There’s a tempest brewing in the local political teapot tonight, and while it may pale in size and noise level to events in national politics in the same general time frame, it is nonetheless very potent in its’ potential for damage if not given the community attention it deserves.
City of Grand Junction Planning Commission member Bill Pitts gets a hearing before City Council this evening regarding alleged ‘malfeasance’, and his continued tenure with the Planning Commission as a result. This hearing date was established at the October 1 Council meeting.
As with the Council agenda on October 1, the packet for tonight’s Council meeting offers no insight into the City’s difficulty with him, only that “information will be separately provided”.
There have been at least two eloquent defenses of Mr. Pitts by several of his neighbors; one appeared in this morning’s Sentinel, and the other in yesterday’s Free Press. These letters not only express concern as to Mr. Pitts’ potential removal, but also bring light to some of the ‘rest of the story’ in the form of possible duplicity on the City’s part with regard to a commitment made to Mr. Pitts’ residential area regarding residential zoning and housing density. An excerpt from one of the letters follows:
“In 1995 the City Council ruled with Ordinance 2842 that a 151-acre tract within our neighborhood could be developed with no more than two homes per acre, totaling no more than 220 homes. A later letter from the city manager in 1995 reaffirmed these limits. The neighborhood has remained rural to the present, at 4.3 acres per dwelling. But early this year the development plan was approved by the city. More than 400 residents signed a petition opposing this plan, which grossly dishonors Ordinance 2842 by including 40 percent of the housing at eight homes per acre, totaling 361 homes. Recently, the city quickly and quietly approved another development plan that is clearly a commercial enterprise within our rural neighborhood.”
So aside from the existence and application of a Council resolution which appears to have chilling and questionable effects on the ability of volunteers who apply for and serve on certain City boards to exercise their free speech rights, there now appears to be some question as to the City living up to a commitment it made to an entire neighborhood upon their being annexed 13 years ago.
Two weeks ago I sent an email to Cathryn Hazouri, Executive Director of the Colorado ACLU chapter, with some background information and a request for their impressions regarding the issue. I sent her another email this morning, in hopes that if Council elects to remove Mr. Pitts from the Planning Commission, there will at least be some research in progress of the legality of Resolution 79-06 as it relates to the ability of certain volunteer board and commission members to exercise their First Amendment rights as private citizens. Ms. Hazouri has replied to me that she will have a response prepared and sent later today, and I’ll share that when it comes.
When I was a City employee, I approached Council as a private citizen on numerous occasions, often with commentary on issues that may have had an effect upon the job that I was doing at the time. While there are restrictions in place on the political activities of those employed by the City (I could not be a candidate for City elected office), I don’t understand the City’s actions in attempting to silence someone who applied for and serves on a volunteer citizen board, and wishes to express himself on an issue important to him, especially after taking the necessary legal steps to separate himself, and his opinions, from the board and its’ deliberations.
Anyone interested in the transparency and accountability of our local government, especially in the contentious arena of annexation, zoning and development, might see fit to tune in or show up. I have to work tonight, or else I would be at the meeting. I’ll try to watch online.
Best of luck to Mr. Pitts. What I said in my previous post on this subject still applies. Let’s hope that openness, transparency, and the free ability to engage in intelligent discourse is respected this evening, and that Mr. Pitts receives a fair and impartial hearing within the public forum required.