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We know who’s not in charge

Brief by Central Staff

Salida politics – April 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

To put this as charitably as possible, when you open a reference book and look up phrases like “responsive to the public will” or “candid and trustworthy,” you do not find “Salida City Council” among the examples.

On Feb. 29, Salida held a special election on an initiative supported by petitions. The petitioners had wanted the vote to be held last November with the regular municipal election, but the city government stalled on that.

Finally, there’s an election on the “Frantz Lake Initiative.” It was really about an adjacent piece of land, a parcel that had been leased to the Salida Gun Club as a shooting range.

The initiative declared that this land should be reserved for recreation and open space, and that the city could not sell or trade the parcel without a public vote.

It passed by a decent margin on Feb. 29 — 612 to 414 — and the Gun Club supported the initiative.

Most city officials opposed it, which may explain the city’s next step. The Gun Club’s lease on the property expired in 1995, and the city didn’t renew it because at the time, there was the possibility that it would be part of a trade with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to expand Salida’s golf course.

Even without the lease, the gun club continued to use the property, with no known safety problems.

Or the shooters did, until the March 6 city council meeting. The gun club parcel was not on the agenda, and members had been told that the city council would not be taking action on the matter.

But late in the meeting, the council went into secret session, and emerged with a vote to padlock the property. Even if the voters of Salida said it should be recreational open space, the city government has signs that threaten trespassing charges against anyone on the property.

The city did drop, for the moment anyway, the proposed ordinance that would have criminalized free speech, but then turned around and closed the gun club parcel in direct contravention of the expressed will of the public.

Mayor Jaime Lewis said there were “safety concerns.” But if so, shouldn’t such concerns be of public interest?

(It should be noted that “safety concerns,” in and of themselves, would not merit an executive session under Colorado open meetings law, and if litigation or contract negotiations — that may appropriately be discussed in executive session — are involved, then the council is obligated to say so publicly.)

The entire Frantz Lake issue has been mismanaged by the Salida council’s “behind closed doors policy,” first with a secret “strategy” session and now with an executive session.

Now, the gun club has been treated with negligent contempt, (surely, they should have been forewarned that their interests would be discussed at the council meeting). And further, a public initiative is currently being scornfully ignored.

Someday, perhaps, the Salida council members will recognize that they might glean more public support for their “concerns,” if they make those “concerns” public. Under the circumstances, however, it’s not surprising that rumor has it that the council’s precipitous and ungallant action regarding the gun club reflects a “who’s in charge here” concern.

And now we know — it’s not the public.