VIDEO: City Council Discusses NRCDC Board Composition, Part Three

Read Part One

I’ve attended only a dozen or so City Council meetings since relocating to Salida last June, but I’ve noticed that Council decisions seem to fall into two categories: politically straight-forward, and politically awkward.

In today’s article, we will look primarily at one that fell into the awkward category… namely, the decision yesterday, Tuesday, March 5, by a majority of the Council to toss out the resolution placed before them and cobble together, and approve, a seemingly improvised series of motions concerning the composition of the Natural Resource Center Development Corporation (NRCDC) board.

When the smoke cleared, we were faced with a new and larger NRCDC… with considerably less City voter representation, percentage-wise.  The former NRCDC board had consisted of three City voters and one County resident.  The new board, as approved last night, will include just three City voters — Keith Baker, Tom Yerkey and Susan Dempsey Hughes — and four County residents — Tim Glenn, Ray Kitson, Jim Miller and Walt Harder.

The Council yesterday evening — mayor Don Stephens, and Council members Keith Baker, Tom Yerkey, Jim McCormick, Steve Stewart and Mike Bowers — had fairly breezed through several appointments to several City boards including the Recreation Advisory Board, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Appeals, with hardly a word of discussion.  All of those appointments were carefully noted in printed resolutions prepared for the Council.

Then we arrived at Agenda Item Number 9:  “Natural Resource Center Development Corporation Appointments.”

City administrator Dara MacDonald introduced the resolution that had been properly prepared for the Council, based on the criteria decided two weeks ago at the February 19 meeting.  That printed resolution (which you can download here) specified that at least four of the seven NRCDC board members must be City residents.  But it quickly became apparent that certain people currently in charge of decision-making at City Hall (which may or may not be the people that the voters elected to the City Council) couldn’t abide the idea of an NRCDC board dominated by City residents.  The people currently in charge, instead, wanted the option to appoint whomever they wished, regardless of the candidate’s place of residence.

Judging by the discussion last night, it appeared that the decision to toss out the “City-resident-majority” criteria, included in the printed resolution, had been made earlier Tuesday at an NRCDC board meeting — the first such NRCDC meeting that has been open to the public. I believe.  (I’m not sure how many members of the public realized that yesterday’s NRCDC meeting was open to the public?  I have been following this controversy rather closely, and I personally had no idea that I could have attended the NRCDC meeting.  Maybe I should read the Mountain Mail?  Notice of the meeting appeared in that newspaper on Tuesday morning, three hours prior to the meeting.)

Ms. MacDonald did not hint that a surprising new “non-City-resident majority” decision had already been made, as she introduced the prepared resolution to the Council.

“The Natural Resource Center Development Corporation did meet today, and adopted an amendment to their By-Laws that would allow up to seven seats on the board.  The resolution in front of the Council will also allow that.  The resolution does include provisions that at least two of the members of the board would be also sitting members of the City Council, and that at least four of those members would be residents of the City of Salida, and that they would serve staggered two-year terms.  Those are sort of the parameters that are in the resolution, for Council’s consideration.”

Mayor Don Stephens thanked Ms. MacDonald for that summary, and was quickly interrupted by City attorney Karl Hanlon.  This was one of numerous instances yesterday where mayor Stephens appeared to be doing his job as chair of the meeting but saw the conversation repeatedly redirected by attorney Hanlon with one “helpful suggestion” after another.

We might note that attorney Hanlon is also the legal counsel for the NRCDC board.  “If I may, Mr. Mayor, I might suggest that if you are going to take public comment, that you do that before you start deliberating which names will go in, just so that there is some ability for you guys to have that conversation after getting public input.”

“Did Council hear that?” the mayor asked.  Council member Tom Yerkey voiced a “yes.”

The mayor then addressed the audience.  “So, would anyone from the public like to speak?”

This was, of course, a totally disingenuous way of taking public comment, as I assume attorney Hanlon knew very well.  Normal parliamentary procedure — when one is actually desiring sensible public input — is for the Council to first clarify its intentions with a motion and a second to the motion, and then allow the public to respond to those intentions.

By suggesting that the mayor initiate “public comment” before the Council had made any indication that it fully intended to dispose of the printed resolution which had been released to the public — and vote on something quite different from what anyone had been shown — attorney Hanlon was essentially making “public comments” meaningless.

Which was very clever of him… but not very ethical.

Two members of the audience did take the opportunity to speak.  City resident Billy Carlisle, for one, praised the Council for weighting the representation on the board towards City residents, since “we’re the people with skin in the game, so to speak.”

Moments later, after the audience “input” had been concluded, Council member Keith Baker revealed that, quite to the contrary, it had already been decided that the representation of the NRCDC board was going to be weighted, not towards City representation, but towards County residents.  Mr. Baker told us that, unfortunately, City residents are reluctant to serve on City boards.

He continued.  “And another thing that happens on there is, certain people have abilities and expertise and knowledge that they bring to these boards, that is very useful to these boards.”

What Mr. Baker didn’t reference, however, was the usefulness of stacking the deck with people who basically agree with his Natural Resource Center vision.

Read Part Four…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson spent a pleasant 18 months living in downtown Salida, during which time he did his best to understand the inhabitants and their motivations. He then escaped back to Pagosa Springs to resume his work at PagosaDailyPost.com