Monday, May 17, 2010

Catching Up on Local Stuff

While I've been trying to catch up, I've noticed some interesting things going on in the Grand Valley over the last week, some of which I've written about before:

***The Lower Valley Fire District board election that I mentioned earlier this month resulted in one significant change in the board's composition, as newcomer Tom Sommerville ousted the outspoken John Justman. This has been celebrated by several friends of mine on Facebook that are involved with the department, and they've also reported that Mr. Justman and his supporters have shown up at recent board and volunteer meetings, basically playing the sore loser.

I'm still at a loss as to why most of the local media, save for KKCO and the Fruita Times, have largely ignored this election and the controversy that has preceded and followed it. This especially as the provision of public safety services is one of the most important functions of our government, and remains in the media spotlight due in large measure to the struggles in Grand Junction to build new facilities.

*** The City of GJ's efforts at collecting information from the public on new Police and Fire facilities is well underway. The results of one of the first of these meetings was documented in yesterday's Sentinel. City Communications Director Sam Rainguet sent me a thank you e-mail for talking up the Listening Tour. I'll continue to do so, as I believe that dialogue is critical to achieving understanding across the boundaries of opinion and ideology. The next session is scheduled for Thursday evening at the Lincoln Park Barn.

*** This past week marked National Police Week, which has been observed with dignified regularity here in Mesa County. Thanks to an excellent video and slideshow by William Woody of the Sentinel, the tribute to fallen officers this past Thursday was available to many who didn't get to go.

Despite GJPD Chief John Camper's assertion in the video that "it has been decades since we've seen a line of duty death here in Mesa County", Fruita Police Chief Mark Angelo was remembering Acting Chief Dan Dalley, who died in a vehicle accident in June 2001. While I'm not sure whether the death of GJPD K-9 Gero, killed by gunfire in May 2004, would be considered a line-of-duty death in this context, I'm sure that many who worked with and helped to train Gero remembered him as well.

I was personally impressed with the combined honor guard from the various law enforcement agencies across the valley. It's important to remember the sacrifices made by those sworn to protect us. It is truly one of the toughest jobs out there.

*** This past week also illustrated one of the reasons that being a cop is such a tough job. It takes equal measures of courage, compassion, tolerance, and strength to survive the physical and emotional rigors of the job. We've seen our share of allegations of police misconduct over the last year; last week's accusations of GJPD officers trashing a homeless camp were another unfortunate example of how the police officer's duty to uphold the law for everyone can be just as daunting an adversary as pursuing the criminal element.

The citizen complaint that initiated the investigation was leveled by activist Jacob Richards, whose varied activities have put him in the local media spotlight sufficient times that the media seem to try not to cover things he's involved with. In keeping with Mr. Richards' sometimes tenuous hold on the art of timing and subtlety, he also chose this week to unveil a new blog site dedicated to chronicling what he and others may consider questionable activity by local law enforcement.

GJPD Exposed is basically a collection of posts from several sources, mostly self-generated by Richards and his associates, who also comprise most of the advocacy group Housing First, No More Deaths, as well as Grand Junction Alternative Media and their flagship publication, The Red Pill. The latest issue, also released this past week, has a story on the GJPD and homeless issues on Page One.

While I disagree with some of their assertions, as well as the timing in putting this information out when others are trying to make remembrance of individual sacrifice, I must recognize that Mr. Richards and others have positioned themselves as voices in the community and society for those who do not have one. In that context, I hope that they continue to grow, collaborate, and recognize what it takes to be at the table when it comes time to make substantive changes.

*** Another police-related occurrence this week also illustrated how tough it is to administer not only the criminal justice system, but those who make up the ranks of our police officers. Former GJPD officer Courtney Crooks, found not guilty of the domestic violence-related charges that contributed to his departure from that agency, successfully petitioned a Mesa County judge to have the case information placed under seal. It seems that despite all he's been through, Mr. Crooks still wants to be a police officer, and the sealed case record will allow him to pass muster for the requisite background checks and questionnaires that screen for things like this.

As much as many in our country malign the presumption of innocence inherent in our criminal justice system, the benefits of it can and often do outweigh the liabilities. Kudos to the Sentinel's Paul Shockley for his diligence in following this case as closely as he did, and best wishes to Mr. Crooks in his job search.
Now if only the Sentinel would do something about that pesky Blotter.

*** Former County Commissioner and City Council Member Jim Spehar has the qualifications (and then some) to reflect upon and offer comment on the workings of our local government, and the conduct of our elected officials. His most recent column in the Free Press is an excellent example of both his experience and talent at work.

He called County Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland out for basically passing the buck as elected officials and overseers in one of the more sensitive and impactful areas of local government, specifically the interpretation and enforcement of those county regulations that affect land use and development. Mr. Spehar says it best:
But once you make a development decision, when infrastructure goes in and buildings go up, you've significantly altered your community. For better or worse and, either way, it's permanent. Land use decisions, I came to realize, were the most important calls we made.

Shouldn't that “common sense” dictate that selectively setting aside regulations approved by the Planning Commission and accepted by the Commissioners after lengthy and inclusive public meetings be something elected decision-makers ought to decide and be held accountable for? Isn't this important enough to be done in a public setting and subjected to comment by and discussion with all affected parties rather than as an administrative action?
I'm inclined to agree. The press release issued after this decision labeled it as a "common sense" part of the county's Open for Business initiative. I'm not so sure about that. If the Commissioners are willing to delegate insulate themselves out of a process that has such a permanent impact on the character of a community, what else are they willing to set aside in the name of expediency?

Sunday was a good day. I got a fair amount of things done. Hopefully the rest of the week will turn out the same, as there are some challenging times ahead. I'll have more about that as soon as I can wrap my head around it.

May your week ahead turn out to be a productive and happy one as well.

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