Friday, December 31, 2010

Nothing Neutral about Net Neutrality

I've been writing about the subject of Net Neutrality for as long as I've been writing this blog - 4 years and change.

The new FCC Rules adopted last week have been picked apart and panned by groups on both sides of the issue and on the political spectrum. If you believe the sound bites, it's almost as if nobody likes the new rules.

This is one reason that I think they will work out. Nothing really scientific about it, really - just a feeling that if the professional activists on both leading edges of an issue are pissed off about it, then the rules likely have something for everyone in the middle.

What I'm really not thrilled about is how the issue has been portrayed in the media - at least the local print kind. Gary Harmon of the Daily Sentinel, whose news writing since losing his opinion column looks more and more like he's auditioning for a job at Fox News, penned a one-sided (and paywalled) portrayal of the issue.

Gary did what we lovingly expect him to do - he spoke to local Internet Service Providers and national trade organizations representing them in order to provide reporting about the entire issue. Aside from one short paragraph and a sidebar from the Associated Press that explained what
exactly the FCC approved, the story was told exclusively from the perspective that net neutrality is bad for business.

Mr. Harmon would have done a better job for his paper's readership had he balanced the local business concerns with the opinion of local user communities about the rights of Internet users to access to content unfettered by corporate preferences, sweetheart deals, or junior high-level spats over competing services that share the same Internet "pipe".

Craig Hall of the Grand Valley Business Times spoke to the concerns of his core audience quite well in a recent issue. I would prefer it if the Sentinel left the business opinion disguised as news reporting to Mr. Hall and his able staff. The type of reporting put forth by Mr. Harmon, which often is just thinly-veiled opinion, is one reason that I will not subscribe to the Sentinel. More about that later.

I think that I'm finished with the subject until the new regulations are fleshed out in the appropriate venue, and the effects of their implementation or challenge are plainly available for all to see.

Have a great weekend and New Year ahead.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Event Management:
Hype vs Reality

Much hoopla has been thrown around concerning the new Quiznos Pro Challenge bicycle race series, to begin this coming August at several locations across Colorado. Grand Junction is not one of those locations this year, but there are several local residents making up a race committee that have petitioned the Colorado National Monument for permission to run one of these races through the Monument in 2012.

Apparently, the cycling community has nostalgic memories of bike races through the Monument in the 1980's. For those who are unfamiliar, the 1985 film American Flyers has some impressive race scenes through the park along Rim Rock Drive.

Initial attendance estimates reported by the Sentinel on November 5 quoted one of the organizing committee members as stating “We could get 50,000 people up the east side of the monument. This is JUCO times 10 easily.” Hopefully, they didn't get these estimates from the business planners of their name sponsor; Quiznos had two restaurants open and close in GJ within the span of a few years.

The event and emergency planning sections of my brain got jump-started at about that point, trying to imagine a number roughly equal to the entire population of Grand Junction lined up along Rim Rock Drive, and wondering where their cars will go, how services would be provided (such as porta-potties), EMS response issues, and transportation to and from parking areas.

This led me to question the veracity and logic behind the above estimate; was this truly realistic, or just an exercise in hyperbole to try and get local business interests fired up about the events? I'm personally weighing what's a more attractive proposition; standing in Grand Valley summer heat waiting for a fleeting glimpse at the leaders and the peloton as they pass, or watch it on cable in the comfort of my living room, likely with aerial coverage of the entire race?

Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo and her staff apparently had similar thoughts, which may have contributed to their decision last week to deny the permit application submitted by the organizing committee, who along with the likely participation of the business community turned to the Daily Sentinel editorial page for help.

In a paywalled editorial in the December 23rd edition, the Sentinel struck a somewhat conciliatory tone between the statutory responsibilities of Ms. Anzelmo and the supposedly clear advantages to all of us GJ locals to having a pro bicycle event in town. The Sentinel did quite a bit of research regarding federal regulations that govern events such as this in National Park Service areas, and arrived at conclusions such as the following:
"We believe the Quiznos Pro Challenge bike race can further the purpose of the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act if the event is properly tailored to protect the delicate flora, fauna and landscape of Colorado National Monument. At the same time, a properly conducted race would expose countless cycling enthusiasts to the beauty of our landscape and the wonders of what has been described as the religious experience of riding over the monument.

