How it works on the council |

How it works on the council

Don Rogers

Serving on the Vail Town Council at once a high calling and no big deal. That seemed to be the sense of it among past and current members of the town body as they discussed service and town issues at the Savory Inn on Thursday evening.

About 30 people in all, even a “normal” citizen or two or three, took in the two-hour session about what candidates can expect if elected, another glimpse at issues that can at least seem complex although the real difficulty lies in priorities, and gaining a sense of history. Along with history, the realization isn’t far behind that as Councilman-back-when Merv Lapin wryly observed, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Some impressions gleaned from the session, which in this commentary go beyond what was said, and unsaid:

n Grow a thick skin. The geniuses with all the answers as candidates swiftly lose about a hundred IQ points and become nothing so much as targets for all the geniuses on the other side of the table. It’s an immutable law.

n You don’t know what the public is really thinking at a given time. The silent majority is indeed silent. Must be why they call them that. The constituents you’ll see up close and personal at council meetings are the ones whose particular ox has been gored. And the lobbiests.

n Study up. If you are going to be as effective as possible, count on about 30 hours a week of studying. For baseline competency, 20 hours a week in the beginning and 10 hours a week later should get you by.

n The “vision” thing is in vogue. Slogans on the wall and budgets projected five years out may not be enough. What are your grand goals and can you meld them with seven other council members who, like everyone else in town, have different pictures of what that vision should be?

n Ultimately, it’s all about relationships. The council members on some level have to be able to disagree with each other and still function as a team. There’s also a “wink, wink, see you at the bar afterward and we’ll talk this through” quality to smalltown council work. It’s as illegal as can be, though council people past and present swear by these sessions, as well as defend secret illegal meetings to choose the next mayor. But there is no “personnel” exemption in open meeting law for elected officials. The relationship these meetings breach is the very one they need most – with their constituents.

What’s the symbolic message of flouting the law as a council’s first act? The public has a right to attend these sessions if they wish. It’s their council and town when you get down to it.

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