After more than a century of waiting, the “railroad” finally arrived in town pulling the circus train. The smoke and whistle were notably loud and clear during the past week.
In a carefully choreographed circus side show termed “public hearings” by the county on March 11 and 12 in Rangely and Meeker, respectively, the county “dog and pony show” was rolled out for all to behold in “shock and awe.”
The “ringmasters” unveiled at long last, after months of secrecy, their plan to demolish most of the historic old elementary school and, as a token to “historic preservation,” to save only the classic art deco portion of the old school to fill it up with court offices. Their redesign was complete with “ski area-style” sloped roofs and an entrance that is completely incongruent with the classic art deco architecture of the historic school and of the downtown buildings, all of which have flat roofs that have worked very well for many decades.
To make sure that there would not be too much said in opposition to the grand plan, the “ringmasters” announced that there would only be three minutes allowed per person for public comments and were most efficient in cutting off any member of the audience who might have had the audacity and temerity to speak longer than their “allotted time.” They did a similar maneuver when the cell tower hearings were held a year ago in January, cutting off a number of folks who had some important information to share. So much for the First Amendment.
Most public hearings in other communities simply provide a sign-up list for anyone wishing to speak and do not limit the time for public to have input, particularly since this was the first and only opportunity for anyone having an opinion to express it. The county presentation took about 90 minutes. By contrast, the time allotted for public input amounted to about 45 minutes. Curiously there were about 14 folks who spoke in opposition to destroying the school for a jail/courts/sheriff’s office in the heart of the downtown historic district. Only about eight spoke in favor of the jail project.
An audience member asked for a show of hands for how many favored and how many opposed destroying the school, and the straw poll was fairly close.
Not that it would have made any difference, as this whole project has been a done deal since last spring when the Town of Meeker, in its infinite wisdom, gave the school to the county for their jail project — again despite a large turnout of more than 70 citizens at the town meeting who opposed the maneuver.
This was followed closely by the effort of concerned citizens to circulate a petition for referendum of the town ordinance to allow the citizens to vote on whether the school should be given to the county to tear down and build a jail.
It is also curious that the former town attorney ruled in 2010 that under Colorado law, Title 31-15-713 that any decision to give the school to the county would have to go to a vote of the citizens since it had been used for public purposes.
The town refused to allow the referendum petition to be circulated so that the citizens could exercise their right to vote on the matter. When the town gave the school to the county, the commissioners were requested to permit a ballot issue to again allow the voters to decide on whether the school should be destroyed for a jail. The county’s response was that “They did not have to allow an initiative for a ballot question to go forth because they are not required to permit initiatives by their constituents,” even though the Colorado Constitution, Article 5, provides that right to all of the citizens.
How very convenient for the county in depriving citizens of their constitutional right to vote on issues. Colorado and Oregon are the only two states that deprive county citizens of their constitutional right to initiatives. Could it be that they knew they would lose if the matter were put to a vote? Sure couldn’t let that happen, now could they?
Then there was the matter of more than 400 Rio Blanco county citizens who signed a petition delivered to the Rio Blanco County commissioners in November that opposed destroying the school. Did that have any impact? Not hardly. That’s about 8 percent of the registered voters of the county. It only takes 5 percent on a petition to get an item on the ballot (If the county would allow that to happen. Not likely).
As has been previously reported, citizens feel helpless because the elected officials are not accountable to their constituents nor do these officials seem to put any stock in what those who elected them have to say, unless of course it agrees with their position.
One of them said in a recent meeting, “We were elected by the citizens to make decisions, and that’s what we are going to do..,” conveniently forgetting that government is supposed to be (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) “…of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Perhaps a remedial course in civics would be in order, but then it probably wouldn’t do any good when minds are already made up and don’t want to be confused with the facts.
Enjoy the old school while you can because it will soon be destroyed and replaced by a ticky-tacky brick jail building. That sure will attract heritage tourism to downtown Meeker and greatly improve the economy, now, won’t it?