By limiting the number of spectators permitted on top of the monument and imposing other thoughtful limitations, the National Park Service can fulfill its dual obligations."
I'm still wondering how you "tailor" the event in such a way. If the estimates of attendance are somehow met, and the top of the monument is restricted, perhaps they'll attempt to make that area available for VIPs only. Not necessarily in keeping with the public access aspects of the park, however. And what's this about a "religious experience"? Are we somehow violating the separation of church and state here? ;)

If all of this can somehow fall into place sometime soon, Grand Junction will get a major bike race with some serious TV and movie production values, especially if they use a helicopter to follow the race. The Sentinel editorial called this "soft marketing". Lots of people stand to make money; the expertise and energy of many volunteer and youth organizations will likely be leveraged, and the community will largely be happy with the result.

However, those who toil in relative anonymity in the emergency services, including communications, planning, and emergency management personnel, stand to be faced with a daunting task should this race go forward. Is it something that stands to create too heavy a burden for locals, requiring a multi-jurisdictional response, similar to when Vail hosts a World Cup skiing event?

Perhaps the Monument is giving us a little sneak preview of how they plan on managing crowds and a potentially major public event. They're inviting all of us up to there to watch fireworks on New Year's Eve. Perhaps a dry run, even if it's at night in the dead of winter, might just help gauge how much logistical support will be needed to properly manage the event.

Rest assured that if the weather's good, people in the Grand Valley will flock to fireworks. I hope that the Monument gets a good idea of exactly what their capabilities are. Let's just say I'll be celebrating somewhere else that night.

Leslie and I tried snowboarding today at Powderhorn. We never made it to any slope, but the lesson in the practice bowls was enough to generate both laughs as well as several aches and pains. Evan worked up there today as well; everyone except me is asleep or in bed. It was a good day, and the staff at Powderhorn provided excellent, patient instruction and a quality experience, which is critical with an activity as expensive as theirs. Many thanks to them.

Have a good rest of the week.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happiness at Christmas

I hope that you're enjoying Christmas Day with someone you love. This year I get a special treat, having Leslie and Gianna here. They made it in yesterday afternoon, and will be with us through New Year's.

Leslie has challenged me to take life as it comes, and not try to control it so much. This is difficult for me because I've always been a task-oriented kind of person. I've always been more comfortable and in my element with a plan in mind, or one formulating somewhere in the dark recesses of my head.

Earlier this month Leslie sent me a clipping from her local paper. It's one of those ads from a funeral service provider that try to send some sort of inspirational message. For those of you in Grand Junction, it's very similar to what Callahan-Edfast does.

This "thought for the week" was longer and more thought-provoking for me than most of the ones I've seen in the past. I should just shut up now and get it out there:

It's been said that life is a mirror. If you frown at it; it frowns back; if you smile, it returns the greeting...have you noticed that no matter how humble the circumstances, how difficult their tasks and work, some people seem to enjoy life immensely? Those who use happiness as a tool for living appreciate, enjoy, and find satisfaction now in everything they have in everything they do. Their condition in life may not be ideal, and need not represent the limit of their ambitions. But being content for the present, they can play with imagination and work with enthusiasm...(unlike) those who make happiness a goal, push it off into the future and make it something to struggle for, rather than something to know and enjoy. To make happiness a goal is never to know it...To make happiness a tool is never to lose it.

As I look forward to another year filled with change and opportunity, I'm trying against my own nature to embrace life as it comes, and approach it with a smile. For too many years I have seen my life through the glasses of my work, which is also an avocation. For many, including myself, cynicism and skepticism are survival mechanisms for dealing with the realities and unpleasantness of life that can be extraordinarily self-destructive if not dealt with. I know these lessons all too well. We saw some examples of this over the past year that made and continue to make for much media fodder and controversy, and from some accounts there may not be a letting up.

Best wishes to everyone for safe travels and happy times with family, friends, and loved ones. Remember those who have neither, and may also lack essentials such as proper food and shelter.

I hope that many of you will look toward the coming year with a sense of joy and possibility.

Enjoy the day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Christmas Break Beer Pong Headquarters

Walmart, Grand Junction, CO (West), 12/22/10

This end cap (retail parlance for the shelves at the end of an aisle) display is a recent addition to one of Grand Junction's two Walmart stores. It has two items on it; 18-ounce plastic "party cups" and table tennis balls.

