Whack-a-mole at Rio Grande
August 2, 2006
I stopped by city hall this week to look at the plans for the controversial new recycling center at Rio Grande Park.My gut reaction was immediate and strong: “Huh? What’s all the fuss about?”My outrage threshold is pretty low. I’m ready to get upset about darn near anything – but the architectural drawings posted outside the door of the city’s environmental health office just didn’t stir my blood.I’m not saying it’s a brilliant design (what do I know?) – but it’s certainly going to be a lot better looking than a cluster of dumpsters surrounded by random piles of trash.It’s so innocuous that it makes me wonder why there’s been so much fuss. Why are people flocking to sign petitions that would force a city-wide vote on this little project?I think it’s a symptom of a larger problem.People feel the city is out of control. Problems are popping up all over and in this game of municipal Whack-a-mole the city council’s motto is “Don’t just do something! Stand there!”Example: Aspen’s choking on traffic jams every morning and afternoon. Is the city doing anything?Well, back in February, Mayor Klanderud said “I think [traffic] is the biggest issue the city faces this year.” That was good.And since then? We got a bus-lane on Main Street. Did that help? We’ve got Jeffrey Evans stirring up trouble with another one of his poison-pill ballot initiatives. Is that likely to help?And I believe the city is re-studying the study of an earlier study. Now we’re rolling.Example: Aspen’s awash in construction. It’s noisy and it’s dirty and sometimes it feels as if the town’s disappearing under the onslaught of new development. So, the city council imposed a six-month moratorium (even though the mayor voted against it). That was good. And now the six months are half gone and what exactly has been accomplished? A handful of meetings. Yay!Example: Someone cut the tops off a stand of cottonwood trees in the middle of town (I know, I know, you’re sick of this story) – and somehow the city just couldn’t find out who did it. I believe the police have closed the case.Example: A police officer used a “Taser” electro-shock gun on a homeless woman who was sitting down at the time. The police chief launched an “investigation.” After several weeks of silence, the city manager suddenly announced that he had stepped in and fired the police officer.Let me take a moment on this one: I thought the Taser incident was pretty bad. The cop seemed out of line. But for the city manager to fire the cop himself is a sign that something’s seriously awry.Police officers report to the chief of police. The chief reports to the city manager. If an officer needs to be fired, the chief is the one who does it. If an officer needs to be fired and the chief refuses to do it, then the city manager may need to fire the chief. That’s the way things are supposed to work.In fact, in this case, the police chief said he didn’t think the officer should have been fired. Personally, I don’t know the answer to that – but I do know that the chief and the city manager should have resolved their differences before any action was taken.And if that resolution meant the officer didn’t get fired or the police chief did get fired, well, so be it.OK. I’ve wandered a long way – from recycling trash to firing the police chief. But my point is this: The city administration seems to have lost its way and it has lost the people’s confidence in the process.From big issues to smaller ones, the city doesn’t have a clue.People are desperate to get a grip on something, anything. Blocking the recycling center may not be much, but it’ll have to do.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.