Vail Daily column: Did Avon hear the voters? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Did Avon hear the voters?

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

Avon’s voters just said no. Decisively. Unequivocally.

They didn’t say “no” to an arcane question of financing that might have made the Skier Building cheaper to buy.

By a two-to-one margin, they said “no” to buying the building. Well, not merely “said.” More like shouted.

Avon’s leaders know that the ballot language was not the real question voters answered. That simply was the legal means to be able to have a referendum.

This is important to note because some leaders sought to characterize the referendum as no more than a financing question in their own effort to get it passed. The error in that logic rivals the inaccuracies in the town’s so-called “Fact Sheet.”

The Town Council still can ignore the voters’ will and buy the building anyway through a different, more expensive means of financing.

It would be a very, very hopeful sign, however, if the council voted unanimously Tuesday to cancel the contract and rethink this vision.

Frankly, the town might have dodged a bullet with a “Fact Sheet” that didn’t have many of those but instead was a rather overt campaign pitch. Spending town money to take a position on an election issue is illegal in this state.

It’s also an embarrassing example of the wrong way to go about the citizens’ business.

I’m hoping this election’s results will inspire a new vision for how Avon’s leaders operate.

While I’m hoping, I’d like to see them:

• Embrace and engage critics, particularly those with real knowledge and expertise. The very critics who pointed out so many obvious errors are exactly the citizens the town should be seeking out from the beginning of a grand plan.

• Make a genuine effort to stay out of executive sessions unless they must, and convene them only on the narrowest interpretations of the law and specific needs in listening to legal advice about contract negotiations and in personnel matters.

• Take special care to avoid decision-making discussions in executive sessions and in public meetings at which there is no public presence.

• Avoid the sort of extracurricular discussions on, say, email among a quorum of the council that also fences out the public.

• Truly reach out to the public with the big decisions. Call the town of Vail about this if you wonder what that looks like. I’m not suggesting Vail’s perfect here, but they are as good as any municipality anywhere with reaching out over the big stuff.

• Overhaul an ethics code that makes it OK for council members to live in other towns, just happen to win work through convenient if legal connections to town business, or abuse sunshine laws with a collective shrug.

Most fundamentally, town leaders should focus on not leaving the citizens behind in the grand quest to move Avon forward.

At the most tragic, group-think gets smart, expert skiers killed in this part of the country. The buyer’s fever infecting Avon leaders was a much paler variety, but I found it unmistakable from a certain distance.

It required the voters to break the spell this time. A referendum result this resounding was a hard tug on the reins. A wakeup call.

How will Avon’s new council respond? With “we know better” arrogance despite all contrary evidence? Or with humility and a true sense of public service?

We’ll see Tuesday.

I’m hoping for the best — that the fever has broken.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.