We suppose that Flagstaff elected officials are free to say whatever they like, even if it isn’t about something they have the legal authority to change.
But when they band together as a group and take up staff time to craft a statement and a new city investment policy, it had better be about something that will have an imminent and major impact on Flagstaff.
In the case of the resolution against a proposed border wall with Mexico, that just isn’t the case. It may be wasteful, environmentally damaging and a barrier to cultural understanding between the two countries. But were the expanded wall sought by President Trump to go up tomorrow, life in Flagstaff would go on pretty much as usual. And from a political standpoint, what if a wall is absolutely needed to get protection for Flagstaff Dreamers extended or even made permanent?
But what about the attempt by the council to put their money where their mouth is instead of just a feel-good statement? First, they wanted to bar any company working to build the wall from doing business with the city. Then, faced with charges of illegal blacklisting by contractors and likely legal costs, they settled on divestment – i.e., selling any holdings the city might have in wall-related companies.
The council settled on the latter on a 5-2 vote, but with a total investment portfolio of $98 million, it’s doubtful they will find anything in there to divest unless they dive into secondary and tertiary suppliers – maybe Exxon Mobil supplies the gas to the General Motors trucks hauling cement to the wall?
Leaving the message aside, the precedent set by such a resolution is troubling. The wall will not be the last wasteful project or unworkable policy to come from the federal government with little direct connection to Flagstaff. Will the council also spin its wheels opposing Arctic drilling, trade with authoritarian regimes and ethanol subsidies to Midwest farmers – and divest holdings in any related businesses? If so, we can see future campaigns for the City Council covering a lot more policy ground than they have in the past.
Further, while the council is debating a position on the border wall, it is ignoring far more relevant federal actions that will have an immediate and negative impact on Flagstaff. One is the possible federal shutdown if the budget stalemate is not resolved by Friday night. In 2013, local tourism suffered a massive hit and concessionaire employees went hungry when Grand Canyon National Park was shuttered for two weeks. Another is the freeze on funding for the federal children’s healthcare program and community health clinics in a city where a quarter of all children live below the poverty line.
In other words, if the council is intent on taking sides in federal policy disputes, at least pick ones that affect Flagstaff in a major way and right now. Otherwise, when the potholes grow too big or there’s a breakdown at the water treatment plant, expect local citizens to wonder where the council’s attention has been when it really matters to them.