Waiting can make people anxious whether it means standing in line or anticipating the messiah. Lately, we have been a little jumpy about the city of Durango, which is usually expressed in terms such as, “What the heck is going on there with the budget and the multi-million-dollar typo, and the criminal investigation and the disappearance of the finance director?”
You can maybe see how we have come to that point. You might even have wondered these things yourself.
The Herald had a news story last week (“Durango seeks state support to vet 2020 budget,” Jan. 7) that sounds more innocuous than it could be. The interim city manager has asked the state to review Durango’s 2020 budget. Normally, you would ask, why? Durango is a sophisticated little city with ample staff and competence, not to mention home rule. Let the state worry about its own budget and so on.
But the city feels compelled to seek aid in comprehending what it says are errors and miscalculations, including one that ran to $10 million.
The budget was initiated by the former city manager and the former finance director, both of whom left the city’s employ abruptly last fall, with the finance director departing amid an investigation into an alleged misappropriation of funds.
That brought the Colorado Bureau of Investigation into our story. We are hoping CBI has seen the former finance director and city manager by now, and that it is not dealing with a crime whose magnitude justifies what is becoming a three-month investigation, with no end in sight of which the public is aware.
We want to believe that this is all a chain of misunderstandings. But we are still uneasy, particularly when we think back to the election last April which seemed to set this all in train.
In addition to filling two City Council seats, voters narrowly approved a half-cent sales tax increase in April. They were told the city needed that revenue, about $4.7 million a year for 10 years. But now the city is finding errors that may extend back in time and far exceed that amount.
Were the voters misled? This seems like a pressing question.
Perhaps the city and CBI could agree on some public guidance the mayor could issue – about how much longer this investigation could continue, whether it has made progress so far, the assurances that residents and taxpayers can have that their money now is going where it belongs, and what reforms we might begin to think about.
We have a citizen council that cannot be expected to exercise full-time oversight. We see no reason to dream of giving that up; if anything, we are reassured that the April election also brought us two new councilors who, along with the mayor, have been fearless in taking on the former city manager and this black hole of a budget.
It is probably true that everything is working just as it should, but we nevertheless think the public should be updated, and that CBI would respect that. It depends on the confidence of Coloradans, too.
A citizen government should mediate between the professional managers who report to it and the people to whom it reports. Now is the time for mayor and council to cement that bond.