I thought it was curious, maybe a little funny, and maybe a little sad that a company that exercises its considerable market leverage to influence, censor, and refuse to sell products from the entertainment, media, and even health care sectors would choose to openly market two products together that really only serve one purpose when combined; a drinking game popular with many not yet of legal drinking age.

The timing of this display, to coincide with Christmas break for schools and colleges, is interesting as well.

I spoke with an Assistant Manager of the store, who said that she had also "noticed" the display, but offered no other insight or corrective action. I stated to her that I thought it interesting that a company that requires adults of just about any age to show ID when purchasing an R-rated DVD would be tacitly endorsing, if not encouraging, potentially illegal and damaging behavior.

Evan and Leslie both thought I was barking up the wrong tree with this. Leslie thought I should be focusing on my own hypocrisies before I worry about Walmart's. Evan adopted an almost libertarian viewpoint about what people can and cannot buy, the right of a private business to sell or not sell what it wants to, the identification of markets, and catering to the needs of those markets being just good business sense. They both make valid points.

Still, it just seems kind of contradictory to me. It reminds me of when Walmart and other local stores start stocking up on Mardi Gras-style bead necklaces as Country Jam approaches every year. These beads and other decorations are popular among attendees.

I can remember marketing displays with these beads that included such items as sunscreen, styrofoam coolers, and handheld misting fans. I wonder what the community reaction might be if they added hangover remedies, 5-gallon buckets, and condoms to these displays. They also might not be a bad addition to our beer pong end cap above. Hey, it's a free country...

On a more serious note, I found out while doing some research that the Mesa County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force is no longer in existence. Their grant funding ran out this past June. However, there is still a dedicated liquor enforcement person at the GJPD who might find the above information interesting, if not humorous in a sad kind of way. At least the lady at the Mesa County Health Department that answered the former task force "hotline" did. Luckily, the task force website still works, and is just as informative and accessible as always.

If beer pong is to become another festive holiday tradition, like wassail and egg nog, maybe Walmart should do it better next year. Let's try green ping-pong balls with the red cups. What's Christmas all about, after all?

Yeah. That's right. You know what's coming.

Have a blessed and safe holiday.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Citizenship at Work -
Medical Marijuana in GJ

The other example of citizens actively participating in government beyond the ballot box last week was the protest of the City of Grand Junction's ordinance banning Medical Marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries in the city limits.

As I outlined in a previous post, Article XVI, Section 136 of the City Charter provides for the following to protest an ordinance enacted by Council:
If signatures can be secured from City residents that are registered to vote equal to 10 percent of those who voted in the last election for Governor, the implementation of the ordinance will be suspended, and Council must either repeal the protested ordinance or put it before the voters at either the next municipal election, or a special election. The only exception to this is those ordinances passed under the charter's "special emergency" provision, which require a unanimous vote of Council and are effective immediately.
Immediately after Council passed the ordinance on October 4 to ban MMJ dispensaries starting January 1, efforts began to secure the necessary 1,860 signatures from registered voters in the City within 30 days to force reconsideration of the ordinance. It's a safe bet that the framers of the charter did not anticipate the power of mass media and social networking. Mesa County Constitution Advocates leveraged both to organize and conduct a petition drive. The required signatures were submitted in time and validated by the City Clerk, and as a result Council had decisions to make.

The first thing they decided to do was extend the moratorium on new dispensaries beyond the date of the next municipal election in April. They had to do this via ordinance, and passed one last Monday using the "special emergency" provision of the City Charter. This allows an ordinance to be passed and take effect immediately "for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and then only by the unanimous vote of all members of the council".

I don't think that the possibility of new dispensaries before the election constitutes a "special emergency". The marketplace will likely govern itself, as no one with any business sense would likely open a new dispensary now, when the possibility exists that they may have to close by next summer. The big issue here is not the extension of the moratorium; it's the legislative overreach and the misuse of "emergency" power, similar to the failed attempt last year to outlaw panhandling.

Council then decided last Wednesday to put the existing ordinance to the voters of the City at the next municipal election, this coming April 5.

Mesa County Constitution Advocates (would a better name be 'Charter Advocates'?) deserve credit for a solid effort to use the resources at their disposal to effect what seems to be the preferred course of action by City Council; having the electorate decide, as Mesa County voters did, whether or not to permit dispensaries in the community.

