Friday, July 31, 2009

Sgt. David Kinterknecht

Last Saturday was a somewhat unsettled evening at work, with the report of the shooting of several police officers in Montrose. Details were sketchy at first, and as word came in that St. Mary's would be getting one of the officers, talk and speculation were the order of the evening.

It wasn't until Monday morning that I read the news of Sgt. David Kinterknecht's death, and my heart sank. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I know his wife, Kathy. She worked for a brief time with me at the Grand Junction 9-1-1 Center, and prior to that worked in Montrose County's dispatch center. So among the sadness in the public safety community, there is also a particular degree of concern in the dispatch area for a significant loss suffered by a fellow colleague.

On the front page of today's Montrose Daily Press is a tribute and expression of thanks by Kathy for the outpouring of support from the community at large.

I worked overnight, but I'll be staying up to watch Sgt. Kinterknecht's memorial service today. KJCT is providing live coverage, as well as an Internet stream. Kudos to them for making a commitment of air time to a significant local event.

My thoughts and prayers are with Sgt. Kinterknecht's family, and with the entire public safety community in Montrose.

Have a good day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Solar Doublethink

Joe and Linda Skinner's column in Monday's Free Press was very entertaining. Included with their usual repartee was a discussion about the concept of Doublethink, which is one of the more insidious ideas to come out of George Orwell's masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. Luckily, I don't own or depend upon an Amazon Kindle, and still have access to the copy that I read in middle school.

The Skinners brought up what they thought to be some present-day examples of doublethink in action. These included:
Doublethink is illustrated by the person who plans on leaving their assets for others to be eligible for Medicaid financed nursing home care, while railing against all government programs.
They also asked for anyone else who had ideas to let them know, so here's a quick reply:
Those who privately scorn the homeless and downtrodden, while publicly espousing Christian values.
Before I get too off the track here, there is one issue that threw me for a loop over the weekend that just might fit into this niche. Xcel Energy, as part of its latest rate increase request to the Colorado Public Utility Commission, is proposing to levy an additional fee on the owners of solar energy systems that are also connected into the electric grid. This setup is called net metering; electricity produced by the solar array can be sold back to Xcel, turning the meter backward, and offset (or in many cases exceed) the amount of electricity the user draws from the grid.

Xcel is trying to spin this as if it's about fairness to the rest of us on the grid who can't afford, or for some other reason can't take advantage of solar right now. The obstacles at my house are two large trees to the south, and roofing that is approaching the end of its useful life.

in Denver had some
excellent coverage of the issue. Some really basic questions and collective scratching of heads has followed the initial reports of this, such as:
  • How are solar users having their "access to the grid subsidized" when in many cases those users sell more electricity than they use back to Xcel as excess capacity?
  • Is this less about any possible "freeloading" that solar users may engage in down the road, or more toward discouraging large-scale future movement toward a consumer-produced resource that can't be easily commoditized? Some suit at a desk in Minneapolis is probably saying to himself, "What about all those coal futures we bought?"
  • Sure, Xcel has promoted solar energy rebates; how can you not in Colorado and be seen in the proper political light? Now they're getting worried; continued improvements in solar technology are slowly driving the costs within reach for a greater segment of the population, and not just in the household installations. The first cell phones with embedded solar cells are starting to come to market; what will the dent be if a lot of charging devices for personal electronics start to disappear from the grid?
Now the doublethink equation is starting to come into play. Xcel wants people to go solar; just not as many people as could go solar, and threaten the grand business plan of the corporation, whatever that plan may be. So let's just try to attach an artificial premium to energy self-sufficiency.

There are lots of arguments floating about as to why Xcel is behaving stupidly in asking for this. The most pervasive one for me is the potential impact that widespread future use of an increasingly cost-efficient technology, with surplus energy being put back into the grid for collective distribution, will have on the environment and our ability to achieve more cooperative and responsible energy consumption as a society. And we can't have that...

