Columns » Outsider




Driving down from Denver last Sunday morning, I turned on the radio to "doo-wop Sunday." No doo-wop, just the alarums and excursions of war.

We listened in silence; our country is at war, and may remain so for many years to come. We passed the Air Force Academy, and, just having come from a 5K race in Denver, I remembered a dozen similar races on the grounds of the Academy over the last 20 years.

In one such race, I struggled to keep up with an amiable group of cadets, men and women, out for an easy run. They were fun companions -- polite, chatty, encouraging. Such events are no more, minor casualties of 9-11.

And those cadets, out of the Academy for several years, may now be in the skies over Central Asia. And what are they doing? They're risking their lives for our country. Some of them will die. The rest of us will go about our business, and, in our own way, defend our messy democracy.

In that spirit, let's take a look at a strange little ordinance that, while the rest of us were looking at our TV sets, Council passed unanimously on 9-11 and passed again on second reading two weeks later.

Its preamble seems innocuous enough. According the City Attorney's office, from which this proposed new law emerged, it's simply a routine housekeeping measure, part of a "recodification" of existing laws, to bring various similar ordinances into conformity with each other.

Maybe the supposedly routine nature of the ordinance put Council members to sleep, and they just pushed the "yes" button without much thought.

Or maybe they were, all nine of 'em, too lazy to read the ordinance.

Or maybe they have the collective I.Q. of a large turnip.

Because if they actually read the ordinance and understood it, then we have a very large problem. Because the ordinance says that, from now on, in any land-use issue that might come before the Planning Commission, the right to appeal the decision of the Planning Commission is now limited to "parties in interest." And what is a "party in interest"? As defined in the new law, only the landowner, or the lessee of the property, and "any employee of the city administration" is a party in interest.

All others are only entitled to appeal if the Planning Commission judges them to be parties in interest. In other words, if Hogfarms-R-Us wants to build a 100,000-strong hog facility next to your dream home, you have no right to appeal the decision of the Planning Commission in this matter, unless the Planning Commission itself gives you their OK.

I asked Council women Sallie Clark and Margaret Radford why they had supported the ordinance. Clark waffled, and opined that they were all so shocked by the events occurring on 9-11 that they just weren't thinking straight. She didn't explain why she'd voted for it on second reading on Sept. 25.

Last week, however, when contacted by the press, Clark did promise to revisit the matter, by making a motion to reconsider at an early date.

Radford was more direct, if a tad defensive ("So shoot me -- I voted for it!"). She believed that the ordinance had been created because of Council's displeasure with an appeal filed some months ago by the Housing Advocacy Coalition in connection with the railroad spur that the city-owned utility company wished to construct through the Mill Street neighborhood.

Both the council and city administration, Radford said, believed that the HAC was being deliberately obstructive, and had no standing in the issue. Now uncomfortable with the ordinance, she'll join Clark in a motion to reconsider.

A few thoughts. First, this law is egregiously -- and intentionally -- undemocratic, elitist and contemptuous of the rights of ordinary people. It reveals a city government that has little tolerance for dissent, less still for democracy's untidy freedoms.

"We the People" -- remember that phrase, O council members? -- not "You, the Government." The people are sovereign -- that means they get to appeal the decisions of appointed bodies to you, their representatives.

It means that the people get to file frivolous appeals, and make stupid speeches that go on for hours and say things that are clearly false, insulting and exasperating.

And if you feel the need to shut the idiots up, you ought to look for another line of work.

So in the future, read the ordinances before you vote for 'em, remember a few key phrases such as "equal protection under the law" and do your bit to protect our democracy.

You might irritate the city attorney, but so what? Unlike the Taliban, she won't shoot back.


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