Hopefully, this fledgling group's efforts will not end with this particular issue. According to spokesperson Cat Coughran, the group will have a dedicated website to accompany their Facebook page in the near future, as part of an effort to ramp up and get the vote out for MMJ dispensaries in the City. This type of advocacy for all manner of City Council issues, including annexation ordinances, may prove useful in the future.

I believe that government is catching up to the marketplace in ways appropriate to both safety and community standards. As I've mentioned before, both Colorado Springs and unincorporated El Paso County appear to be embracing dispensaries as both a deterrent to the illicit street trade and a source of sales tax revenue. The state is developing new regulations, and asking for public comment. This would appear at the surface to be the kind of activity necessary to get all levels of local and state government up to speed.

The MMJ issue involves numerous perspectives, some educated and others....well, you know. I know that there are those for whom MMJ is a safe and effective alternative to ineffective and/or self-destructive "conventional" therapies. I believe that questionable and inappropriate use of MMJ by those who do not have a medical need for it is an issue that needs to be dealt with, as are those with a medical justification for use who choose to distribute their MMJ to those who do not.

Congratulations to those citizens that have leveraged knowledge, information and commitment toward constructive change. Regardless of your position on these issues, both the 29 3/4 Road neighborhood and Mesa County Constitution Advocates have set a solid example to follow for all citizens that truly care about the quality of their lives.

May you find some personal peace during the hectic lead-up to the birthday of the Prince of Peace. Have a great week ahead.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Citizenship At Work -
Persigo Perspectives

This has been a fairly extraordinary week in terms of local citizens influencing government over and above the traditional method at the polls. These efforts ranged from grassroots activism and community organization to using the available tools to obtain relief from the actions of elected representatives. In the end, both seemed to echo the will of the people, or at least the will of a people determined to get their point across, and knowing how to do it.

I'll get into the first example today.

Monday's Grand Junction City Council meeting involved hearing the appeal by residents of the unincorporated 29 3/4 Road area on Orchard Mesa of the City's decision to allow the construction and operation of a gravel pit on annexed land at the end of the roadway.

Council's decision to overturn the Planning Commission approval is laudable. The residents of this area saw the problem, did their homework, worked the system, and put their arguments forward in a clear and forthright manner. They still got caught between a rock and the Persigo Agreement.

They then sought legal representation and put together an appeal (click on Attach 8) impressive in its scope and historical perspective, which now appears to have transcended the convoluted and unsteady alliance that is the manner in which the City and County have agreed to allow growth to occur.

I must give the City credit for the extraordinary availability of public records online. To be able to view City Council meetings live or via archived video is excellent in and of itself. Additionally, the perspective that can be obtained from these online records is also extremely interesting when comparing the past to the present. Consider the minutes of a joint County Commissioners / City Council meeting on October 13, 1998, the date that the Persigo Agreement was approved and signed by both bodies.

In these minutes, several of those testifying are documented as stating that they had just seen or just been made aware of the agreement's existence. This included then-State Representative Matt Smith.

One citizen brought up Section 42 of the Agreement:
"Any zoning or land use decision undertaken by the City whose persons who own property within the area of the City’s standard notification, and which is not within the City’s limits, shall be entitled to the same rights of appeal and participation in the land use review process as City residents."
This would appear to be what allowed the residents of the 29 3/4 Road neighborhood the ability to appeal the gravel pit decision. It would seem that Persigo giveth, not just taketh away.

Then-County Commission Chairman Jim Baughman, the only member of either body to cast a "no" vote on the agreement, also objected to the apparent haste with which the agreement was being considered, and was also prescient in his analysis of the impacts:
"(The) biggest disadvantage is that it continues and makes a bad situation worse. It continues the erratic, irregular municipal boundaries of the City of Grand Junction for decades. The hop-scotch method of delivering municipal services and defining the boundary of the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County will be inter-dispersed for years to come."
Contrast the above with minutes of the May 10, 2010 joint meeting of City Council and the County Commission, AKA "the Persigo Board", specifically to deal with Persigo-related issues. At this particular meeting, both of the applicants for inclusion into the 201 Sewer District withdrew their applications, leaving the most interesting part of the meeting; a discussion of the processes surrounding the Persigo Agreement in the wake of the adoption of the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The discussion as documented in the minutes illustrates what feels to me like a disconnect between the two governing bodies, as well as a validation of concerns that I've expressed here previously.
Here are some excerpts:
"Commission Chair (Craig) Meis said that he would like to see the lines better correlate with where growth is taking place and to reduce further checker board annexation that is now inside the 201 Boundary. The Persigo Boundary is causing the checker board annexation now inadvertently. There are disconnected service patterns because of the checker board annexation and it would be helpful to look at this to ensure that services are not being duplicated in adjacent areas.