War is Peace..Freedom is Slavery..Ignorance is Strength.

The PUC hearing on Xcel's request is in Denver next Wednesday, August 5, at 4PM.

Have a great day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Perfection, Profiling, and Being Presidential

I was excited to be able to see the last three outs of Mark Buehrle's perfect game for the White Sox on Thursday. ESPN carried it live, and it included an amazing catch at the left center field wall by reserve outfielder Dewayne Wise. It was fun to see a team come together like that, and to see a crowd so into the experience. A lot of collective joy was evident.

Later, President Obama, who makes no effort to conceal his decided enthusiasm for the Chisox, called Mr. Buehrle to congratulate him on his accomplishment.

Perhaps that should be the extent of the President's comments regarding issues of local significance.

The controversy over the President's assessment of the Cambridge, Mass. Police Department's handling of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. should not have happened. This is not because the incident is controversial, but because the President should not be paying public attention to it like he did.

His comments, and the response to them from the law enforcement community (as well as just about everyone else), shifted attention away from more critical issues, intruded on a local jurisdiction's ability to manage its own affairs, and forced the President to make a 'clarification' of his remarks today. This makes the President seem less than presidential.

Nothing will raise the hackles of local authorities like the uninvited and/or uninformed 'contribution' of a seemingly well-intentioned Federal government. Google "Grand Junction Mercury Storage" for more information on this.

To President Obama's credit, some of the related things he said at the press conference were more in line with what, as President, could be seen as more "presidential". For example:
"..there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact."
Those are some broad brush strokes that bring attention to an important issue. That's what a President should be saying, while assuring that his leadership can be asserted in addressing the problem in practical ways. I have no personal experience in this area, but I know someone who does.

When I asked my girlfriend Leslie if she felt she had ever been the subject of racial profiling by police, her response was a somewhat annoyed "Duh". She went on to describe the various places and circumstances in which she felt she had been paid extra attention by law enforcement solely on the basis of her skin color. She had particular disdain for the authorities in Texas. She added, "If I drive down the wrong street in an expensive car, it's assumed that I stole it, and I'm considered a menace to society".

KJCT tried to capitalize on the attention paid to the controversy, by making inquiries of the GJPD about racial profiling complaints. I believe that their approach, while well-intentioned, was way too narrow in scope. They appeared to contact only one law enforcement agency, and made no apparent attempt to contact a representative of the minority community for a more balanced perspective.

The problem of racial profiling notwithstanding, perhaps a larger issue locally is the targeting of individuals based on their perceived socioeconomic or demographic status. These manifest themselves in focused police attention upon those who appear to be transients and/or homeless persons, or persons under 21, among others. Such allegations have been leveled, but not quantified empirically...yet. Most of the allegations are anecdotal, and some in the community have also alleged that the GJPD complaint process is overly complicated and intimidating.
Put that on the assignment board, KJCT.

Admittedly, a lot of this type of 'profiling' is being done in the reactive mode, with law enforcement responding to complaints from citizens about "suspicious subjects" or "welfare checks", which in some cases may be a concern that someone in the neighborhood just doesn't look like they belong.

I personally took a call several years ago from someone in the Redlands, where the caller, when asked what was suspicious about the person they was calling about, stated very matter-of-factly, "he's black". This may be an extreme example, but if the practical application of the law is a reflection of community standards, then the GJPD's reported vigilance in officer training about profiling is an important thing. As Leslie said to me last night, "we all profile".

We still have a lot of work to do as a society. Old habits, attitudes, and approaches learned from childhood are sometimes difficult to overcome. That includes me.

I'll conclude with my own anecdote. My mother, during a recent visit, drove my son in his car to a bike shop downtown. He wasn't going to be long, so she looked around for a parking space and couldn't find one. She decided to park in a part of the street posted as No Parking, behind a luxury car that was unattended.

