Soap Box

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

A woman's place is in the House
05/10/2018

To the editor,

This question maybe would’ve been relevant in the 1950s, or perhaps even in the 1960s. But with powerfully able women leaders as ambassadors to the UN, as justices of the United States Supreme Court, as governors and U.S. senators, as business heads – it is a question of yesteryear.

The very question suggests that the Third Congressional District is a behind-the-times and bigoted place. The question should insult us, every one. In every house-hold in this Western Slope district, there are men who have grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, cousins, nieces who – surprise – are women. There are women in those households who have fathers, brothers and husbands who respect those wives, daughters and nieces. Every one of them holds the right to vote for a real representative in Congress.

The crucial reality of this race rests in electing a new “true” representative with both the passion and know-how to get the job done in the halls of Congress. This is not a job for those who are not yet steeped in the rigors of legislating for results, who can best develop their skills in the more navigable local and state governments.

In the next two years, this district depends on a change-out of our congressional seat to get its fair share of the 21st century economy and the infrastructure to support those wage-worthy jobs. It depends on smart science to answer the consequences of climate change in a time of increasing drought and threat to our water resources, in order to ensure the critical agricultural production that is at the heart of so much on the Western Slope. It depends on strengthening equal access to health care in our rural areas and price transparency for medical services. And on more issues than can be laid out in a short letter, none of which are being spearheaded by our current officeholder, Rep. Scott Tipton.

In turn, this needed action depends on the skill and fortitude to get it done. Some say “past performance is the best predictor of future performance.” In Diane Mitsch Bush, we have a three-term member of the Colorado House, so respected that she was chosen to head committees, so respected that she won awards such as Legislator of the Year in 2017, and best of all – so capable that she could work across the aisle to get bills turned into law in an urban-dominated Legislature. We must all join in asking the true question for our Third CD common interests: who best knows how to get our work done in Congress? The answer is transparent and real. Getting the vote out to ensure Diane Mitsch Bush’s election is a serious task owned by each citizen in this district. Burying the antithetical misogynist notion that a woman cannot be our representative is an equally serious task that goes to the very identity of our home.

– Jan Symchych, Yampa

Fixing the rural teacher shortage
05/03/2018

To the editor,

Last week was a good one for schools and teachers. In 2017, the Governor signed my bill, HB17-1003, to find solutions for Colorado’s educator shortage. We’re pushing forward to address them.

Colorado is about 3,000 educators short, including teachers, aides and special services instructors. The Department of Higher Education and Department of Education toured the state last year to determine why educators are leaving the profession early, or not entering it at all.

In December, they presented the Education Committees with their results. Recently, the House Education Committee discussed bills generated by the listening tour.

The Legislature set aside $2 million for teacher education programs and $8 million for public schools in the budget this year to remedy many of the educator-shortage issues. These bills are working their way through the Legislature.

• HB18-1367, will create a professional development program for school principal leadership. The listening tour found many teachers leave the profession because of weak leadership; this bill will use strong mentor principals to help those who need assistance. The goal is to train principals to use distributive and collaborative leader skills and improve educator retention, school climate and culture and student outcomes.

• HB18-1309 implements a “grow-your-own” teacher program. Under the bill, education majors at Colorado colleges and universities are paired with school districts or charter schools. With assistance from state grants provided by the bill, the district or school would pay tuition for a student’s last 36 credits. In exchange, the student would commit to work in the same school for three years.

• Another bill, HB18-1412, provides funding for a Retaining Teachers Grant Program to help schools implement initiatives to improve teacher retention, as teacher attrition in Colorado is higher than the national average. Schools will be offered a menu of strategies and can choose the ones that best fit their needs. The menu includes job-sharing, on-site child care, teacher induction programs, incentives for highly effective teachers, and others.

• HB18-1189 expands the number of teachers entering a residency expansion program. This helps encourage professionals who want to enter the teaching profession to complete the rigorous alternative teacher licensure program.

• HB18-1002 is a rural grow-your-own fellowship program that helps a student pay for the costs of student teaching, with the promise that the district and teacher will work together to ensure employment.

• SB18-229 streamlines the background check process for students in a teacher-education program. Some students have paid for the check multiple times as they apply to several districts. This ensures they pay once.

• Another one of my bills, SB18-085, will expand an existing program providing stipends to teachers who are pursuing additional certification and agree to teach in rural areas. This will help teachers complete an alternative licensure program, finish additional course work to be certified as a concurrent enrollment teacher or complete classes leading to certification as a special services provider. Teachers who receive this funding must teach in a rural area for three years. This bill may die in the Senate, as they don’t believe funding for special services – psychologists and special needs – is needed in the rural areas.

I am so proud to be a legislative leader for education. Listening to educators and addressing their needs has produced some forward-thinking bills that will help our students become well-educated and productive members of society.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango