Mulhall column: A lunch with Sumner
Municipal election season is upon us — yard signs have begun to sprout. You can almost tell the ward boundaries by the shift in signs.
In Glenwood City Council elections, you get two votes: one for the candidate running for the ward you live in, and a second for an at-large candidate.
So as a resident of Ward 2, it came as a bit of a surprise when, after my last column titled, “Thoughts on growth,” Ward 3 City Council candidate Sumner Schachter texted me and asked if I’d be interested in sharing my thoughts on Glenwood’s future.
“Sure” I texted back, and about a week later we did indeed discuss numerous Glenwood-centric topics over a couple Grind burgers.
Though, for my lunch host it may not have been a valuable exercise — nearly anyone who knows me will attest I’m a better writer than speaker — I thought about Glenwood’s future and went to lunch prepared to make a few key points, and I must admit at the outset that Sumner did not agree with some of my views.
He did, however, listen.
My first point was that Grand Avenue’s vehicular traffic horse left the barn even before the Grand Avenue bridge project finished.
The Grand Avenue bridge project cemented Grand Avenue’s principal function as a state highway. The geographical constraints of this valley leave no realistic alternative solutions for through traffic. Hence, state kighway traffic volume — and speed — will forever more define Grand Avenue.
Placing blame is unhelpful. It’s no more CDOT’s fault than it is past city councils’ for staring into a dusty coffer and kicking the bypass can down the road (much the way the south bridge can gets kicked down the road). The new bridge is here, and so is a state highway main street.
Second, Glenwood is a clear example of Jeffersonian democracy gone awry.
Where Jeffersonian democracy stresses leadership by those of greatest ability chosen by the people, local governments, as well as state and federal government for that matter, tend to be driven to a significant extent by unelected administrators.
City Council members are to one degree or another titular authorities, even though they cast deciding votes. Council are mostly informed by a cadre of city administrators and employees, some of whom have worked through multiple Council regimes.
Think of it this way: How do you effectively assume a role on City Council without relying on those who can provide a broader context — a necessary continuity between one Council and the next? On whose information do you rely?
Victorious incumbents? Appointed Planning and Zoning volunteers? Folks who work in city government?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Like it or not, the views of the unelected wag the citizen leaders chosen by voters. Maybe it wasn’t intended to be this way, but it is.
To be fair, Glenwood is not unique in this. Municipalities generally operate under these conditions.
Which brings me to a third point: Glenwood City Council used to be characterized by one or two members grounded in enough common sense to keep a steady focus on core municipal matters.
Road and park maintenance, clean municipal water and wildfire mitigation storage, public safety, and waste management top the list in my mind. Yet we often see the nose of local government extend into socio-economic affairs, like affordable housing, just to name one.
In the last election, Glenwood passed a ballot measure imbuing local government with the responsibility of solving the “affordable housing crisis” after rescinding council approval of a citizen landowner’s effort to do the same.
I contend Glenwood will end up with a carbon copy of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority — something equally detestable, or worse. On this point, Sumner disagreed.
On balance we shared a cordial, enjoyable discussion, and I for one would do it again if asked. Civil discourse can yield mutual respect and good will, even over disagreement, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what happened at lunch that day.
Perhaps the biggest take-away for me, and maybe some of you, is that there is a candidate who will eagerly solicit the views of a citizen — even a citizen who can’t cast a vote his way.
Judging by the candidate yard signs I see driving through town, it appears Sumner’s making a favorable impression on many.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father, and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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