After a few minutes a patrol car pulled up; an officer got out and approached my son's car, and asked my mother how long she had been parked there. My mother turned and replied, "The question should be, how long has that car been parked there?", pointing to the BMW in front of her. The officer, perhaps a little taken aback by a seventy-something with attitude, in a car adorned with bumper stickers and a ski rack, excused himself and left.

Let's resolve to work harder to appreciate and assess others for the human beings that they are, not by the labels and stereotypes that some in our society would seek to divide us with. It's one way to get us closer to truly being e pluribus unum; out of many, one.

This weekend I'm going to get together with my neighbors. Our President is trying to get a certain professor and a cop to join him for a beer at the White House. Hey, it's a start.

Leslie, I miss you.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Transitions: Bill Gardner

"A man's got to know his limitations."

-Clint Eastwood (as Insp. 'Dirty' Harry Callahan), in Magnum Force (1973)
I had the distinct privilege of working with Bill Gardner during most of my time as a 9-1-1 Supervisor in Grand Junction. Whether in his position as Operations Captain at the Sheriff's Office, Undersheriff, and later as Grand Junction's Police Chief, Bill brought a passion for excellence, leadership, and establishing positive relationships to every project or event that I was also involved in.

I was personally surprised and dismayed to read of Chief Gardner's decision to leave the GJPD. Considering that the PD had 5 different people serve as Chief during my 13 years there, it's not hard to imagine the stress associated with a leadership position of that magnitude, and the associated magnification in the public eye.

Chief Gardner stated in his press conference yesterday that he felt he was leaving "at the top of my game". I'm inclined to agree, but the man I saw making that assessment looked like someone who had played that game perhaps a little too long and a little too hard. Chief Gardner has always worn his emotions out on his sleeve. Even though I've only seen him lose his cool once (the other guy deserved it), I know that his capacity for laughter or tears, for celebratory praise and passionate persuasion, is always at the ready.

Yesterday I saw an emotionally tired man surrounded by deservedly grateful colleagues. All of the requisite smiles were evident, but looked forced to me. I felt a sadness inside, and perhaps imagined the same sadness around that room.

Many who make public safety their career path cushion the blow of the sometimes unpleasant nature of the job through families, faith, or through the understanding of peers in what is by definition a profession separate from the mainstream working world. Many insulate (and sometimes isolate) themselves in cynicism, and by being overly judgmental; it's an easy trap to fall into. Chief Gardner's leadership skills and straightforward approach have endeared him to many who would have otherwise dismissed the entreaties of lesser leaders, and gave many at the PD hope for the future of that agency.

Bill Gardner came to my house after my wife died. We had a running bet whenever the Steelers played the Broncos; 2 pounds of Bison or Kielbasa, depending on who won. Even when our meetings were about less than pleasant subjects, he was always forthright, fair, and direct.

Bill Gardner is a good, honorable man who was in a bad spot. I wish him all the best.

As the City looks to find new top leadership (with the fortunate assistance of Chief Gardner), the continuing challenge to build infrastructure in keeping with the needs of a growing City and public safety workforce is but one of the significant challenges facing a new Chief and administration.

Today's Sentinel coverage of the effort to get property owners in the Fruitvale and Clifton areas to sign petitions for annexation left me with continuing concern over the ability of the GJPD to respond effectively to these areas, while maintaining adequate coverage of the existing City limits. These petitions, if approved, would annex some of the County's most service-intensive areas for law enforcement into the City.

While the story mentioned no specific timetable for this to happen, whomever is the next leader of the GJPD will have this issue to tackle, along with getting a much-needed new home built. Perhaps during this transition it would be prudent for the City to engage in reasoned discussions with the County and other entities about the possibilities of a regional law enforcement agency serving the entire Grand Valley.

In any event, Bill Gardner made sometimes unseen, but significant, contributions to the efficacy and quality of law enforcement service delivery to all citizens of Mesa County. Here's to the best future possible for Bill and his family.