Councilmember (Tom) Kenyon agreed with the checker board pattern description but said it is an operational issue. It is disjunctive and dysfunctional for the service providers and he would like to see that being made more efficient but it is a challenge because of the people who do not want to be annexed.

Council President (Teresa) Coons said that it does sound like a discussion on how to best provide service is necessary and they can put it on a future agenda to continue that discussion.

Commission Chair Meis said that they either need let it die and look at future amendments to the Boundary or make a request for information that would demonstrate the issues. Discussions on this have continued far too long.
(Former) County Administrator (Jon) Peacock said that what is unique with the Comprehensive Plan is that they planned significant urban areas that are outside the 201 Boundary. There is a lot of land planned for future urban development that will fall under the County’s land use jurisdiction and it would take a long time for appropriate infrastructure to get to those areas. That will likely result in property owners asking for development which may create situations where the landowner must wait for development to get to them. If it is left as business as usual, it sets up future decisions outside the Comprehensive Plan. They are also wrestling with the questions of annexation patterns and checkerboard annexation patterns and the confusion it creates with the public. The question is if there is a more rational way to step out with either annexation or service delivery."
So there is a sensitivity toward the effect of patchwork, or "checkerboard" annexations on service delivery efficiency and general public confusion as to who governs what. This is heartening to see. I miss Jon Peacock. I hope he enjoys Aspen.

So what is to be done? It doesn't seem that there's a great deal of consensus about that:
"Council President Coons agreed that it is frustrating to keep postponing discussion so she asked Staff if they have a suggestion on a better way to proceed.

County Administrator Peacock said that they have not spent time analyzing alternatives but there probably are a set of alternatives that could be developed if Staff is given direction to do so.

City Manager (Laurie) Kadrich said that Staff has brought forward what has been asked, no forced annexation, only if the property owner wants to be included. Options have not been discussed because they have not originated from the property owners.

Council President Coons said that it takes Staff time and resources to develop alternatives and asked if there is the capacity to do that.

County Administrator Peacock said from the County’s perspective, given the slow down, even with staffing reductions, there is no better time to do that with the current low level of development.

City Manager Kadrich stated she has a different perspective; the City Planning and Public Works Department has been reduced by 29 positions in the last nine months. They are looking at a different model of operation for implementing the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning and Development Code. Some of the wisdom is to leave the Comprehensive Plan alone for a period of time. The City is in a different spot as far as staffing and resources."
Up to this point, my concerns about the effects of annexation have centered on the effects of expanding City boundaries on existing public safety services. I've written and/or spoken to Council on the subject numerous times. Even in an economic slowdown when development is minimal, there should be a level of preparedness for the possibility of the resumption of development in response to improvement in the energy sector, for example.

It sounds as if the City has gutted those departments responsible for managing the process and impacts of development that isn't here right now. How do they expect to be ready when it comes back? The Grand Valley will again be in a reactive posture, and behind the curve.

This isn't to say that our elected officials aren't sensitive to some issues surrounding development. They proved as much with the reversal of the gravel pit approval. They do seem to have some differences in perspective that translate to frustration:
"Council President Coons said her concern with having rigid (annexation) guidelines. Although they are not seeing a lot of development right now, when economy changes that could result in requests being automatically denied.

Commissioner (Janet) Rowland said that the Board just needs to look at the guidelines, to see what there is now, and what should be changed.

Council President Coons said the guidelines can be distributed as they are written now and asked the Board if they want to set a date for a future discussion.

Commissioner Rowland stated that the Board always agrees to continue to say they will talk about it but they never talk about it."
Fellow blogger Gene Kinsey, who as a City Councilmember voted for the Persigo agreement, has written in the past that cooperation between city and county elected officials had been hard to come by before the agreement, to a point that a discussion like the one above may not have even been possible. He was critical of a post I wrote last year that placed most of the responsibility on City Council and not enough on the Commissioners to get things moving on Persigo revisions and annexation reform - before the next wave of growth is upon us. A
fter reading these accounts of government in action, I'm in agreement with Gene - both sides have an equal responsibility to work together.

