Something occurred to me as I sat in on several Leadville City Council meetings earlier this year. Why are we, as Leadvillians, allowing the existing council members to fill the vacant seats on the council when it’s something we should actually be voting on ourselves?
During the actual council election in November, Tracey Lauritzen ran for the council seat that Shoshanah Beck was vacating. Greg Labbe ran for a second term as mayor. No one else chose to run for either seat so the two were automatically elected and no one got to vote on those two seats.
What is really frustrating is that two council seats had no one running. Instead, the city council had to ask for letters of application, and these were considered at the meetings I attended in January. Each seat had two applicants, and council members voted on them. So no vote from me, and no vote from you.
This is not a criticism of the two people who now fill those council seats. As far as I could tell, no one already on council had some hidden agenda and wanted to give a council seat to someone who agreed with their point of view. But this does happen in some communities. Even in non-partisan elections, factions develop. There are some bitter rivalries. These can go on for years.
Another example is the hospital board. It plans to fill an existing vacancy on Feb. 20 after getting one application by the original deadline last month and then extending the deadline in hope of more applications. What’s interesting is that not one person currently serving on the five-member hospital board actually had competition when they joined the board. Craig Stuller and Aleta Bezzic were board appointments. The vacancy will be filled by a board appointment. Shirley Hoffacker was initially a board appointment. She and Francine Webber ran in the subsequent election. They had no competition, so no vote was held.
This current approach might be better than what happened when Hoffacker was first appointed to the board. Fernando Mendoza resigned from the board and Hoffacker was appointed at the same meeting. There was no public process; no applications for the position were taken. Board Member Byron Copley asked Hoffacker if she wanted to serve, she said yes, and the board approved the appointment just like that. The Herald, incidentally had a few things to say about that particular process, although Copley told me a public process was not needed.
I have heard members of various boards say that they want a congenial board. They like to serve with like-minded individuals. They aren’t looking for drama or divisiveness. I get that to some extent. It’s only bad if board members become hesitant to raise issues that really matter. A board consisting of rubber stamps are not what an entity needs. Certainly not what the public needs.
Feb. 28 is the deadline to apply to run for a variety of boards including the hospital board, water board and sanitation board. Some suggestions: If you’re thinking about getting involved, do it. If you know people who would make good board members, encourage them. At the very least, an open discussion leading up to an actual election will ensure that issues are raised and examined.
Martinek served for 17 1/2 years as editor of the Herald Democrat, stepping back in January 2020. As editor emerita, she continues to contribute articles and this column. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.