Thanks, Chief.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Return to the Overpass to Nowhere

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They can tell you what to do
But they'll make a fool of you
And it's all right, baby, it's all right
We're on a road to nowhere...
- Talking Heads

When I moved to Grand Junction in 1995, I was initially puzzled by the presence of a large highway overpass along Highway 50, south of Whitewater. The road that the overpass led to appeared to go nowhere; no big subdivision, industrial area or commercial complex that would explain its presence in the middle of the 'stinking desert' between GJ and Delta.

Only later would it be explained to me that the overpass was for the thousands of truckloads of Uranium mill tailings being taken to the Cheney Disposal Cell, on the other side of that hill from the highway.

As it happens, most of the tailings have been removed to the site, and the overpass was taken down after Highway 50 through Whitewater was widened to 2 lanes in each direction.

With the recent announcement that the U.S. Department of Energy is considering moving upwards of 10,000 tons of elemental Mercury to the Cheney Cell, there's been a considerable amount of community concern expressed in advance of a public meeting tomorrow evening at Two Rivers Convention Center. This is not unexpected.

The Sentinel's Gary Harmon deftly characterized the decision-making process around where the Mercury will go as being primarily political in nature. However, Gary did not go deep enough into his analysis of the issue. He left out the reasons this is all being done in the first place, along with the political legerdemain of a certain senator from Tennessee to assure that his state's nuclear waste facilities would be exempted from consideration.

For that and other information, local geologist and blogger Ralph D'Andrea did some excellent and comprehensive research and reporting on the issue. If you're interested about this issue, this is probably the best information you'll find about it locally.

As other local politicians and leaders weighed in almost uniformly against the issue, several former elected and appointed county officials also lent a historical perspective. Former Commissioner and current Free Press columnist Jim Spehar wrote on a local e-mail list:
"Having been involved in the permitting of the Cheney site as a county commissioner and again during the mill tailings removal process, I distinctly remember that the DOE wouldn't even let tailing mixed with battery acid be disposed of there. Now they want to use the site to store toxic mercury, which will need to travel through Grand Junction and Mesa County while en route?"
Former County Planning Director Bennett Boeschenstein took it a little further:

"The conditional use permit that the County granted to the Department of Energy specifically stated that the only waste that could be disposed of at this site was low level radioactive mill tailings from the Grand Junction area. This case demonstrated that County has the right to require local land use authority on BLM land. This is because of a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Mesa County which states that the BLM will require local land use approval of activates on BLM land in Mesa County.

Therefore, any change in the conditional use permit would require additional hearings with the County Planning Commission and the County Commissioners and should be denied. The DOE will attempt to assert federal preemption, but there is already a precedent set by the original conditional use permit."
Several other local columnists and bloggers have also weighed in against the storage facility, but for me a lot of the reasons not to support its location here came from County planning personnel after the Commissioners voted to re-zone the Whitewater area for denser residential development. As planners were literally gushing over the development potential of the greater Whitewater area, I'm sure that visions of Mercury containers being trucked to a storage facility just a couple of miles from this new 'hotbed' of development had the powers that be, and their predecessors, scratching their heads as to what DOE is up to.

I'm not an expert on these types of issues, so I defer to those who are or who have been there.
The history of the Cheney site's permitting and prior operation, combined with the future of the greater metropolitan Whitewater area as envisioned by Mesa County planners, makes the transportation to and storage of Mercury at Cheney problematic, illegal, and highly ill-advised.

Mesa County has done, and is continuing to do, its bit for King and Country with regard to energy development. This proposal is an example of too much soot on the porch, another overpass to nowhere.

Hopefully the DOE here will get its earful tomorrow, and that will be the end of it.

Have a good week.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sentinel Sale Raises Spectre of Subscription Switch?

Denver - I drove my mother to DIA yesterday to catch a late afternoon flight back to her home outside Pittsburgh. I then caught an excellent soccer match between the Colorado Rapids and popular Mexican team CF America. Dick's Sporting Goods Park is an excellent venue to view the game. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and everyone is close to the action.

