Durango City Council hopes to build trust in local governance with the reincarnation of a financial advisory committee to vet city spending.
A draft of bylaws for the committee suggests a five-person board – consisting of three council-appointed board members, the city manager and the finance director – review “fiscal policies, budget amendments, dashboards, capital-improvement project updates, special revenue funds, fees and charges,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc proposed Tuesday at a City Council study session.
“I think it’s more transparent or answers some of the negativity that’s out there,” said Mayor Sweetie Marbury. “There’s a hostile, negative environment toward elected officials and governments. Maybe this is a way to soothe that feeling.”
Most city councilors supported the bylaws, and all directed staff to prepare a resolution to establish the committee as soon as possible. But the committee’s members won’t be appointed until after the April election, a decision that came as a compromise to Councilor Melissa Youssef’s concern that the City Council was rushing to a decision.
“I think that we’re rushing something that is really important. That’s what causes a lot of distrust. This is something that should be very seriously considered,” Youssef said. “It’s the next council that will deal with this committee, they should be the ones to discuss it.”
The request for a financial advisory committee came from Durango residents after a ballot measure to increase sales and property taxes last November failed by a margin of more than 20 percent.
Jasper Welch, a former mayor of Durango and proposed finance committee member, said after the November election that the city should have enlisted the help of an independent citizen group to evaluate and champion any tax increases, similar to what has been done in the past with similar tax increases.
In an agenda document, LeBlanc said, “City Council expressed an interest in establishing this committee quickly.” In an attempt to expedite the process, LeBlanc suggested the council appoint three people: Welch, former Mayor Doug Lyon and Brad Tafoya, a local certified public accountant.
But Youssef effectively blocked any appointments to the committee, suggesting the council needs to take more time to evaluate the committee’s purpose and allow residents to apply for the position rather than just appoint them. Youssef wasn’t involved in the selection process that identified potential committee members, she said, and “the process around how this is being implemented is one that should be vetted further and include the entire council.”
“Why are we rushing through this so quickly?” Youssef said. “Let’s go through the process that we already have in place, make sure that it’s inclusive to all individuals in the community who may want to be included.”