If you're interested, read the full text of the minutes of the two meetings that are summarized above. Our key elected officials have had 12 years to figure out that something is broken - one predicted it, and all appear to admit it now. What will it take to effect the kind of changes necessary to assure that responsible, efficient growth is the rule, and not the exception?

It feels to me that these officials are in an airplane set to automatic pilot, in level cruise flight east over the Grand Valley at around 9500 feet. The 10,000-foot Grand Mesa is looming in the cockpit window - but no one wants to change any of the controls.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Yesterday's remembrance ceremony for those homeless persons in our area who have died was well-attended, and brought out the media in force. Coverage of the ceremony was the top story on at least one local station.

I didn't have a specific person to remember, but I spoke with a few people who did; some of them told very poignant stories about that person to those assembled. Many spoke fondly of Christopher Pierce, who died December 5 in a tent near "The Point".

One unfortunate note in the aftermath of the ceremony was the news report today that a man was found deceased in the area of the Central Library at 5th and Grand at about Noon yesterday. So while many were just a few blocks away remembering others, the local authorities were dealing with the passing of yet another homeless person on the streets of Grand Junction.

Sherry Cole of Grand Valley Peace and Justice wrote a responsive reading based on prayers for the homeless from different religious denominations, which was recited by those who attended.
I speaks to the spirit of those there better than I can.

Today, I bring my loving attention to this world which is immeasurable, a society of millions of people.

Today, I bring my loving attention to the smaller world around me, the people who belong to me---the members of my family, my friends, those who share in my worries, and strangers who unexpectedly cross my path.

Today, I remember those who have died on our streets without a house in which to live. I remember these men and women as rightful citizens of this world and our community.

Today, I remember them honorably. I give thanks for their contributions to this community. In their memory, I rekindle compassion, kindness and justice in my life.

Today, I gently open my heart to the loved ones left behind, their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, children, parents, grandparents, fellow veterans, pets and all other relations.

Today, I respect your loss and contemplate its profound meaning to you. Each life brings a unique gift. I honor your feelings and support you as you remember.

Today, I redirect my passion for life in ways that honor every life in this community. I live from an open heart and open mind.

Today, in memory of these men and women, I dedicate my prayers and intentions to a healthy, safe and happy life for all our citizens.


Have a good week ahead.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rocks and Hard Places -
The Homeless in Winter

As winter continues to intensify across the Grand Valley and throughout the Mountain West, the attention of the social service community turns toward those who are facing a winter without shelter. This winter, however, things appear to be different. They're looking up on a number of fronts:

The season began with continued lobbying and media attention regarding the plight of homeless families with small children, who had no dedicated available shelter space during the day. There was one paragraph in the KKCO story that resonated with me, even though I am familiar with the situation:
The Catholic Outreach Day Center doesn't allow kids, since some of the homeless there are convicted sexual offenders. "Those children have no place. Where do they go to keep them warm?" asks Dolores Roberts, of Joining Hands, a non-profit organization that helps at-risk children.
The story made it sound as if Catholic Outreach, while justifiably trying to keep children away from known sex offenders, was giving those offenders preference. This was a classic rock-and-a-hard-place situation. As much as I'm sure Catholic Outreach sympathized with the need, they had no practical way of filling it without endangering, in their view, both the children and their entire mission.

In any event, the story also resonated with Captains Terry and Dan Wilson of the Grand Junction branch of the Salvation Army. In short order, part of their gym in their North 4th Street headquarters building was converted into what they're calling a permanent winter day shelter for families with children.

They came through for kids, even in the face of their own adversity - the indefinite loss of one of their thrift stores. Captain Dan Wilson was quoted in the KJCT story stating that the loss of their store on Ute Avenue would "give them a chance to turn their attention to other projects".

And how. Remember those bell ringers and red kettles this month.

This development is significant for a number of reasons:
  • The Salvation Army had heretofore not been an active participant in recent efforts to identify, leverage, and involve stakeholders in the effort to combat homelessness in a coordinated fashion. This includes efforts such as the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless and Beyond Charity.
    The availability of a facility such as their headquarters for this purpose brought reactions of surprise from some of those involved in coordinating services for the homeless; this is perhaps an indication of the truly diverse nature of the resources available in our community, as well as difficulties with perceptions and assumptions that sometimes get in the way. One person involved stated that they thought the Salvation Army was affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. This is not the case.