What was even more interesting about the match (a scoreless draw, BTW) was that the number of Club America fans greatly outnumbered the Rapids fans in attendance. You really got the feel of an international futbol match, and even though the match was a "friendly" exhibition, one red card ejection and at least one fight in the stands displayed the passion for this game that we Americans are still trying to get a grasp of. Hockey fans get the idea, I think.


Congratulations are in order to Denny Herzog and his staff at the Daily Sentinel on the announced sale of the paper to Seaton Publishing of Manhattan, Kansas. I'm hopeful for a continued healthy operating posture and positive growth for our local daily.

According to today's story,
"Seaton Publishing is a family business based in Manhattan, Kan., that publishes the daily newspaper in that city. It’s associated with family-owned newspaper companies in Arkansas City and Winfield, Kan.; Alliance and Hastings, Neb.; Spearfish, S.D.; and Sheridan, Wyo., in addition to a group of radio stations in Manhattan, Kan."
I'm familiar with one of Seaton's holdings, the Hastings, Nebraska Tribune. Hastings is, like Grand Junction, a mostly conservative community with a college, bisected by U.S. 6 and served by Amtrak. Hoak Media, the owner of KREX in Grand Junction, also owns the local TV station there, KHAS.

The Tribune has an excellent editorial cartoonist with whom I share some personal common ground. I don't always agree with his sometimes hilarious conservative humor, but perhaps this sale will enable the Sentinel to pick up some of his cartoons. They certainly seem to reflect the tone of the local editorial page in both towns.

One big annoyance about the Tribune is that the bulk of the paper's online content is available by paid subscription only. I'm not saying that they can't charge for their content; it certainly fills a niche if you want to know what's going on in the bustling Hastings-Grand Island metroplex. It just flies in the face of what so many other publications do with their online presence. Perhaps it serves the small-town paper with a more limited print circulation to leverage their online content for additional revenue.

A quick survey of newspaper websites in the towns reported in the Sentinel story revealed a similar pattern. Subscriptions are required to view full story content in the Seaton flagship Manhattan (Kansas) Mercury, the Alliance (Nebraska) Times-Herald, Sheridan (Wyoming) Press, and the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, South Dakota.

However, two other Kansas papers with reported ties to Seaton, the Winfield Courier and Arkansas City Traveler, provide unfettered access to online story content. Perhaps there is hope that the Sentinel's online presence will not be tied down by a change to subscription-based access to stories, etc. If you feel the same way, drop Denny a line and let him know.

Best wishes to the Sentinel and Seaton Publishing on their new relationship, and the opportunity to provide even better service to the readers of the Grand Junction area.

Have a great day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Techie Trepidation - RFID Update

Last winter I wrote about the civil liberties and other concerns that accompany the continued development and proliferation of RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips in everything from store goods to currency to identification cards. Some recent news events make this worth mentioning again.

In the last years of the Bush Administration, almost half of the states passed legislation in opposition to implementing the provisions of the REAL ID Act of 2005. This law is basically dead in the water, given the opposition of so many states to many of its provisions. Many forms of Federal ID, including US Passports, already have these chips in them. Many border states that did not oppose REAL ID have started to issue drivers licenses with RFID chips as well.

The proliferation of RFID technology, despite some qualified concerns from many trade groups, privacy advocates, fraud prevention organizations, and the ACLU, has the potential to escalate exponentially with the introduction of another questionable bill from a Democratic lawmaker.

The PASS ID Act, or S. 1261, is currently awaiting committee hearings after being introduced by Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka. Sophomoric humor about the bill being a piece of 'Akaka' aside, its provisions include national standards for state-issued IDs, much like REAL ID attempted to do before so many states passed laws essentially flushing it. The new chunk of merde in this version includes mandatory RFID chipping of drivers licenses.

