Is It a Recommendation or a Decision?

At the Boulder City Council’s recent goal-setting retreat, council member Suzy Ageton, one of the most consistently thoughtful people we have seen on council in recent years, expressed a wish for executive sessions, wherein the whole council could meet for deliberations outside the public view. In a follow-up editorial, the Daily Camera pointed out that the charter change that would be required for executive sessions was rejected by Boulder voters in 2008 — 14 months ago.

Last year, as a study session to consider the role of Boards and Commissions and the way members are selected,  one council member suggested that Boulder again consider allowing non-citizens to serve on boards. When reminded that the voters had rejected that idea, she responded “Yes, but not by much.”

The council member who reminded her that the electorate had decided against the idea made a similar statement, or at least a similar logical jump, a few years ago. After a council pay raise had been rejected by voters in consecutive elections, he was attempting to justify an expenditure for child-care for council members, arguing that even though voters rejected council pay raises, the vote was close and proponents hadn’t even campaigned. The logic of that argument, I thought at the time, went something like this: “The voters expressed a narrow preference for not increasing our pay. But we didn’t campaign, and if we had campaigned they would have expressed a preference in favor of a pay raise, so obviously they would like us to have increased compensation.”

If that reminds you of Vizzini in the Princess Bride saying “So I cannot possibly choose the wine in front of me,” good.

A guy shouldn’t imagine a trend from three data points, especially if you’re relying on memory for two of them, but I’m pretty seriously bothered by this casual observation that elected government officials seem to consider an election not so much a decision-making process, but rather a preference-expression process, like a poll or a focus group, making recommendations rather than decisions, recommendations that would, of course, be trumped by the superior knowledge of the political elite.

This apparent understanding is a mark of what I have come to believe is an increasing disdain of our municipal government for the citizens, which is precisely mirrored in the increasing disdain the citizens have for the government.

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