And the outraged public was told, once again, to run along and leave the business of government to the “professionals.”
And then, finally, as the year wound to a close, the trustees of Colorado Mountain College – as if they couldn’t bear to be left out of the public snub-athon – got rid of the college president in a process neatly shrouded from public view.
The president officially resigned by a letter sent to the trustees. The resignation was accepted in a telephone conference call during which the soon-to-be-ex-president said nothing except to acknowledge that he was listening. Eloquent.
Afterwards, the head of the board of trustees praised the rapidly fleeing president’s “focus on the future, his innovative thinking and his tireless enthusiasm for what is best for students.”
Sounds like a great college president, doesn’t it? What could be better?
Apparently, something. The head trustee then added that the resignation was “all about fit more than anything else.”
So the guy was forward-looking, innovative and wildly enthusiastic about the students, … but he just didn’t “fit.”
All well and good and who cares, except for the matter of his severance pay.
Somehow, the trustees managed to slip the man $500,000 on his way out the door.
That was no small amount and, according to a story in this newspaper, roughly three times as much as he was entitled to.
And why was he given that delightful golden goodbye kiss?
I guess we’ll never know, because of a “confidentiality clause in the separation agreement.”
The trustees’ position, in short: He was absolutely brilliant, but we kicked his butt out the door for reasons you’ll never know, and we paid him way more than he was entitled to, again, for reasons you’ll never know – and you’ll never know because we agreed never to tell.
Now then, run along, little children.
Well, I guess it’s none of our business, is it?
Unless you’ve ever looked at your property tax bill.
I am a big proponent of education. And I think Colorado Mountain College is undoubtedly a grand organization.
But I also know that it takes a mighty big bite out of my wallet every year. I pay more property tax to CMC than almost any other operation.
I don’t begrudge them that money; but I do begrudge them handing out half a million bucks to someone who wasn’t entitled to nearly that much – and then telling me to go away when I wonder why that happened.
As I said, put it all together, and it seems as if the year ended with a gleeful kiss-off from our “public servants,” who sang a song of good cheer:
“God rest you merry gentlemen/Shut up and go away/We run the show, we call the shots/And you just have to to pay.”
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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