In case you were wondering how much this means to your freedom, these IDs are designed to be read by scanners from nearly 30 feet away. Detection of movements by citizens is a big potential issue, but so is fraud, as reported by Todd Lewan of the Associated Press. The Sentinel thought enough of the story to put it on Page One (below the fold) of Sunday's paper, but a much more comprehensive version of the story is available here. An excerpt or two:
RFID...has a fundamental flaw: Each chip is built to faithfully transmit its unique identifier "in the clear, exposing the tag number to interception during the wireless communication."
Meanwhile, (the U.S. Department of) Homeland Security has been promoting broad use of RFID even though its own advisory committee on data integrity and privacy warned that radio-tagged IDs have the potential to allow "widespread surveillance of individuals" without their knowledge or consent.
"RFID's role is to make the collection and transmission of people's biometric data quick, easy and nonintrusive,"..."Think of it as the thread that ties together the surveillance package."
If you care about individual liberty and preventing the unreasonable monitoring of the lawful movements and activities of citizens, the ACLU has comprehensive information and an action center available online. I also have the bill listed in my Bad Law Tracker on the sidebar of this page.

Have a great day.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Media and the Homeless - Part 2

I went down to Whitman Park on Tuesday to observe the first meeting of Housing First! No More Deaths. While attendance was what I would consider light, it appeared to come close to the numbers that assembled at the June 29 City Council meeting.

The local mass media was well represented at the gathering. Kate Renner from KREX and Courtney Jones of KJCT did some comprehensive reporting on the event, including interviews with some of the local homeless that attended. The Sentinel's Emily Anderson and Wyatt Haupt of the Free Press (strange to type that) weighed in with good accounts as well.

Conspicuously absent from the event was KKCO-TV. "The Ones to Watch" appear to be approaching the issue from a different angle. One of their lead stories Tuesday night at 5:30 was about a Mortgage Credit Certificate program for first-time homebuyers and others. It was almost as if the station was trying to say, "This is how you get housing".

A search of the station's website (using a very robust new search tool) using the term homeless resulted in only one story hit, and that involved the homeless in Aspen. To the station's credit, their Monday special report on Bridges Out of Poverty was well-conceived, competently reported, and contained lots of useful information.

These two stories give me the distinct impression that KKCO is only willing to report on programs that give those in disadvantaged situations the opportunity to educate themselves, and assimilate into the work world so that they can pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty, crime, and in some cases, homelessness. They don't appear to be interested in anything outside of that somewhat narrow focus.

So what about the foundational benchmarks behind Tuesday's effort to begin organizing and empowering the homeless community? My interest was sparked by the civil liberties and effective governance aspects of the issue.

The groups involved are attempting to leverage the momentum from a victory at the City Council level into constructive change and meaningful dialogue with City government. At the same time, they decry what they perceive as police harassment, and threaten the use of civil disobedience to bring attention to their demands.

I believe that they can best move toward accomplishing their end with cooperative efforts first. Homeless advocate Jacob Richards stressed this among many points in a 15-minute speech to the crowd on Tuesday. Other things that Jacob touched upon included providing education on the rights of citizens when contacted by police, assuring that transients arriving in Grand Junction are communicated with about the services available and the behaviors to avoid, and strategies to address what they perceive as an overzealous police presence and the 'warrant-go-round' that I've mentioned previously. Jacob went so far as to encourage anyone receiving a 'petty ticket' to plead not guilty and exercise their right to trial, with the intent of bogging down the municipal court system.

Yesterday Jacob reported to me that he had received three reports of police contacts with transients in Whitman Park on Tuesday afternoon, in which officers chided those that they contacted for having the meeting that morning. Phrases such as "you have the wrong idea" and
"you don't know the trouble you have started" were reportedly used. Judging from the GJPD's response to media queries on Tuesday, they believe that they are doing the job they are paid to do, and claim that the laws on the books apply equally to everyone. That's to be expected.

