A Basalt Town councilman and mayoral candidate was called out by colleagues this week for allegedly creating work for the staff and representing the town without first clearing it with the rest of the board.
Responding to the criticism at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, Councilman Bill Infante said he didn’t do anything wrong and felt it was his responsibility as an elected official to collect and share information that could benefit Basalt.
“We as councilors are not here as potted plants,” Infante said. “We are not here for the sole purpose of saying yay or nay on perfunctory things. It’s our responsibility to represent the will of the electorate and to gather as much information as we can and share that as broadly as possible.”
The discussion lasted about 10 minutes, providing a rare public display of elected officials critiquing the governing techniques of one of their own.
The discussion arose after Infante mentioned that the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments was holding a forum on broadband service in Basalt on Wednesday at his invitation. He also disclosed that he was meeting with U.S. Forest Service officials to learn more about their interest in the possible sale or lease of federal land parcels in Fryingpan Valley near Basalt and at Crown Mountain Park.
Councilman Auden Schendler asked several questions to try to determine how the forum and meeting came about and the town staff’s involvement.
“Share with me the point you’re trying to get to,” Infante finally said after answering prior questions.
Schendler responded, “I’m concerned about overloading staff with requests from council members. I would say as a councilor, we should bring these to council and get a majority.”
Infante said he didn’t feel he was overloading the staff, though he acknowledged Town Manager Ryan Mahoney might see it differently.
“Ryan and I did talk about this notion that this was creating work. We have different views on this,” Infante said. “It is information-gathering that will permit us to better represent the views and interests of our citizens.”
Mahoney appeared to choose his words carefully as he entered the discussion. The vetting and timing of the broadband forum could have been better because it is largely redundant to work the Basalt staff had already performed, he said.
The meeting with Forest Service officials to discuss possible conveyance of facilities came out of nowhere, Mahoney indicated. He asked what Basalt’s interest would be in the property near Crown Mountain Park since the town hasn’t contemplated developing it.
“Usually the council is giving me marching orders on what you want to do and then we can run out and tackle that for you,” Mahoney said. “That’s not to say that council members can’t be meeting with folks but when you’re scheduling forums, that kind of changes the face of what it is and the impression that that gives to other governments who might get a little confused as to what Basalt is pushing as opposed to an individual councilor.”
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum stressed the point that it’s important for individual council members to make sure the council majority agrees with any direction an individual is taking while representing the town. He noted that Eagle County government is contemplating seeking a tax to raise funds for child care. Tennenbaum is a member of a task force discussing regional child care issues. He said he would inform the board of Eagle County’s proposal at a future meeting and see what position the majority favors.
There was a brief, terse exchange when Infante contended this was the first time Tennenbaum had brought the child care issues to the council’s attention despite years of discussions. Tennenbaum said he regularly informs the board about discussions by the child care task force.
Infante suggested the council have a deeper discussion on proper roles of individuals at a later time, an idea endorsed by Mayor Jacque Whitsitt. Infante made it clear he felt he was being unduly criticized.
“When elected officials have conversations with other elected officials, this is not to be admonished,” Infante said. “When we gather information and share it regularly in written and oral form, frankly, the paradox of being admonished for communicating … is just weird to me.”
Tennenbaum countered the board won’t be effective if there are seven individuals pursuing separate agendas.
“We as a council need to be together as a council or together as a majority because it’s really bad for one of us to be going out there and truly representing council,” Tennenbaum said.
The outcome of the debate has potentially large implications for the town. Infante is guaranteed to be on the board for at least two more years as a council member. He is one of three candidates running for mayor, a position that largely influences the council’s agenda.