Small-town politics are unique because local residents are connected to each other in so many ways. We are friends, neighbors and co-workers. We experience multi-layered community relationships and interactions through our schools, churches, businesses, work, organizations and events in the community at large. We step in to help when there’s a need and pull together in times of crisis.
This City Council shares the belief that those of us who live in Durango are all in this together. Our compelling motivation in serving our community is to support the best quality of life possible for all Durango residents.
We’ve strived to make wise decisions and implemented them through the established processes and procedures of our local government – i.e., the mechanisms put in place by our city charter.
We have promised to be transparent. Therefore, I want to openly address irregularities that City Council and staff uncovered during the 2020 budget adoption process, while scrutinizing the draft budget Durango’s city manager had prepared, per established procedure, with the help of Durango’s finance director.
City Council immediately began a long, intensive and often frustrating process of trying to make sense of a draft budget that contained multiple errors, typos and omissions.
To make matters more difficult, Durango’s city manager of almost 12 years had left his position and moved out of town.
In spite of these challenges, council recognized that we couldn’t simply suspend the budgeting process until we had all the answers. Without budget appropriations for 2020, the city of Durango could not have continued to effectively conduct business and take care of necessary daily operations. Additionally, council had worked for months on some excellent programs and initiatives that could not be implemented until a 2020 budget was in place.
We deliberated for over 20 hours, and ultimately had majority council support to move forward toward adopting a 2020 budget.
But before moving forward, we spent hours reviewing, rerunning and reconciling all the numbers to the best of our ability, correcting errors and making significant changes. The budget we ultimately adopted supports City Council’s goals for the future of Durango and we are confident it will benefit all Durangoans. But it is not written in stone.
Residents of Durango should know that we are taking proactive steps to ensure that the adopted budget numbers and fund balances are correct. We’ve submitted the entire budget to the Department of Local Affairs, a state-run agency, so it can check our revised numbers. We’re awaiting the results. We’re prepared to make any necessary changes and amendments, based on its review.
We’ve also hired an interim finance director, whose first job will be to study our budget with yet a third set of eyes. This individual has been offered the position, has accepted and will begin on Jan. 21.
Finally, council hired a new auditing firm to conduct the annual audit, review internal controls, recommend best practices and analyze the city’s financial statements. The selected firm, Eide Bailly, has substantial experience and subject matter expertise, including staff specializing in dealing with misappropriation of funds.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is now three months into an investigation. Like all of you, City Council is anxiously waiting for results. The CBI is an independent agency and its investigation is outside the purview of Durango’s city government.
2019 was a year of challenging transitions. Decisions had to be made on a number of difficult and controversial issues. What I observed during the past 12 months is that despite division within our community and even within City Council, the mutual desire to do the right thing for the common good of our community never wavered. I witnessed our elected officials working hard and heavily weighing the implications of each and every decision. The real genius of our system is that it doesn’t require that we all agree on every issue, only that we agree to abide by the decisions that emerge collectively from the system we have in place.
I have increasingly grown to appreciate and respect the structure of Durango’s city government. I hope that throughout 2020, we can work together for the common good through the mechanism of our local government that connects us all.
Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.