Vail Daily column: Ethics code could help Vail
Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from the Vail Homeowners Association Newsletter. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com
During the Vail Renaissance many improvements were funded with the greatly increased revenues from the Real Estate Transfer Tax and Tax Increment Financing. Since then, perhaps wary of voter sentiment, the town has used its ample cash reserves to fund projects or their cost overruns. As a consequence, major spending has been taking place beyond the reach of voters. This approach tends to create a credibility gap between Town Hall and those it governs. It also can create the cynical impression of conflict of interests, insider manipulation and political intimidation.
This does not need to happen. A strong ethics code, as was recently enacted by Avon, could eliminate perceptions of insider playing. And the present elective process could be greatly improved. The current system favors insiders by compressing the election campaign into a few short weeks and suppressing voter participation by limiting mail balloting. This ensures that the voters cannot give too much scrutiny to the candidates, assess their performance, conflict of interest and accountability or have the opportunity to consider the agenda of the candidates. That could be changed by a few simple amendments to the elective process, increasing the time for the election and ensuring full access to mail balloting. Those changes would go a long way toward increasing confidence in government.
Private philanthropy has played a major role in Vail’s growth in the past. In the process, it has resulted in major charitable non-government organizations being formed that help to build a sense of community and cohesiveness. But if the sense of community is being frayed by divisive issues and an “us against them” mentality, then it remains to be seen whether that commitment of support will wane. In addition, in recent years some of those NGOs have become increasingly dependent on local government for a greater share of their funding and, as that has occurred, representatives of the town are appearing on the board of directors of many of those NGOs. Vail’s leaders need to reassess whether this is a healthy relationship. Those NGOs are mainstays of the community’s social services; it is they, not town officials, who should determine whether they are fulfilling their charitable charter.
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