Vail Daily editorial: Eagle Town Board needs town manager
The Eagle Town Board has made a number of mistakes previous boards have managed to avoid. Suspending the town manager might top the list.
Any board is within its rights to jettison its chief executive for pretty much any reason. Too uppity for some tastes, particularly those that favor supplication. Enough members hear truths and advice they don’t wish to hear. Personality conflict trumps perspective. Happens all the time.
The suspension with intent to fire Jon Stavney, alas, fits far more in this category than anything he did wrong, which no one has accused him of doing. Legally, perhaps properly, no one is discussing the particulars of the Town Board emerging from a recent executive session to vote unanimously to oust Stavney.
The unanimous official vote, like other mistakes, only covers over a division that has existed for some time, much like a cat tries to cover its business in the sandbox. We understand three who were unsatisfied with Stavney finally found a fourth, and then the others were convinced that a “united” front from there would be for the best.
Unfortunately, all this really signals is a board less open with those it presumes to serve than its predecessors and what we — yes, a news medium dedicated to the principles of openness — find disturbing.
You can serve both properly and openly. This is what the constituents learned over the years they could expect from Stavney as a county commissioner and as the mayor of Eagle.
Like or detest Stavney — we haven’t found many who dislike him — he tells you the plain truth as he sees it. While a politician, he also listened remarkably well, made consistently good decisions and took responsibility to the public to heart.
We see that nothing changed in these core attributes when he took on the town manager role. He is uniquely well suited for the position in the town of Eagle as a longtime resident who served well on the Town Board, as mayor and a county commissioner.
He did this without accepting contracts or employment with entities that do business with the town, accepting favors from developers with projects in town or, at least to our knowledge, actively finding ways to avoid Sunshine Law or its guiding principles. He never claimed ignorance of the law’s specifics as an explanation for failure to follow it.
In Stavney, Eagle has a town manager who understands right from wrong. As mayor, he didn’t have any confusion that it would be wrong to accept offers from developers to travel, wine, dine and discuss the status of any development projects. Given a chance to provide obvious advice to those who did take a trip like this, he would have guided them correctly and saved everyone some embarrassment at the very least.
Unfortunately, more liberal concepts of ethics are hallmarks not of the full board, but with too many members and alas with unanimous complicity in these behaviors — all strictly either legal or forgiven by regulators with the merest slap on the hand and “hope you learned from your mistake.”
What we took in stride at first as some growing pains now look more like encouragement of questionable judgment with the suspension of Stavney for no good reason we can see.
A board member and the current mayor who unwittingly accepted a trip and the Haymeadow developer’s hospitality in Florida without so much as checking with the town attorney or telling the staff plainly feel justified in doing so.
This and some others just aren’t issues the Eagle Town Board used to have, including letting go a good town manager basically on whim.
The majority who suspended him may not like him, but we think they need him. The populace needs him to give a Town Board with suspect judgment honest, well-considered advice they should follow. The last thing Eagle needs is a supplicant the board finds more, ahem, malleable.
The best next step would be for the board to revert back to the majority that held until a couple of Mondays ago and put an end for now to firing Stavney.
The next Town Board election is four months away. The electorate has not weighed in on its judgment of board members who took the trip or the three who have rather recently been appointed to their positions. In all, five members of the seven-person board are up for election in April. This would be the more suitable group after the election to make a large decision like this that affects the manager, the board and the whole town rather profoundly.
The board can clean up this most recent mistake by reinstating Stavney at its next meeting next Tuesday, which begins at 6 p.m. Doing so would require a lot of fortitude and commitment to the people the town serves, not to mention surrendering a certain pridefulness, to regain perspective here.
The Town Board can make the mistake of firing its town manager quite legally. That doesn’t make it right.
Frankly, Stavney has the much better track record than this board. Given the judgment we’re seeing, it’s the board that needs changing rather than the town manager.