The right mix for Vail’s rec board
It seems fair to say there’s a bit of smoke in the race for the Vail Recreation District’s board of directors, with eight candidates competing for three seats. Consider the choices:
n Three challengers pooling campaign resources and critics say an undue fixation on golf and the Vail Golf Course.
n Three more challengers on their own, one or two perhaps unprepared for the heat in this contest.
The accusations back and forth among candidates, supporters and rivals are rich, more befitting a bruising campaign for Congress or the presidency than a recreation board. Consider:
n The district is going to hell in a handbasket, entering financial crisis from having saddled itself with debt from bonds for fixing up the Dobson to the tune of $3.6 million, with annual debt payments of $275,000 or so.
n The district is financially healthy, enjoys a good credit rating and is more than able to meet its new obligation to pay off the bonds for the next 20 years.
The district made cuts to pay for the Dobson. No, the district made those cuts in light of Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks and the recession. The golf course subsidizes other recreational programs; no, it all goes back to the golf course.
Charge and counter charge. The same numbers teased, that is to say, interpreted, to better fit the rhetoric from one candidacy to the next. What did you expect? It’s election season for hotly contested seats. This is Vail, at its best and worst at the same time. You can safely bet that the accusations flying in every direction are exaggerated.
The “golf coalition” actually has a wider interest in the recreation district than just golf, though it’s obvious the subject is a passion for each of these candidates.
The infamous after-the-fact “bill” for the Dobson repairs is more complicated than critics have presented. The town asked for it, thinking they might help with some of the costs. Then the district went too far, raising the question of communication with the town as the recreation district let the Dobson snowball from a million-dollar ice repair into $3.6 million or so worth of renovations.
An irony is that future Vail residents and taxpayers will be glad the recreation board acted with this “spontaneity.”
But who should earn your vote? The good news is that none of the candidates is incapable. Every one of them is bright, caring and we believe would bring his or her best effort to board duty, which requires no shortage of commitment.
The “coalition” candidates have the advantage of advertising together and running the most assertive campaign. The incumbents have an edge by having held the office, an advantage cannot be underestimated.
The individual challengers, well, they may be surprised at a mere recreation board taking on the trappings of “politics.” But in Vail, more so than most anywhere, even recreation board contests can generate a lot of heat.
The clearest observation is that Ross Davis Jr. has served his time and should move on. Eight years is enough. He’s served with distinction, certainly, and shown that a “golf” mentality is capable of understanding the bigger picture once on the recreation board.
But he should be honored for his commitment and service, and sent on his way to those 16 years of free golf. Davis of late has expressed an unhelpful truculence toward the Town Council, which ought to be embraced as a partner rather than adversary or scapegoat in recreation matters. He’s also displayed a disdain for public input, which perhaps masks weariness with kooky personalities that every board faces. And he’s a senior member of an entire board that failed to adequately involve the voting public in the spending plans for the Dobson.
Another strike against the current board is its failure to end the abysmal practice of granting two years of free golf for every year of service on the board. And another is making personnel decisions for the executive director in the termination over a year ago of the golf course manager. In this case, the board failed to walk the talk about avoiding micromanagement while fulfilling its role of policy setting and managing its two employees, the recreation district’s executive director and the board’s lawyer.
Of the incumbents, Nancy Stevens remains a good choice to remain for a second term. She has acquired detailed knowledge of the district, experience on the board, and has that all-important wider view of the district’s services and potential. When the campaign rhetoric dies down, the district again will be viewed as generally doing a pretty good job during recessionary times. Her voice should not be lost at this point.
Our view of the coalition – its candidates put forward by a larger group – is that one of the three should represent this core of constituents. We’re mindful of the argument that seating a new majority on the board through them would have the most immediate impact. And their aggressiveness on the campaign trail suggests this could well happen. But we believe the best outcome would be Nino Licciardi taking one of those seats. Licciardi’s passion and leadership would invigorate the board while drawing in a vocal set of critics.
His coalition compatriots, financial whizzes Peter Cook and Julie Hansen, no doubt would serve well on the board. But they’d just as well provide invaluable service on one of those advisory committees they advocate as resources for the board and district.
Looking at the three remaining challengers, we think the strongest of all the candidates for the board is Kevin Deighan, a triathlete, businessman and builder with a law degree and deep passion for all sports, including golf. Beholden to neither a group such as the coalition represents nor the incumbent board, his commonsense approach is frankly refreshing.
Ed Morgan and Amy Domke impressed us with their ideas and zeal to serve, and we hope they both will serve the district in a volunteer capacity.
For the open board seats, we recommend incumbent Nancy Stevens, coalition candidate Nino Licciardi and independent challenger Kevin Deighan as the best of a good crop of candidates for really a quite important board serving a community so dependent on recreation for its lifeblood.