Sanitation district

Reinstate Candelaria; let politics play out

Keywords: Durango Herald,

The decision by the Cortez Sanitation District board to boot one of its members, Jim Candelaria, for running for county commission is just plain bad politics.

One reason representative government has worked so well for so long in the United States is that the nation is a vast training ground. Municipal and county governments and the boards that advise them, civic groups, nonprofit organizations and special districts provide opportunities for individuals to learn boardsmanship and contribute to their communities.

In rural areas, especially, there are barely enough board members to go around, and people who have the time and talent often serve in multiple ways. In turn, their contributions and skills are recognized by others, who urge them to seek seats on more challenging boards. The system is supposed to resemble a pyramid, with the best rising ever higher.

Why would the san district board want something different? The rationale — at least the one that has been publicly voiced — is that the Montezuma County commission has authority over the sanitation district and if Candelaria were elected to the commission, he would be his own boss.

That is doubly poor logic. First, the “authority” the county commission has over special districts is not operating authority. Otherwise, the commission might have straightened out the san district long ago. Taxing districts’ funding passes through the county, but that in no way would make Candelaria his own boss, nor does it make the county commission the boss of the elected san district board. That is simply not the relationship that exists.

And Candelaria has not been elected yet. Unless and until he is, that “conflict” does not come into play.

Running for office takes time, but to call that an unusual conflict of interest is overstating the issue. The san district board was never intended to be a full-time responsibility. Running a business or holding a job, having a family and volunteering in the community all take time. Every board member has to find a balance, and those who fail can be removed, but Candelaria has not stumbled in his san district duties. The board’s action is a solution waiting for a problem — or at least waiting for the problem it purports to resolve.

What the board members really are seeking to do is to control the composition of the board following today’s election, and that’s hardly democratic. The effort is specific to Jim Candelaria, because his vision for the san district is different from the vision of fellow board members — which is as it should be. Monolithic boards serve no one well, and the san district, especially, needs strong voices on all sides of the issues it faces.

When a major hotel considers backing out of a project because of the cost of a sewer tap, when there are questions about whether the sewer system has the capacity to handle a new high school, or when rate structures are out of line with places very similar to Cortez, those are problems that affect the local economy. They are also evidence of the need to encourage qualified individuals to serve, not to create roadblocks.

Members of the public who had attended the meeting were not given the opportunity to address the board, and one board member cited public attendance as a problem Candelaria’s conflict of interest had caused. That is not responsive government.

Further, rebuking one frustrated member of the public for her language by instructing her to ”act like a lady” is beyond the pale. San district board members are justified in requiring orderly conduct at meetings, but they are not elected to enforce community mores, nor to suggest that women should have a lesser voice in the political arena.

Board members should listen to the public and carefully consider their own agendas and conflicts, which are more apparent than they might believe. The board should rescind its decision to remove Candelaria from office.