  • This was accomplished largely through the efforts of advocacy groups that are very new in terms of the length of their existence as stakeholders in the provision of services to the homeless. Jacob Richards and Eric Niederkruger of Housing First! No More Deaths! (HFNMD) both cited the efforts of Angel Light and Joining Hands, along with their group, as instrumental in putting this issue into the public eye through a combination of direct action and publicity, until the right eyes saw the story.
    These organizations have at their core people who have been homeless, and while not possessing all the trappings of a board-governed, social science and public policy-steeped sustainable non-profit, are nonetheless accomplishing things that more traditional approaches are not.

HFNMD has also begun their night patrols in earnest, using a donated former GVT bus with a wheelchair lift to assist in providing for the needs of people they find on the streets, including transport if necessary.

The Grand Junction Rescue Mission has re-opened its men's shelter after a remodeling project. 20 additional beds have been added, making the shelter available to 68 men a night.

The Homeward Bound overflow program is back in full swing with the cooperation of local churches and Grand Valley Peace and Justice. Many local churches are taking in homeless people who otherwise would have been turned away for shelter services.

Plans for additional transitional housing in the City may be afoot as well.


The Grand Junction Police Department's announcement that its new Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is going into service has the potential to be a significant force for positive change and assistance for those homeless who desire it. Modeled after an award-winning program in Colorado Springs, the team is comprised of three GJPD officers. Their stated intent is to "build relationships (and) to help people".

Good for them. I know two of the officers involved, and am impressed with their selection to serve on this team. I'm willing to believe that if GJPD and the City will sustain their commitment to HOT, they can make a difference in the lives of those who do not want to be homeless.
That being said:
  • The existence of the HOT initiative in Grand Junction would likely not have been considered, approved or implemented had this past summer's questionable enforcement activities in homeless camps not been reported and acted upon.

  • The primary focus of the Colorado Springs HOT was the relocation of hundreds of homeless persons camped along creek beds or underneath overpasses, in response to a city-wide ban on camping. It would be safe to assume that one of the initial projects for Grand Junction's HOT officers will be outreach to those camping by the river and elsewhere, perhaps in preparation for more direct police action with those campsites as warmer weather arrives.

  • A Colorado Springs HOT officer was quoted in at least two online stories stating that despite the continued presence of people camping, they have only issued written warnings thus far. Another report stated that only the HOT officers can issue tickets for violation of the camping ordinance.

  • The recent death of a transient camped near a transient camp known as "The Point" is perhaps an example of where a HOT presence can assist in identifying and assisting those who are in need, before the circumstances that brought them to homelessness catch up with them.

  • This also raises questions about those who are homeless by choice, and eschew assistance. Given that a good portion of the local riverfront is not in the city limits, is there a potential issue with contact and/or enforcement when there is transient camping on unincorporated land?
As this year comes to a close, I think it can be fairly said that significant strides have been made in addressing the plight of the homeless in Grand Junction. Continued diligence and commitment of some of the fine people that I've had the privilege of meeting and/or knowing over my years here will surely continue to bring about not only a consistent, sustainable level of commitment, but a diverse network of professionals, community advocates and activists, and ordinary citizens who know what needs to be done, and in a lot of ways will get there.

They are adding their light to the sum of light. What else can be said, especially this time of year?

This coming Sunday the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless will hold their annual observance in memory of those without homes in our area who have died. The ceremony begins at 2:00 PM at Hawthorne Park, Downtown Grand Junction. The memorial tree sits near the park's northwest corner at 4th and Hill.

Have a great day.

(UPDATED 12/9/10 11:30 AM - Memorial Observance)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Information Trepidation

By now, most of us GJ locals who follow the news are aware of several occurrences over the past week that have raised hackles from the halls of government in the Grand Valley to around the globe. The debate about government information, who should have access to it, and how much it should cost to retrieve it has dominated news cycles from Grand Junction to Geneva.

The editorial pages of Sunday's Sentinel provide reflection and analysis of all of these occurrences, along with opinion about what should be happening in response to the revelations, and attempts at obfuscation, that has resulted in the present information trepidation. Sorry..having too much fun there.

