New mayor, new rules

To the editor,

If you plan to attend an upcoming City Council meeting, be aware that there are new rules regarding public participation. Mayor Sweetie Marbury established a change in which the public will have to sign in prior to the meeting and then will be given three minutes to speak on a topic. This is a significant change from the previous five minute limit, a 40 percent reduction. The three minutes will be timed by City Manager Ron LeBlanc, and he will signal when you have 30 seconds left. She specified that this was to “be respectful of everyone’s time.” “New Mayor, new rules,” she said multiple times.

During a recent meeting, the public sat through a 47-minute presentation from city staff and a developer and his entourage about how great doubling the number of homes on a substandard dead-end street will be for a Durango neighborhood. The developer even had time to tell us how growing up in California influenced the design of this project. As one of the neighbors, I spent my three minutes asking about safety issues and the potential bottleneck caused by doubling the number of cars on the street.

Public comment was limited to 12 minutes and afterward City Council spent another 20 minutes discussing the plans directly with the development team, during which time the public was not allowed to participate nor challenge any answers given by city staff. During this exchange, Councilor Chris Bettin asked about stricter HOA rules to keep parking off the street, which was shot down. Mayor Pro Tem Melissa Youssef asked about limiting parking to keep the entrance of the street accessible, which was also denied. Councilor Dick White spent another 10 minutes attempting to find out where on the street the new development was going to put their garbage cans and plow snow without blocking the road, to which city staff had no answer but retorted, “there has been garbage collection and snow plowing on this street for many years, so I am sure they will figure it out.” This was satisfactory to the Council, because in the end the unanswered questions and disregard for public standards did not matter as everyone except Councilor Dean Brookie voted to approve the development.

This policy of ignoring public comment was the norm in regards to this project, just as in the previous Planning Commission meetings where many of the neighbors’ concerns were not addressed. City staff’s standard reply to any of the many code violations that this project contained was that City Council had already approved variances on those matters. Letters and emails sent to the Council and Commission were not acknowledged, nor discussed. But an automatic email reply from Mayor Marbury assured me that “these comments will be added to the public record.”

My questions were never answered, and I wasted two hours at a meeting where I nor any of the other members of the public were really participants. City staff and the special interest had unlimited time to present and converse with the Council and never had to explain or defend any answers, while we got our three minutes. No matter what comments or questions where posed, it was clear that the project was slated to pass before anyone walked in the room. Councilors asked questions and when the answers were unsatisfactory, they voted to pass it anyway. When Mayor Marbury said that she wanted to be respectful of people’s time, she must have meant that letting the public speak on issues that are already decided, is a waste of her time. New mayor, new rules, no public participation needed.

– Luke Angel, Durango