It’s Time For Our Elected Officials To Up Their Game
By Brenda Morrison
For the GPHN
Given Denver’s rapid growth and strong economy, it’s both a blessing and curse to be in public leadership.
Unlike other communities, Denver is not facing budget cuts, structural deficits or unfunded pensions. Denver’s residents have been generous, approving bonds and tax increases in order to ensure that the city grows and maintains services, continues to provide parks and open space, and invests in behavioral health.
Yet the city is also facing rising home prices, traffic and congestion, and a rapidly growing homeless population.
These issues are going to demand that all of us raise our game. And that must begin with our elected officials.
Let me make it clear: I am asking our city leaders to embrace their responsibilities. That means both in tough and in good times.
I get it. It’s hard to balance diverse and often demanding constituencies, weighing current needs with those of the future, with your own personal values.
However, if you are elected to office, it’s what you signed up to do. It is your job to convene those disparate groups and citizens to try and find consensus.
Yes, if necessary hire a neutral facilitator to help you out so that you can listen, ask questions, and provide us with the information we may not be privy to.
Case in point: Since the election, I have reached out to my council representatives, asking them specifically to convene public meetings on the land where the now-closed Park Hill Golf Course is, in the far northwest corner of the neighborhood. And yes, I assume that their opinions on this issue will be articulated at these meetings.
I did so after reading that the new buyer of the Park Hill Golf Course land – not our elected representatives – plans to embark on a “listening tour” to gauge feedback from residents. While that may be relevant to other transactions, in this particular case, it is not appropriate that the developer, Westside Investment Partners, convene the public process.
The conservation easement on the property, which the city paid for in 1997, certainly makes it the city’s business and therefore it’s entirely appropriate that our elected officials get involved early, and often. The question for me still remains: Why should the city entertain the development of the golf course when the previous owner agreed to the conservation easement (to keep the golf course/open space) and accepted $2 million of public money?
Denver voters sent a clear message in this spring’s municipal election that change is necessary. While I appreciate that the principles of Westside Investment Partners are offering to lead a “listening tour,” our elected officials should own this responsibility. Leaders do not abdicate their responsibility, even when it may be uncomfortable.
Members of council, if you are receiving “hundreds” of emails about a certain issue and they are from people in the district, then it’s a real concern. Facebook posts, tweets, and standardized emails can help educate many. However, it’s incumbent on you – as a leader – to also offer to hold public meetings, or office hours in coffee shops and other publicly accessible areas. It’s incumbent that you explain the issue in person, and that you listen to what your constituents have to say. If you are authentic, set the right tone, and offer transparent and honest answers, even those that may not agree with you are more likely to respect you.
Be present. When you attend a meeting, put the phone away and take out a notebook. Listen. Take notes. I realize it might be your tenth meeting of the day, but if I take time to attend a public meeting, I expect my elected official to be engaged. Even if you are tired and don’t feel like engaging with any more constituents, remember, that’s what you signed up for.
The burden is not entirely on our elected officials. It’s on me too. It’s on all of us. I will admit that in the many years that I have lived in Park Hill, I have only gone to one – just one – meeting of the Greater Park Hill Neighborhood association. Just as I’m asking not to abdicate their responsibility as a leader, I should not be abdicating mine as an educated and informed resident.
From here on, count me in.
This opinion column was written by Brenda Morrison, who has lived in Park Hill for 20 years.