As a citizen and taxpayer I also expect that the PD will continue to exercise their duties in a professional manner, regardless of the segment of the population they are dealing with at any given time. Despite the rhetoric being bandied about, I have faith in our police to do the right thing when necessary. I believe, as I believe many citizens do, that it is a disservice to a society of laws when that doesn't happen.

With regard to civil disobedience, I believe that is a last resort tactic, and not one to be used without significant provocation or evidence of some sort of injustice. Hopefully Jacob and his crew have learned something from the Palin motorcade incident last fall; not all publicity is good for the cause.

Councilman Tom Kenyon was quoted by KJCT as saying
"We are willing to work with them. We're willing to solve problems. But, if they go down the road of illegal behavior then they will be dealt with." If he's true to his word, that's a reasonable approach.

One segment that hasn't ventured to speak in a public forum are those who hide behind online aliases to spew hate and discontent, or insults from moving vehicles. That's one voice I didn't hear at the park on Tuesday. Like cockroaches and vampires, these kinds of attitudes can't survive the light of day.

In fairness, the community at large also needs to recognize the need for better, more accessible alcohol, substance abuse and and mental health treatment, and those among the homeless community that are so afflicted need to make some life choices. The City and the Police are right about one thing; a drunk on the street is a danger to themselves and to others.

Tuesday's meeting was hopefully the start of meaningful dialogue and a positive step toward our community uniting to address a long-standing problem. A sense of commitment and honesty, a focused approach, and sincere attempts at compromise are keys to making effective change happen, hopefully before it gets cold outside.

Our local media can help in this process by continuing to report on the issues at hand. With one possible exception, they're off to a good start.

Have a great day.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Media and the Homeless

KREX-TV has been doing a good job of covering issues surrounding the homeless in the Grand Junction area. A search of their site with the word "homeless" revealed special features in March on growing up homeless, and a great story on the City's "camp cleanup" in May.
Both of these stories were reported by Kate Renner, who according to her station biography holds degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Theology. That's a unique combination.

KREX also offered better coverage than other local broadcast media of the City Council meeting a week ago today, where a ham-handed attempt to criminalize solicitation was sent back by
Council for some much-needed work. However, something included as part of their web package for that story gave me pause:

This is a screen capture of a still photo included with the online story. In case you can't read the file name at the top, it is "Bums Off Hook".

I sent an email to KREX News Director Keira Bresnahan, expressing my concern about the manner in which the picture was named, visible to the public, and the impression it left upon me as to her staff's sense of objectivity and taste.

Keira sent me a quick reply last week, stating that she would take it up with the appropriate people right away. To her credit and that of her staff, the file name was quickly changed.

This episode is hopefully not reflective of the underlying attitude of a majority of our local media. KREX has otherwise distinguished themselves locally for their coverage of this issue so far this year. They, and the rest of the media, can maintain and improve on that standard by showing up in force at Whitman Park tomorrow morning. It will likely present an opportunity to see and talk to all of the stakeholders in a way not typical to our area.

These human beings and citizens are a part of our community that may seem unsavory to a large segment of others within that community. Many of those would likely prefer they be hidden away or removed elsewhere.
I've got news for those of who you yell at or otherwise deride them:

They're not going away.

I believe that the ordinances presented last week were an attempt to use health and safety as subterfuge to accomplish that end. To their credit, the homeless community and those who advocate for them showed up, and the power of democratic government and the First Amendment was there for all to see.

The local media can help to assure that all of our city's problems, as well as accomplishments, are put forward and addressed in a similar fashion. They can start by following KREX's lead in reporting on issues such as homelessness, and avoiding the subtle biases and editorial legerdemain that can make the outlet appear aloof, oblivious, or put a suspicious stain on otherwise good work.

Have a great day.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Talking and Walking on Independence Day

Church and State:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In the wake of Monday night's small victory of common sense over intolerance, I was relaying the events of this past weekend, and Monday's Council meeting, to my girlfriend Leslie.

