Don't blame the businesses
It would be easy to be mad at the business owners who successfully derailed the Streetscape ballot initiative last week, if bringing the $2.7 million question to the voters is what you feel you have been deprived of.
On the other hand, if you are one of the scores of Ridgway businesses who have opposed this effort from the beginning, or even just recently, you're satisfied with the outcome of last week's council vote to shelve the project.
But if you're upset at the businesses for doing what they thought was necessary at the eleventh hour, you shouldn't be. If they were wrong, their efforts wouldn't have worked. If their methods seemed overt and heavy-handed, perhaps that's what the situation as they saw it called for.
Instead, if you're upset at the last-minute process that seemingly didn't involve you, don't blame the business people for not inviting you to the party. Quite frankly, that's not their responsibility.
It is the responsibility of the Town to properly notify the citizens of any public meeting. You could say, with an eleventh-hour decision looming to table a five-year project culminating in possible voter approval of a $2.7 million project (over $4 million after interest is paid), it was a duty and responsibility for the Town to do all it could to notify its citizenry of an emergency meeting.
Instead, the Town posted a notice on a board inside Town Hall at 7:15 p.m., giving a 15-minute margin of clearance for a lawful 24-hour posting of a public meeting.
The catch? Town Hall is locked at 5:00 p.m. and doesn't open until the morning. When the doors opened at Town Hall last Wednesday, only 12 hours remained before this crucial meeting. At nearly 1:00 p.m., the Plaindealer received an email from the Town Clerk alerting us to the meeting. At that point, all we could do was attend.
Others, however, weren't afforded that opportunity, unless they knew to walk to Town Hall on that day and look at the board. The businesses spoke. The opposition was heard. The ballot initiative was removed.
The Plaindealer objected to the meeting being held after it was called to order. We were told that it had been properly noticed, albeit behind locked doors for 12 of the 24 hours. We dropped our pursuit and began taking notes.
We did ask an attorney for the Colorado Press Association about the legitimacy of a 24-hour notice, with 12 of it being inaccessible. The attorney agreed that an argument can be made that the 24-hour rule was not met in this circumstance because the Town Hall was closed for 12 of those hours. However, the failure to provide 24-hour access to the notice misses only the underlying spirit of the statute that provides at least a full day to plan to attend an upcoming meeting, not the letter of the law.
The meeting arguably qualified as an emergency. The objections of the business community should not, however, have taken council members by surprise. And the fact that businesses in town rose up at the last minute to do what they felt was necessary to protect their businesses is a reasonable response on their parts, given the price tag and the state of the economy.
It's a tough sell to say the economy is on the rebound. The country's July jobs numbers were revised downward by 58,000 to a meager total improvement of 104,000 jobs created. August jobs rose 169,000, nearly 20,000 below the 12-month average. Everyone hears the unemployment number dropped to 7.3 percent, but that "good news" neglects the fact that workforce participation is at its lowest since 1978. Fewer workers actively looking for a job means a lower unemployment rate.
During the meeting, local business owners told how they have slashed rents and started picking up the tab for utilities and such just to keep renters. Few had stories of growth. All had tales of survival and grit.
But don’t blame them if last week’s discussion included only themselves and our reporter. It wasn’t their choice to leave the general public out of the discussion. In fact, it wasn’t their responsibility to invite anyone else.
That responsibility rested with the Town when it chose to post a 24-hour notice on a board at Town Hall—not exactly a traffic crossroads—behind lock and key for half that time.
Alan Todd is publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at 970-325-2838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.