Soap Box

Schools to hemp, a fruitful session
05/17/2018

To the editor,

The 71st Session of the General Assembly came to a resounding close last Wednesday night after 120 days of crafting, discussing, arguing, reconciling, meeting and contemplating.

Fourteen of my bills, all with bipartisan support, will be signed into law, including:

• A suicide-prevention bill offering grants for schools to access research-based training programs for all school employees to understand symptoms in students who might want to hurt themselves or others.

• Help for student teachers by having every school district require the same background check. Unbeknownst to me, every district had a different rule, making student-teacher certification harder and more expensive than necessary.

• Industrial hemp seeds are now considered an agricultural product, helping the industry in Colorado continue to grow.

• An Agricultural Workforce Development internship program was developed, paying farmers and ranchers half the cost of hiring a young and beginning farmer to work the land and learn the craft.

• Two broadband bills passed. One gives a company with the right of first refusal the opportunity to implement broadband, as long as it offers the cost and speed a local broadband provider offers. The other allows Colorado to apply for federal broadband funds once they become available.

• Another bill will provide a financial incentive for teachers in rural districts to complete coursework that will help them finish a second certification or earn an alternative license. They will need to work in that district for three years.

• Lower-income homeowners buying a manufactured home will not have to pay sales tax, though they will still pay the property tax. This should save them about $1,000 each.

• An aquifer water storage study will determine how to best use aquifers in Colorado to store our water.

• Off-highway vehicle riders will have new safety standards to follow, making this popular recreational activity safer.

• CDOT will change its bidding process slightly to help award smaller construction companies more jobs on highway projects.

• The Fort Lewis College Hesperus Campus income will go directly into the college’s account instead of to the General Assembly.

• The Southwest Water Conservation District will get to choose its own meeting dates; having them set ahead of time made it difficult for members to travel regularly.

• A Food Systems bill, which supports the continued communication between food producers and consumers, will not sunset or be killed.

• Colorado Highway 84 between Pagosa Springs and the state line will be named the Nolan Olson Memorial Highway in honor of Olson, a longtime CDOT employee who was killed on the job.

I sponsored a resolution for the Outdoor Retailer Show, which celebrates public lands and has brought its conventions to Colorado.

And I sponsored another resolution celebrating Colorado’s educators.

I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together next year.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango

Report crimes for a safer Durango
05/17/2018

To the editor,

At a recent meeting of the Boulevard Neighborhood Association with City Councilor Melissa Youssef, a variety of city issues were discussed. Among the observations made were the increasing numbers of homeless on Durango’s streets. Residents also shared concern about recent crime on the Boulevard and in other Durango neighborhoods. We stressed how our association encourages residents on East 3rd Avenue to report any and all criminal activity to the police. While many residents are reluctant to report crime for a variety of reasons, contacting the police is critical to ensure community safety. Our association applauds our police chief, Kamran Afzal, for his foresight in filling a police crime analyst position (Durango Herald, March 16) and his desire to be more transparent by making crime statistics available to the community.

Unless all crime is reported, any data base will lack validity and fail to provide the community and police department with an important tool to ensure our community safety. We are looking forward to the report being made public in the near future.

– Boulevard Neighborhood Association Board of Directors: Brieanne Stahnke, Karen Anesi, Tony Rocha, Kathy Gervais and Mike Todt

Meet Tipton's challengers June 4
05/17/2018

To the editor,

Frustrated with the current U.S. Congress? Worried about rising health care costs, long-term U.S. debt and climate change impacts here in Southwest Colorado? Us too.

Three Democratic candidates will be on the June primary ballot vying for the Democratic nominee for Congressional District 3 – the U.S. House of Representatives seat currently held by Scott Tipton. For the first time, both Dem and unaffiliated voters will be able to vote in this primary. That winner will then battle Rep. Scott Tipton in November.

All three Democrats, Diane Mitsch Bush, Karl Hanlon and Arn Menconi, will be at the Durango Public Library on Mon., June 4, at 6:30 p.m. for a 90-minute debate airing their points of view and priorities for improving constituents’ lives and the U.S. economy. The debate is hosted by Indivisible Durango and the La Plata County Dems.

Please join us!

– Anne Markward, Indivisible Durango Elections Team

Lines
05/10/2018

From the southwest, the long gray- bellied lines
move overhead and past me.
Journeying swiftly northeasterly,
they bully what is blue, pushing toward tomorrow,
never at rest, never motionless.
The cycle, massive and careless
parades its morphing molecules, always
ready to destroy or heal, like abeyant gods
under the great tangents of light.
They wait for no one.
We too, journey through the endless cycle,
at times hollow or full, passing swiftly in and out
of the warm or cold drifts of our narrow actions.
Yes, the long gray- bellied line above
moves over and past, ephemeral yet constant
in its configurations.
It’s capricious blossoms of white and gold build
above the terrifying darkening
and I, so far below,
witness, once again,
the foundations of a limitless firmament.

– Burt Baldwin, Ignacio

New mayor, new rules
05/10/2018

To the editor,

If you plan to attend an upcoming City Council meeting, be aware that there are new rules regarding public participation. Mayor Sweetie Marbury established a change in which the public will have to sign in prior to the meeting and then will be given three minutes to speak on a topic. This is a significant change from the previous five minute limit, a 40 percent reduction. The three minutes will be timed by City Manager Ron LeBlanc, and he will signal when you have 30 seconds left. She specified that this was to “be respectful of everyone’s time.” “New Mayor, new rules,” she said multiple times.

During a recent meeting, the public sat through a 47-minute presentation from city staff and a developer and his entourage about how great doubling the number of homes on a substandard dead-end street will be for a Durango neighborhood. The developer even had time to tell us how growing up in California influenced the design of this project. As one of the neighbors, I spent my three minutes asking about safety issues and the potential bottleneck caused by doubling the number of cars on the street.

Public comment was limited to 12 minutes and afterward City Council spent another 20 minutes discussing the plans directly with the development team, during which time the public was not allowed to participate nor challenge any answers given by city staff. During this exchange, Councilor Chris Bettin asked about stricter HOA rules to keep parking off the street, which was shot down. Mayor Pro Tem Melissa Youssef asked about limiting parking to keep the entrance of the street accessible, which was also denied. Councilor Dick White spent another 10 minutes attempting to find out where on the street the new development was going to put their garbage cans and plow snow without blocking the road, to which city staff had no answer but retorted, “there has been garbage collection and snow plowing on this street for many years, so I am sure they will figure it out.” This was satisfactory to the Council, because in the end the unanswered questions and disregard for public standards did not matter as everyone except Councilor Dean Brookie voted to approve the development.

This policy of ignoring public comment was the norm in regards to this project, just as in the previous Planning Commission meetings where many of the neighbors’ concerns were not addressed. City staff’s standard reply to any of the many code violations that this project contained was that City Council had already approved variances on those matters. Letters and emails sent to the Council and Commission were not acknowledged, nor discussed. But an automatic email reply from Mayor Marbury assured me that “these comments will be added to the public record.”

My questions were never answered, and I wasted two hours at a meeting where I nor any of the other members of the public were really participants. City staff and the special interest had unlimited time to present and converse with the Council and never had to explain or defend any answers, while we got our three minutes. No matter what comments or questions where posed, it was clear that the project was slated to pass before anyone walked in the room. Councilors asked questions and when the answers were unsatisfactory, they voted to pass it anyway. When Mayor Marbury said that she wanted to be respectful of people’s time, she must have meant that letting the public speak on issues that are already decided, is a waste of her time. New mayor, new rules, no public participation needed.

– Luke Angel, Durango