Leslie is a very down-to-earth, intelligent woman. She doesn't mince words, and gives you her whole heart when she is talking or listening. This is quickly becoming a lost art in the age of the Internet.

Leslie was largely unimpressed. "Have you ever sat down and talked with a homeless person, really talked to them about their situation?", she asked. "Have you ever truly tried to make a difference, got your hands dirty, tried walking the walk instead of just talking?"

I told her that for about a year I volunteered driving a church van, taking homeless and transient people to various locations that they needed to go, such as the Workforce Center, Social Security Office, or Marillac Clinic. This did not change her assessment, nor did my assertion that perhaps I could have influenced someone through my writing to look at this segment of our population in a different light. She said, "Not enough people read your blog to make that kind of a difference".

She is probably right about all of those things, including the last one. Other than the van gig, I really haven't engaged the homeless population of Grand Junction. I've instead written blog posts, as well as checks to Catholic Outreach, the Homeless Shelter, and other non-profits that serve this community.

I believe that a good portion of our citizens that care about the community at large may be in the same boat as I am; willing to give of our resources, but too busy or otherwise engaged to get ourselves more involved on a personal level. Monday's Council meeting was hopefully the beginning of a cooperative effort between the homeless community, those members of the community willing to lend support, and the local government.

This past Wednesday I sat down with local activist and homeless advocate Jacob Richards, who has spent a great deal of time among those in the homeless community. While Jacob's politics are decidedly different (he does tend to lean toward the theatrical at times), he does offer unique perspective and access to this issue that can't (or won't) be duplicated elsewhere.

As always, Jacob likes to push his message and his idea of change, and Wednesday was no exception. He was telling me about a police crackdown on "pedestrian violations" the day following the Council meeting. This was briefly touched on by the Sentinel yesterday.

Jacob claimed that 18 citations were written this past Tuesday, usually when a panhandler stepped off of the curb to receive a donation from a motorist. Jacob also stated that another ticket that is often issued to homeless and transient people is for smoking in a public park. This includes Main Street from 3rd to 7th Streets, otherwise known as the "Main Street Shopping Park".

I have a feeling that these petty offense ordinances are going to become a bigger issue, along with the panhandling and solicitation ordinances to come. The Sentinel article was centered around citations issued to those who listed no home address, or a shelter facility as their address.

I'm wondering what those numbers are as a percentage of all citations issued. I was thinking about this more as I watched numerous people lighting up at the Farmers' Market on Main Street this past Thursday, while cops on bicycles rode right by.

My son got a jaywalking ticket a couple of years ago, so from that I get the impression that just the homeless aren't being targeted. Maybe it's just the homeless and teenagers.

Time to do some more research.

Check out this post, from a statewide independent media website, which details the activities organized on short notice for last Monday's Council meeting, the introduction of a new local advocacy group targeting homeless issues, and the announcement of a meeting and rally slated for next Tuesday morning in Whitman Park. I hope to be able to make it there.

It feels kind of hokey to try to use Independence Day as a metaphor for personal growth and change, but this is one of several areas that this needs to happen in my life and our existence as a community. For those who lead lives challenged by homelessness, substance abuse, and/or mental illness, one commenter to this site (who I think is in a related position of responsibility) summed it up nicely:
"Telling them to get a job or criminalizing their situation is hardly a solution, and doesn't get to the causative issues. If we're serious about getting them "off the streets," let's all buckle down and work up a set of community strategies that helps them get to a better and more stable place where they can be safe and self sufficient. It's not rocket science, but it does have to be done with intent."
"Done with intent". In other words, getting out there, stepping outside the box, getting your hands dirty. Leslie is someone who is not comfortable living any other way. I would like to emulate her example in many aspects of my life, including this one. Other parts of my life get in the way of this much more than I should allow. Enough said for now.

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day. I had to work, but I have today off. I would have preferred not to have slept in, as I would prefer to be at church right now. Time to get moving and do some good work.

Have a good week ahead.

P.S. Thanks to Jen for the scripture reference.