Durango’s outgoing mayor Melissa Youssef wrote her final here’s-what’s-going-on-in-the-city column for The Durango Herald Saturday (“Well that was quite a year as Durango’s mayor,” April 17).
Youssef had no shortage of significant topics for reflection.
Here is how the Herald’s editorial board sorts the 12 months of events and offers praise for Youssef’s leadership and work.
While the city administration is hands-on and provides its share of leadership, and there are four other elected City Council members, the mayor is usually most visible, at the front and center. The mayor leads in the formation and explanation of vision and strategy, and takes the inevitable questions. She also has the gavel.
If an event such as COVID-19 can be considered a capstone, then that is what occupied Youssef for the recent two months. Prioritizing city services by those who can and cannot work at home, keeping employees as safe as possible, coordinating to some degree with other governments and communicating it all to a questioning citizenry. The city’s capable interim city manager, Amber Blake, was there as well.
Previously during the 12 months there have been the inclusion of two new council members, the exit of the longtime city manager and the financial officer and the financial vagaries they left behind, and the pedestrian bridge.
The bridge is either a long bridge with an “L’ in it, or two bridges, depending on how you visualize it. First over the Animas River and the railroad tracks and then a 90-degree turn and over 32nd Street. Both its high physical profile and its estimated cost, $4.1 million which includes $400,000 from GOCO, thoroughly caught Durangoans’ attention.
Reflecting good government, Durangoans were quickly given four forums to criticize or praise. That was Youssef and Blake.
(As is always the case with local governments and its citizenry, planning can go on for many months and almost be at an end before a photo or a price tag suddenly triggers an uproar. So, the bridge.)
The mayor’s year began with the seating of the two new council members. Barbara Noseworthy and Kim Baxter. Rather than taking the usual time to assess their new surroundings, they took aim at existing procedures and poked and prodded with their questions. There is good reason to believe the city manager departed because he was not comfortable with the more pointed scrutiny that was underway. Nor, at times, were the other council members. Did the city manager have any inkling of the partially sketchy financial reporting that was taking place and would make its way into the coming year’s budget? That is unknown. And an investigation is underway into the discovery of financial irregularities that coincided with the finance officer’s sudden departure.
Oh, yes, there was a ribbon cutting during the year. That for a water treatment plant, something like $40 million. Necessary.
And we note that the playing field in Santa Rita Park which was staging for the plant construction was layered with sod last week; that popular park is on its way back.
On Tuesday, Councilor Dean Brookie rotates into the mayor’s seat. He has been there before, in 2015-2016, when the city’s priority was shaping a response to the EPA’s Gold King mine spill disaster on the Animas.
COVID-19, council member dynamics and the bridge continue, and we expect Brookie will do well. He is seasoned.
Thanks to Melissa Youssef for her leadership, good judgment and energy. She has especially shown she cares for Durango.