Soap Box

Big thanks for often thankless jobs
08/29/2019

To the editor,

Having announced my plan to retire in early 2020, I would be remiss to do so without recognizing the support and hard work of city staff.

City employees do not get enough recognition for the work they do. There is a mean-spirited trend sweeping the country that is eroding civility and denigrating respect for public servants. One way to combat that trend is to encourage the public to think about all the tasks completed by city staff that make their lives better.

While we were sleeping, patrol cars kept our neighborhoods safe, 911 Dispatch answered calls, and IS staff installed software upgrades. As Durango woke up this morning, people turned on the tap, flushed the toilet, then drove to work on well-maintained streets. Not to mention the efforts of airport staff who focus on safely navigating the horizon and library employees who expand our horizons. Let’s face it. The only time the public realizes what we do for them is when something breaks. The community places a high value on city services. The work performed by city employees is the foundation of the quality of life in Durango.

Citizens might like to know: What makes our staff answer the phone to deal with a belligerent caller? Why do Collection & Distribution crews get up in the middle of the night to stand in freezing cold water to repair a broken sewer or water main? Who would want to put on a police uniform to face the uncertainty of potential lethal threats while working a patrol shift? The list goes on.

City employees take pride in their work and in our community. They demonstrate high levels of professionalism and integrity. City employees want this city to be well run and a good value for the taxpayers. The individual efforts of city staff contribute to the overall success of the community. Staff are not looking for public recognition and accolades, they do this because they believe they can make a difference.

Honestly, there are parts about my job that I will not miss. However, I will miss working with the city staff. I would like to thank all members of Team Durango because you have made my job more rewarding and meaningful.

– Ron LeBlanc, City Manager

America's health-care tsunami
08/22/2019

To the editor,

Joe Biden recently announced his plan for America’s health care, which was to enhance the Affordable Care Act, his signature achievement.

I appreciate the herculean effort and the seemingly endless compromises needed to make the ACA the law of the land. The goals were worthy: expanding coverage, improving value and lowering health-care costs. It made sense to build on the current system while minimizing disruption and patching holes. No longer punishing those with pre-existing conditions made for good policy, along with free preventive care and raising the maximum payout for coverage.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act is neither caring nor affordable. It has failed with run-away provider and hospital costs, exorbitant premiums and unnecessarily steep prescription drug prices. In 2017, average ACA premium rates soared by 37 percent nationally. Rates grew worse in Colorado, with premiums up more than 60 percent between 2008-18.

Meanwhile, insurance and pharmaceutical companies have seen unprecedented profits. The eight largest health insurers netted more than $21 billion during the first nine months of 2018. Health industry CEOs took home a whopping $2.6 billion in compensation last year. Those billions could have, and should have, been spent on patient care.

Biden’s health-care plan includes increasing financial assistance and making it more available to more people. On the surface, that sounds laudable. But financial assistance, subsidies, reinsurance and tax credits are all different ways of saying, “taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars” going to for-profit health insurers to lower our premiums. Hard-working Americans are stuffing the coffers of insanely profitable health insurers. The government (read: us) paid $55 billion to insurers in 2018.

Why not just redirect all those tax dollars to heal Americans?

Corporate health care currently offers no motivation for insurers to actually heal people. Instead, they hire “denial management specialists” – often nurses and physicians as administrators, medical directors and those whose purpose is to deny submitted claims. If we no longer had private insurers, these medical practitioners could return to the professions for which they trained. This would lessen provider shortages nationally, especially in rural areas.

Health insurance companies also employ a tactic called “Benefit Buy-Down,” which means that year after year your health insurance is less valuable, but you’re paying more for it. They charge more for their policies and offer less coverage for the price.

I’m sure you’ve heard that 71 percent of Americans like their employer-based private health insurance. But you don’t hear about the 40 percent with employer-based insurance who struggle to pay premiums, medical bills or out-of-pocket medical costs.

Americans making $75,000 - $100,000 a year are forced to make difficult sacrifices to pay medical
bills. One-third of GoFundMe pages are families begging for life-saving care – and most have health insurance.

Biden and others say that improved Medicare for All would be too disruptive. Yet they say nothing about the disruption our current health-care system has wrought for decades, including destabilizing millions of Americans lives. We’ve been forced to pay high deductibles, rendering plans unaffordable. Jacked-up premiums have made it impossible for businesses to afford to offer employee benefits.

Exorbitant health-care premiums are why wages have stayed flat for decades. Expensive health-care costs is one of the reasons big businesses move overseas. All the while, access to care shrinks due to continuous narrowing of in-network plans for providers and hospitals.

Simply put, the murky world in which health insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital companies swirl has become a tsunami-sized disruption to the U.S. economy.

Ask yourself if you are more worried about the health of corporations or Americans – namely aging parents, friends, siblings and our growing children and grandchildren.

You’ve heard the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, our health-care system is broke and needs massive fixing. The proposed National Improved Medicare for All isn’t the same as the popular and effective Canadian model. It’s more comprehensive – a uniquely American model. Understand the facts, don’t simply react to the fear behind deceptive sound bites.

