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PI Editorial: Public deserves more explanation when elected officials buck staff recommendations

Post Independent Editorial Board

A decision by the Glenwood Springs City Council on a marijuana shop and a decision from Garfield County commissioners on a nonprofit organization might not have a lot in common at first glance.

But both of these decisions, while made separately from one another, are related in one way. In each case, the governing body of elected officials made their decision to deny both, despite recommendations by volunteer boards and professional staff, backed by independent consultants, to approve.

Why?



Glenwood Springs City Council voted June 3 to deny a special-use permit application for a retail marijuana dispensary at 2114 Grand Ave. on a 5-1 vote. The denial came despite a previous recommendation for approval from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and recommendation for approval by city staff.

Some on City Council said the use did not comply with the building’s location, but should we take this as an indictment of the previous work of the city’s paid professional staff who recommended approval or the hours of deliberation by the citizen volunteers of the Planning and Zoning commission? It should be noted that the lone council member to vote for approval, Shelley Kaup, pointed to these previous recommendations as a significant part of her reasoning.



As for the two Garfield County commissioners who voted to deny Ascendigo’s plans to build a camp in Missouri Heights — John Martin and Mike Samson — we can’t help but be left with similar questions. After all, some of the reasons cited for denial are incredibly suspect. How, for example, should we be expected to accept a commissioner’s assertion that the facility would not fit the definition of an educational facility when county staff and legal counsel determined otherwise? Perhaps even more valuable in explaining the educational nature of Ascendigo’s work with autistic children was testimony from staff of the Roaring Fork School District.

Saying a duck is a goose doesn’t make it true.

Frankly, we’re more bothered by the commissioners’ denial of Ascendigo — the value and improved quality of life the organization has brought to Garfield County residents and others from around our state and across the country should never have been in question. Despite assertions saying otherwise, it clearly was by some opponents of the project.

But both decisions worry us greatly when we consider the bigger picture of our community’s future. While not equal in their impact, the two denials illustrate a concerning trend in elected officials disregarding the advice of the paid professionals.

City and county taxpayers pay for those expert opinions, after all.

Now, we acknowledge both commissioners and council members are well within their powers on both votes. They do indeed get the final say. But we generate more and more uncertainty when our elected officials press their thumbs on the scales of development and growth.

If developers and nonprofits can’t approach projects with a clear understanding of what is expected of them, it’s only fair to expect we’ll see less and less development and growth as time goes on. We know that a portion of our community prefers it that way, but we’re skeptical that such a stymied approach to our future represents the broad consensus of all of us who live and work here.

Going against staff and advisory board recommendations should be the great exception, not the rule — and the people deserve explanations with depth and detail from our elected officials when they choose to do so.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Amy Connerton and Karl Oelke.


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