COUNTY BEAT: March 23, 2021 Commissioner Meetings

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RBC | Commissioners met Tuesday, March. 23 for work sessions and a regular meeting to discuss various county business.

CONSTITUTIONAL COUNTY SANCTUARY

Rio Blanco County Commissioners discussed a proposed “constitutional sanctuary county” resolution drafted by Rangely residents Elaine Urie, Dan Eddy and Susan Berardi. Interim County Attorney Todd Starr commended the “principle” of the resolution, but expressed doubts over “implementation.”

“As your lawyer I don’t know what a constitutional county sanctuary is,” commented Starr. He further explained “In paragraph two they talk about ‘no county funds will be used to restrict the constitutional rights [etc] of RBC residents,’ how can you argue with that? Except, we do do that, because we arrest people from time to time for DUI, or we arrest people for committing a crime. And that’s not what they’re intending to address here, but it does.”

Starr also asked, “who’s gonna decide the order [is] unconstitutional?” Emphasizing that the resolution’s language may leave too much room for interpretation.

Commissioner Gary Moyer wondered if changes to the resolution could mitigate potential implementation issues down the road, to which Starr replied “I don’t know how you would do that without a lot of considerable effort.” Starr later added that it would be easier for the county to adopt it if they could “reduce it considerably and make it a statement of policy,” as a way of showing RBC’s recognition of individual rights. “It’s Western Colorado, we honor property rights and we honor individual liberties,” he said.

Rangely resident Susan Berardi, who teaches English at CNCC, helped draft the resolution, attended the work session Tuesday and shared further information with the board. “You raise a good point about interpretation,” said Berardi. She continued, “We didn’t feel it was a matter that would stop it from being adopted because we felt most anything that arises has to be interpreted.”

Berardi also said she and other residents felt the resolution was necessary due to “a variety of situations happening around the country that are really borderline, in terms of are they actually adhering to the constitution.”

Commissioner Moyer said “I certainly agree with this in principle. I think we do have to do it with our eyes open,” adding that the county needed to stay out of a potential “quagmire” in the event that someone sued the county or other entity after feeling their constitutional rights had been violated, like in the example of a DUI arrest.

Commissioner Rector said “We all agree that the principle of this thing is incredible, but the implementation of it, and if it gets abused…things get abused today.”

Starr also encouraged the board to consider if the Town of Meeker would adopt such a resolution. “It is a relevant consideration for you as representatives of the entire county,” he said.

RBC board members encouraged Berardi to share the resolution with the Town of Meeker to which Berardi agreed. Starr then said another work session involving all stakeholders could give everyone an opportunity to be heard before the board makes a final decision.

XTO/CPW LAND EXCHANGE

Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager Bill deVergie asked the board to sign a letter supporting a land exchange between CPW and XTO energy. deVergie said CPW owns property that has no public access because it is surrounded by private XTO land. According to deVergie, the orientation of property boundaries also impacts XTO. “If they wanna do something on their surface they can’t without having to consult with us.”

To solve these problems, deVergie said both parties had worked out an “equitable swap” of 960 acres, allowing CPW to open up hundreds of acres to public access, and allowing XTO to use their own property without consulting CPW. The board approved a letter authorizing the land swap during their regular meeting.

CRYSTAL CREEK RANCH

deVergie also asked the board to reconsider their stance on the proposed sale of the Crystal Creek Ranch to CPW. He said the landowners had expressed frustration regarding the board’s recent decision to sign a letter of opposition. “They’re questioning why they are getting infringed upon in their private property rights to determine who they sell their property to,” said deVergie, adding, “They’ve offered, if you’d like, to come in and have a discussion.” He said the commissioner’s letter had already negatively impacted the sale of the property, and asked them to consider adopting a neutral position, rather than direct opposition. “It’s an important thing in their life,” said deVergie, “this is their future as a family, they just don’t get it.”

Commissioner Moyer responded, “It’s the public funds used to purchase it that my constituents that I’ve heard from have a lot of issues with.”

“I think we oughta discuss that,” said Rector. “I never looked at it in that light.”

Commissioner Gates agreed the board should revisit the issue with all entities and stakeholders involved.

“My opinions and concerns haven’t changed,” said Moyer, “We’ve got policy countywide, even though it’s targeted at NEPA; no net gain of federal lands, to me the same principle applies.” Moyer noted that more government-controlled land limits “future economic potential.”

deVergie said, “If we don’t do the best we can to maintain the hunters and sportsmen that are coming, it’s just like losing the energy companies. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

The board will discuss the matter again during a work session on April 13, 2021.

REGULAR MEETING

Regular business items approved by the board included:

  • a liquor license for Ripple Creek Lodge
  • an amendment to the personnel policy handbook, granting special “public health emergency leave” to all employees.
  • appointment of Meeker resident Jeffrey Prystupa to the board of health for a term expiring January 2022.
  • advertisement for public health nurse in Rangely to refill the position
  • approval of a decision letter to Colorado Department of Wildlife regarding the XTO-CPW land exchange

Commissioners also approved/signed various letters, including one in support of keeping the Bureau of Land Management office in the west. They also signed a letter to Colorado state Senator Bob Rankin and Representative Perry Will, opposing Colorado Senate Bill 21-062. RBC Sheriff Anthony Mazzola explained that due to COVID-19, law enforcement agencies around the state made changes to reduce the jail population, including issuing court summons to people who committed certain minor crimes instead of putting them in jail. According to Mazzola, the policies were very effective at reducing the jail population, but caused “unforeseen issues” including an increase in property crime statewide. SB 21-062 would make some of the COVID related changes permanent, which Mazzola and other local law enforcement agencies oppose. He argued the bill would limit law enforcement officers’ ability to use their own discretion about who should be detained in jail.


By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com