– Jan Phillips, Durango

E-bikes need to be properly vetted
08/22/2019

To the editor,

Your recent story (“Dirty Talk,” Aug. 15) on the Trump Administration’s efforts to motorize the backcountry by allowing e-bikes on nonmotorized trails missed the mark on a number of key points and raises a lot of questions.

Let’s be clear, e-bikes are motorized vehicles. “Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, pedal-assist,” this is all simply industry jargon designed to obfuscate the truth at the center of this debate. These bikes have motors. Opening nonmotorized trails to e-bikes is opening nonmotorized trails to motors.

The conservation community welcomes e-bike use on federal public lands. There are already thousands of miles of world-famous motorized roads and trails on federal public lands open for e-bike use. For example, our own Hermosa Creek trail offers great opportunities for e-bikes. Furthermore, your article was correct that e-bikes are a great climate-and family friendly way to get around town. They are also a great way to get older folks and the disabled outdoors on bikes. The conservation community fully supports these uses. However, that’s not what is being debated here.

For generations, we’ve agreed that there should be some wild places on public lands left free from motorization. Places where people and wildlife can find refuge from the speed and chaos of the modern world. Allowing e-bikes on nonmotorized trails will undermine those important values and essentially motorize the majority of our remaining wild lands.

If the e-bike industry and their lobby engine want access to trails that are currently designated as nonmotorized trails, they should go through a public process, where other trail users like hikers, horse packers and  sportsmen have an opportunity to evaluate the impacts e-bikes have on their trail experiences. Sadly, we understand that e-bike industry and lobby groups have met secretly with agency officials and pushed the Trump Administration to ignore the rules and pretend that e-bikes aren’t motorized. 

E-bikes are motorized vehicles and should be managed accordingly. They should be welcomed on our public lands, but through a public and deliberative process that determines when and where they are appropriate.

– Michael Carroll, Senior Director - People Outdoors Program, The Wilderness Society, Durango

Urge approval of 32nd St. bridge
08/15/2019

To the editor,

Please call the Durango mayor @ 970-749-6477 to insist that the City Council fund in the 2020 budget the bridge for pedestrian and bike safety to finish the Animas River Trail North.

The long-planned bridge across the river is designed to protect the public from car and pedestrian interaction at 32nd Street at grade level. Since 2011, Council has always planned for public safety with no grade-level crossings at 32nd Street, which is the second busiest street in the city until NOW!

The Multi Modal Board supported the bridge in an email to Council to avoid at-grade crossing on the Animas River Trail North, writing “The pedestrian bridge remains vital to the spirit and intent of the ART and the safety of our citizens.”

AARP in a recent article stated, “The number of pedestrians killed by vehicles rose 35 percent in the past decade – and the death rate is almost twice as high for people over 75.”

In a grant request signed by City Councilor Kim Baxter to Greater Outdoor Colorado, it stated the Animas River Trail is needed for connectivity and will allow for increased pedestrian and bike accessibility and safety. Increasing safety concerns were articulated in the grant with the bridge. The city received $1.3 million from GOCO and stands to lose a minimum of $500,000 if the bridge is eliminated.

Small children, parents with strollers, and dogs and families without the bridge will be in danger. The public will leave a 10-foot-wide sidewalk at Memorial Park to walk across a 5-foot-wide existing sidewalk on the 32nd Street Bridge to arrive at the ART North. This is unacceptable because the volume on the trail will increase once the North

trail opens. There will always be Parks and Rec projects that need money. It is unwise to rob Peter to pay Paul and place pedestrians in danger by not funding the bridge.

Mollie Shine rode her bike on 32nd Street and was killed by a vehicle decades ago. How much is a child’s life worth? Priceless is my answer.

Call the mayor by September to protect the public by funding the bridge in the 2020 City Council budget!

– Sweetie Marbury, Durango

Trump's hate comes home to roost
08/15/2019

To the editor,

The chickens have come home to roost on Donald Trump’s version of American greatness.

For years, Trump’s stock in trade has been promotion of fear, anger and resentment, and demonization of the “other.” The logical outcome of this is hatred, which all too often leads to violence.

Preferred targets have been Muslims and people fleeing violence & poverty in Central America, hoping for a
safer, better life in America. But Trump calls them an invasion of vermin, rapists & criminals. Trump has given a wink, wink, nudge, nudge to white supremacist hate groups.

Trump has been busy stoking these attitudes this summer. At a May campaign rally in Florida, he asked how do we stop the invasion. Someone in the audience yelled, “Shoot them.” Others laughed. Trump joked that “only in the panhandle” can you get away with that.

In July he was busy attacking four uppity young congresswomen of color, telling them to go back where they came from. At a campaign rally that week, his stoked-up crowd started chanting, “Send her back, send her back... ,” targeting one of the four congresswomen who wasn’t born in the U.S. Trump did nothing to tamp this down. Then at the end of July, Trump took aim at Baltimore and its black congressman Elijah Cummings.

But all through this, Hispanics from south of the border have been Trump’s most consistent target. On Aug. 2- 3 we had two horrific mass shootings, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. A young white supremacist drove several hours to El Paso to target Hispanics.

Trump responded Aug. 5 with a scripted speech that called out hatred and white supremacists. He called the El Paso shooter evil. It sounded good, but how long will it take him to get back to promoting fear, anger and hatred? It’s who he is.

– Carole McWilliams, Bayfield