EDITORIAL: Aurora council schism over city manager poses real risk for residents

By asking Noe, “What are you keeping from us,” his detractors make themselves out to be more like disgruntled outcasts of a junior-high-school student council rather than elected representatives in the state’s third-largest city

A written question from four city council members intent on forcing Aurora City Manager Skip Noe from his position perfectly illustrates the exasperating nature of this recurring controversy: “What is being kept from us?”

Council members Sally Mounier, Marsha Berzins, Barb Cleland and Charlie Richardson posed that inflammatory question to Noe recently, capping another weeks-long skirmish at City Hall where these city lawmakers have been intent on launching Noe from the city.

The issue of Noe’s support became a spectacle last year when five city council members accused Noe of being misogynistic and uncooperative. The group failed to get a question of no-confidence on the council floor for a vote. And the other six city lawmakers have steadfastly supported Noe.

The city council since then has made repeated attempts to reconcile bad blood among Noe, his supporters and his detractors on city council. The schism has fractured alliances, friendships and any hope for sustained camaraderie on a board that needs it.

Clearly those attempts were in vain. In the past few weeks, Noe’s detractors tried again to build a case of circumstantial evidence against him over a controversy about who gave permission, when, for a non-profit group to use an obscure house-office owned by the city. The Aurora Sentinel scrutinized many aspects of the allegations and found absolutely no malfeasance nor malicious intent. What we did find is that this drama and others continue to eat up a great deal of time and attention of staff and elected officials, so far, all for naught.

By continuing to harangue Noe, the staff and other council members, Noe’s detractors set themselves up in a dangerous “cry wolf” situation. By continuing to exploit marginally curious incidents as “smoking gun” evidence, they diminish their credibility and relevance on the city council.

The problem has gone far beyond being just a lurid look at the internal squabbling among elected officials. During an all-day council workshop last month, the depth and seriousness of the dispute became clear when a raucous free-for-all among city council was recorded. A story by Aurora Sentinel reporters this week includes those recordings of what city lawmakers madly, truly, deeply wish had been an executive “closed” session. It’s embarrassing for them only because it shows how entrenched everyone is, and how serious the impasse has become.

By asking Noe, “What are you keeping from us,” his detractors make themselves out to be more like disgruntled outcasts of a junior high student council rather than elected representatives in the state’s third-largest city.

We by no means discount claims by Noe’s detractors to having genuinely perceived a cause for his departure. But we have seen no evidence that Noe has done anything but at least an adequate job of running the city, and in many instances, a commendable one. If the prevailing side has acted in a way to discount the very real and rightful displeasure they see in Noe, then they should apologize and allow for further discussion to find a resolution.

If Noe’s detractors have had their say on all of these allegations,and they then refuse to accept that they are unable to persuade a majority of votes on the issue, then they must stop. This is the very obstinate and destructive behavior that has made the U.S. Congress an unworkable and untenable organ of government.

This isn’t just inside antics, there’s the potential for real harm to Aurora residents. Regardless of this controversy, Noe will someday step down as city manager. The next top executive will be well aware of what’s been going on with the city council, and what they do from this point forward. There’s no doubt there will be exemplary potential candidates that look at the mess and think, “I don’t want any part of that.”

Failed attempts at “group therapy” here are no reason not to keep trying. Perhaps with enough catharsis, city lawmakers can find a way to either hinder their scorn or at least put it to better use.

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