Perhaps the first item on my list should be the manner in which this editorial analysis and other information gets hidden behind the Sentinel's increasingly annoying paywall. To their credit, the Sentinel's stories about the Mesa County information breach have been visible to anyone, but Sunday's editorial about the incident is only available to subscribers. That editorial drew parallels between the county's inadvertent data dump and the deliberate distribution of US Government cables by WikiLeaks. Both have the potential to damage reputations at the least, lives at the worst.

However damaging the revelations may be from the WikiLeaks disclosures, they demonstrate the disrespectful and duplicitous discourse that often hides behind attempts at being diplomatic. Aptly-named conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer echoed many of similar mind in wanting to condemn WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to a lifetime of looking over his shoulder if he cannot be successfully prosecuted or otherwise dealt with in some deliberate and stealthy fashion, perhaps one straight out of a Bourne movie.

I can see the need to maintain secrecy about certain things, but I also believe that our government goes too far in many areas. The spectre of "ugly" Americanism seems to be alive and well in the boorish attitudes that pervade much of the product of "Cablegate". Further contributing to the more surreal aspects of the story are reports that the US Government is warning employees and soldiers not to read classified material, even though it already may be well into the public domain.

These cables have something in common with the e-mails between public officials that have been obtained by our local media in recent weeks. They both illustrate to me that some of our leaders not only misrepresent themselves to other leaders, they also present a questionable example to their subordinates who toil to maintain a standard of behavior and decorum that their customers expect, and that these leaders themselves betray.

I stand guilty as charged for such moments during my career in public service, and there are but a select few of these occurrences that I do not regret. Such is the paradoxical charm of representative government, and the bureaucracy that exists to support and maintain it.


As a volunteer with Mesa County Search and Rescue, the personal information that I provided to the Sheriff's Office as part of the application process may have been part of the information that was put onto an unsecured FTP site in preparation for data conversion and formatting. I expect that I'll be one of many heeding the county's advisory bulletin from last week.

Both County administration and Sheriff Hilkey and his staff deserve credit for quickly bringing the matter to the attention of the citizens they serve. Their commitment to disclosing the issue to the public, cooperating with the media, and being transparent in updating the steps being taken to mitigate the impact of the incident is admirable considering the daunting circumstances.

This doesn't mean that the mistake itself is by any means excusable, but to me it is understandable. The data conversion that necessitated the transfer of information to begin with is part of the procurement of a new Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System (CAD/RMS) for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center and the bulk of the county's local law enforcement. The consolidation of these systems, especially between the GJPD and the Sheriff's Department, has been a long time coming and should be welcomed by those who value the efficiency of information sharing (with appropriate safeguards), the consolidation of similar arms of government, and the leveraging of economies of scale to accomplish both for the benefit of all.


In contrast, the City of Grand Junction has been taken to task for assigning a $1,300 price tag to a citizen's public records request. It should be noted that the request concerns the City's approval of a gravel pit on land annexed into the City that is only accessible through a residential neighborhood that is not in the City. This is yet another consequence of the haphazard annexation and questionable growth that has been the hallmark of the flawed Persigo Agreement between the City and Mesa County since it's adoption in the late 1990's.

Sentinel columnist Denny Herzog made the case that a government committed to transparency in the bulk of its operations would not let such treatment stand. I believe this to be especially true when the citizens requesting this information are essentially powerless to obtain redress at the ballot box or any other reasonable means in a representative democracy, as they do not reside in the City but stand to have their quality of life drastically impacted by a City decision.

Ralph D'Andrea has written several times about these circumstances, as he resides on Orchard Mesa where this latest Persigo travesty has also occurred. A comment to his most recent post on the subject provides information on where to donate in case you would like to help raise the funds necessary for the residents of the 29 3/4 Road area to obtain the information they need, should the City maintain their position on the matter.

Over my years in public service and as a private citizen, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) the value of a civil tongue in written communication whenever possible, in hopes of effectively illustrating the issues at hand and building consensus toward solutions that benefit all stakeholders. I hope that some of the inevitable changes that will take place as a result of these releases and controversies will have at their heart the need to conduct the business of governance with a commitment to openness and respect as a baseline, with discretion and secrecy being utilized with a great deal more judiciousness than in the past.

Time to get ready for work and get the newspaper. Have a good week ahead.