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New Council and fresh restart for city

Spring has arrived in Durango and change is in the air.

Mother Nature delivered both negatives and positives this past year, with a devastating drought and a wildfire that raged for months on end, followed by flooding and mud slides. Thankfully, winter brought abundant moisture and a snowpack that will go a long way toward refilling our rivers and lakes and turning our valleys green. Now, with the mounds of snow in the middle of Main Avenue finally cleared away, it’s time to look ahead to a beautiful spring and summer.

My first two years on Durango City Council were marked by successes and opportunities to improve. Among the positives was the opening of Lake Nighthorse after years of hard work by Council and staff. Its success can be measured by the 48,000 visitors who passed through the gates. City Council analyzed and approved several airport improvements, including the purchase of a property adjacent to the terminal to secure future growth potential. The construction of the Santa Rita Water Reclamation Facility, the largest construction project in the history of Durango, is on time and on budget with an anticipated ribbon-cutting in August. City council studied, developed and approved ground-breaking strategies (pun intended) to encourage more housing of all types needed in our community, including low income housing tax credit projects, senior housing, market rate housing, in-fill projects and expanded Accessory Dwelling Units neighborhoods – plus other ongoing efforts to stimulate healthy housing practices through changes in the land use and development regulations.

Along with many successes, there are plenty of opportunities to improve. The structural problem in the General Fund continues. Sound financial management is critical. The City Council will be working to restore the General Fund contingency account, increase reserves, and address aging infrastructure and facility needs. We have more work ahead to address street maintenance and transit services. A portion of the population was vocal in criticizing Council, saying they did not feel heard or represented. Angry comments quoted in The Durango Herald expressed the belief of some citizens that Council was ignoring the will of the people.

I ran for City Council two years ago on the campaign promise of “Your Vision, Your Values, Your Voice” and have worked hard to fulfill this promise. As I begin my term as mayor, I pledge to continue to do my best to listen and to understand what all citizens of Durango have to say and to represent their differing points of view.

I want the theme of this, my first editorial as mayor, to be rebuilding trust.

Establishing open and honest, two-way communication and a more inclusive collaboration will be a multi-year process, and now is the time to start. During my term as mayor I hope to unite our community and restore civility.

Thank you to departing Councilors Dick White and Sweetie Marbury for their eight years each of service to Durango, during which they supported programs that have had positive and lasting impacts on our community. A warm welcome to our two recently elected councilors Kim Baxter and Barbara Noseworthy. I wish them patience and perseverance in learning to navigate the sometimes complicated system of checks and balances of city government. I also want to thank Marcos Wisner and Jaime McMillan for entering the race. Having four strong and qualified candidates provided choice in our recent election, which is a vitally important function to ensure open debate, dialogue and discussion.

These can be difficult times for those of us engaged in public service, as we often become targets for those who are frustrated and angry. We must take the time to listen to our constituents, be present at community functions and effectively participate in public processes by considering the best interests of all. We must consistently strive for balance and focus, working as a team with the common, long-term goal of maintaining our citizens’ quality of life and the character of our town, while creating a positive future for all our residents.

As a new council, we will start afresh together with a retreat in May. It will allow time for reflection of where we are as a city, where we want to go, and how we want to get there. It is an opportunity to prioritize the issues Council must address in the coming year and will lay the groundwork for a productive and collaborative term.

Melissa Youssef is mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. Reach her at Melissa.Youssef@DurangoGov.org.

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