September 8, 2001
Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett is leaving the council in November, but his shadow may loom after he is gone.
The council decided last week to place two advisory questions both written and advocated by Bennett on the November ballot. The questions ask whether the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan should be submitted to voters for approval before being implemented and whether voters should be able to decide how growth related to the plan is financed.
The questions are written in ways that encourage residents to vote “yes” by suggesting the plan will cause enormous growth that current residents will have to subsidize unless residents require the council to seek their approval first.
It should be pointed out the advisory questions bear absolutely no weight. No specific action will be taken whichever way residents vote.
Thus, the obvious question is, “Why vote at all?”
There really isn’t a reason, unless you’re a departing council member trying to ensure future councils are beholden to your vision of how to manage growth and development. While the advisory questions are meaningless, they could serve as mandates of sorts that weigh on future councils.
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If both advisory questions are approved, there is no requirement that anything be done. But the implication is that, should a future council want to amend the West of Steamboat plan or change the way city services are provided in that area, the council must first ask voters’ permission.
Such a system is time consuming and bureaucratic, and it’s simply a bad way to govern. It is unrealistic to expect voters to make decisions on how to implement subdivision plans, the financing of those plans or the financing of city services in the new subdivisions. That’s why residents elect City Council representatives to research and decide such issues.
Certainly, that’s how the West of Steamboat Area Plan came to be. The council, county commissioners and planning commissions worked together to develop the plan before adopting it two years ago. Residents had input through a series of public meetings, but it wasn’t deemed necessary to get voters’ approval of the plan.
The advisory questions are particularly ironic given that, less than a month ago, the same council steadfastly refused to let residents vote on implementing impact fees on new development, even though a petition containing more than 800 signatures seemed to provide a moral, if not legal, obligation to do so.
This council, it seems, insists on making decisions by itself on how best to pay for growth but doesn’t trust future councils to do the same.
Bennett admits the advisory questions were hastily put together, and he said they may be altered at the next council meeting. Maybe that will provide council members the opening they need to rethink their decision and discard the questions altogether.