Who shall judge the politicians?
Ryan Summerlin August 15, 2013
Aside from that little matter of being wholly unelectable, I could not run for political office because of my job.
The thicket of conflicts is too dense for a journalist or a publisher. Fine with me. The window seat on local government in particular is close enough, believe me.
Bless those who take on this yoke, though. I irk people sometimes by holding the wrong opinions. Government, especially local government, messes with livelihoods and gets into our pocketbooks. That means our politicians can really piss people off. And that’s when they absolutely are doing just the right things, after lots of study, deliberation and the best of decision-making for the sake of the community at large.
Critics occasionally light into elected officials for allegedly putting their personal interests ahead of the public’s. As evidence, they link every private connection to an official’s actions, as if everyone acted with some simple, binary, quid pro quo motivation. We probably can thank Congress today for that.
But in our tiny communities, everyone is compromised by this standard. We’re all connected to institutions and people simply by living and working here. The people we elect, if we’re wise, have more connections than most so that they have more understanding — and we hope, wisdom — to draw upon when serving us.
It’s much the same with my line of work. The better connected to real life we are, the better we can report with some understanding of our community. But then we’re also, well, connected to the institutions and people we cover.
For a paper, it gets more interesting because our business runs through the conduit of connections we forge between potential customers and businesses dependent on reaching the audience we provide. Happily for us, that’s most of them.
I can’t think of another enterprise that has shooting itself in the foot on a regular basis as a crucial part of the model. We’re business partners and public critics at the same time. You can imagine how that might confuse advertisers that don’t understand the dichotomy or why it’s in their best interests to have a seemingly schizo “partner.”
Is there a line to walk? Of course.
Forgive the gushiness here, but we come to our coverage work with love for this community. We’re the friend who will tell you if there’s a booger hanging from your nose, or worse. But I believe that we have a responsibility to our community, and barking shrilly to sound tough at everything is even worse than flopping on your back and wagging your tail furiously out of reflex.
Our private interests actually serve to make us more responsible, and ultimately fair, in our criticisms and critical coverage. I imagine some of the institutions that we’ve, um, irked might take some issue with that comment. And I know we miss by barking too loudly sometimes and not enough at others. Generally, we’re trying to be that good, if occasionally maybe too blunt friend for our community.
I’m yammering on about our personal ties and human conflicts because that’s at the heart of Avon’s tempest over a couple of town councilman who some suspect have profited from approvals of plans to develop parts of town because they happened to own or work for a particular construction company that just happened to get work from those developers.
Of course, there’s a reason there are seven Town Council members. In part it’s to balance interests and viewpoints. This is a big reason why I was a big fan of Eagle County going to a home rule system that would have enabled the county to grow the Board of Commissioners from just three members to five, or more. I do like seven, having covered a few of these boards in the Midwest and East that have as many as 15 members. That’s too many.
The two Avon councilmen catching criticism and now an independent ethics investigation, Chris Evans and Todd Goulding, have a couple of other little burrs in addition to some eyebrow raising among their critics over Evans Chaffee Construction just happening to win work building the new Walgreens and Wyndham hotel. Neighbors of the giant Village at Avon development to be (maybe?) had asked the two to sign a pledge that they would not profit from approvals for that project, which the councilmen declined.
Both have moved, perhaps temporarily, out of Avon, and might well be bending the spirit of the town’s residency policies to remain on the council for a community they do not currently inhabit. But they had the full council and town attorney’s blessings for that. This wasn’t done in a vacuum. It also should be noted that Walgreens did not pass through the Town Council for approval, and so the councilmen were not directly involved in that one.
Both were at the heart of what I would say was an unseemly off-stage, and silly, move to get rid of the town manager then, Larry Brooks. That’s kind of a close call, as there at least was a modicum of official procedure to the matter, but the engineering of the move surprised their fellow council people at the time, and several of them saw this the same way.
Should they resign? I don’t know about that. I think they each might search their conscience deeper than they appear to have so far. It does seem they’ve toed up against the line in a couple of matters.
Whether they have crossed it, though, really is a question for the citizens of Avon.
Our readers make a decision to read the paper (including online) in part dealing with their level of trust in us to be straightforward in reporting the good, bad and occasionally the ugly regardless of the advertising investments on the business side of our enterprise, which are obvious in turning the pages.
Likewise, Avon’s voters have a responsibility to choose their elected representatives wisely, right?
Every politician in a small community, every power broker, all of us, have a slew of connections that can influence our decisions for good or ill. The best course for Evans and Goulding is making those plain, as they have from what I can tell, and understanding that the constituents will decide what kind of town they want through elections.
Short of any actual corruption laws being broken, which has not been alleged in Avon, the ultimate judgment rests exactly where it should.