A petition is circulating on Change.org asking Grand Junction Mayor Sam Susuras to step down from office immediately. Mr. Susuras became mayor after being appointed to fill a City Council seat in 2010. In 2013, he was chosen as mayor by a minority of three out of seven council members after council made sure the mayoral vote was taken on a day when two council members were absent. Mayor Susuras’ three newly-elected allies on City Council (called “chambermades” for their insider political affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce) all voted for him, and then construed a vote of three out of five as a majority, instead of delaying the vote until all seven council members could be in attendance. Mr. Susuras further angered Grand Junction citizens in spring, 2013 after he supported City Councilman Rick Brainard staying on Council. Brainard was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend just four days after he was elected. Brainard outraged citizens when he told police he had to hit his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” Mr. Susuras was the only member of Council to openly defend Brainard. Brainard eventually pled guilty to the assault, and was forced out of office in July, 2013 by a grassroots citizen uprising determined to remove him from office. Susuras annoyed Grand Junction citizens again after he blocked an election to replace deceased council member Harry Butler, who died of natural causes on June 2, 2013. Susuras insisted Council appoint a new council member to replace Butler instead of allowing citizens to elect their own council member. Council ended up appointing a man who had a DUI arrest on his record for driving with a blood alcohol content that was twice the normal limit. Most recently, Susuras referred to members of the G.J. Airport Board who have drawn an FBI investigation for fraud as “visionaries,” and advocated continuing to lie to the federal government about a new building under construction at the airport in order to keep federal funds given to build it. Former airport director Rex Tippets, who was fired amid the fraud investigation, had illicitly portrayed the new building as a terminal, when it is actually a new administration building. The government would help pay to build a new terminal building, but not an administration building. The petition states, “Mr. Susuras, we are outraged, horrified and thoroughly embarrassed by your actions on Council, and we no longer want you as our representative. Please take this vote of ‘no confidence’ to heart and step down from Council immediately.”
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The dilemma of Rick Brainard, the Grand Junction, Colorado city councilman who pled guilty to criminally assaulting a woman just days after he was elected, has deeply embarrassed our City, but it’s not unique. It’s just the latest in a long string of political embarrassments and economic miscalculations that collectively have tarnished the City’s reputation and made us a laughing stock of the state.
Brainard isn’t the first or the only episode that’s dragged down our City’s reputation. His election is just the latest in a long line of bad decisions that have contributed to our town’s inability to be taken seriously. Grand Junction is known for chasing prosperity in grandiose, short-sighted ways, and getting into big trouble because of it. We earned a place on the list of the biggest nuclear mining disasters in the U.S. after embracing uranium mining in the 1950s and 60s. Grand Junction required a decade-long, $746 million Superfund cleanup (pdf) to remediate the radioactive mess left behind. Then we pursued oil shale development and got slapped for that with the massive, 1982 Black Sunday Exxon Oil Shale bust that devastated town. Now there’s a big push do oil shale all over again, making it look as though people in this area either have an incredibly short collective memory, or aren’t smart enough to learn from previous mistakes.
We have plenty of things to be proud of in Grand Junction: our beautiful Main Street, great walking and biking paths along the river, sunshine and our wide variety of outdoor recreation, a wonderful canal system (that would be a fantastic built- in walking and biking trail system if we could just get out of the last century and bring ourselves to utilize it that way), the Colorado National Monument, the historic Avalon Theater, the Botanical Gardens, lots of wonderful people and thousands of acres of nearby BLM land where you can get away with doing almost anything. But what’s to draw people off the Interstate and get them enjoy it all?
Not our name.
Two days after Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke made her May 5 Facebook post insulting atheists, a YouTube video shows her speaking at a May 7 Mesa County Republican Women’s luncheon with life-sized cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan beside her. About 8 1/2 minutes into the 22 minute video, Ms. Schwenke starts to talk about the City of Grand Junction’s withdrawal of it’s $6,000 annual membership in the Chamber. (Recall that the City withdrew its membership in the Chamber after the April election saying the Chamber had become too deeply involved in influencing local politics. The City pronounced it a conflict of interest to fund a group that is dedicated to influencing City politics.) The crowd tittered as Ms. Schwenke trivialized the $6,000 loss, saying since her budget is over $600,000, and the City’s membership represented a mere “one percent or less” of her overall operating budget. Schwenke discussed how the story of the City yanking its Chamber funding had made her a star. “KKCO managed to get the story on the AP wire and the story made the Columbus, Indiana television station,” Schwenke said. “I had one of my peers in California ask me if I would do a presentation about what it’s like to stand up to the city and have your funding cut. We aren’t funded by the government,” she emphasized, yet in the same talk she thanked Mayor Sam Susuras and Council member Marty Chazen — both backed by the Chamber — for restoring her $6,000 in City funds immediately after they were sworn in. And despite the Chamber’s disastrous backing of Rick Brainard for Council — even after he was arrested just days after getting elected for assaulting his girlfriend badly enough to give her a black eye — Schwenke said, “We have elevated the need for qualified candidates …and I think that in and of itself is good for the community at large.”
Richard Brainard, one of the newest members of Grand Junction, Colorado, City Council, was arrested early on the morning of April 6 on charges of third-degree assault and harassment after he allegedly got into a physical altercation with his live-in girlfriend. Brainard was just elected to City Council last Tuesday, April 2. Brainard’s girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, told police she dated Brainard for eight months and moved in with him last November. She said a physical altercation occurred in the bedroom, over text messages Brainard received on his phone from his former girlfriend. Franzen says Brainard pushed her into a dresser several times and pulled her hair, and grabbed her face and arms. She said Brainard later hit her in the face with what she believes was an open hand. It is unclear what the alleged incident means for his membership on Grand Junction City Council. He is Vice President of business development for West Star Aviation, Inc., in Grand Junction, and belongs to the G.J. Chamber of Commerce Board. He was also endorsed by the Grand Junction newspaper, the Daily Sentinel.
Main Source: KREX-TV, Grand Junction, April 6, 2013