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There are all kinds of cliches that are appropriate for the current situation in Meeker:
United we stand, divided we fall.
It takes a village…
It’s not personal; it’s business.
We can make it together…
Since last week’s votes by the Town of Meeker Board of Trustees and the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners, I have run into four Meeker business owners who approached me regarding the use of the old elementary school as the justice center and/or the closure of Fifth Street between Main and Park streets.
All four owners had the same concerns, and those concerns, they each said, stem from a few years back, when it was suggested that the old elementary school be saved the first time.
Almost word for word, the words out of their mouths were the same, “I can’t afford to say anything in public because the last time I did, I lost a lot of business.”
More than one of the owners said they lost a lot of friends/clients last time and can’t afford to lose it all again.
“I am just now getting some of my former customers back,” one of the business owners said. “Now I hear I am catching heat on the street for not taking a stand this time.”
“I feel very strongly that the town and the county acted in the best interests of a vast majority of county residents,” one professional said. “But if I came out in public and said what I believe, I would lose a large number of clients at my businesses.”
“I’ll never get publicly involved in anything political ever again; I learned the last time,” another owner stated. “Those people are mean and vicious and they will lie and get their friends to boycott your business. It has already happened this time around.”
“I had one of those who favored keeping the school intact come into my business one day and I disagreed with them,” a fourth business owner said. “This client had been in my business almost every day, but he got angry when I disagreed with him so he quit coming in here for quite a while—and it appeared as though he spoke to some of his friends and got them to stay away. He is, but they still aren’t coming back.”
What a shame.
But it is a reality I have stumbled upon quite often from business owners or other residents in town who have reportedly lost friends because they were on opposite sides of the elementary school issue.
At the county commissioners’ meeting last week, when Mary Whalen asked for a show of hands on who felt which way, there were 95 people in the room — I had just counted everyone except the county panel.
Just about a third of those in the room didn’t indicate any viewpoint by raising their hands. They just sat there and watched.
Of those who did vote, I would say the hands were split 60-40 with a clear majority in favor of the county’s justice center plan over saving the old school.
I don’t have the wisdom to know if the justice center issue is a dead issue or not.
But I do know there are a lot of deep scars on both sides of the issue already.
Certainly the issue caused a deep division among many of the residents of Meeker, but plainly and simply, this might be the time to bury the hatchet and get on with life — where all can benefit and old friends and new friends can get together under the guise of “let’s agree to disagree.”
As Jim Ellis said at the meeting when the county commissioners unveiled the “concept” plans for the justice center, “We need to maintain the downtown, and with the hospital moving out, that won’t help. If we move the justice center out of town, then we will have two mostly empty buildings.
“The courts bring many people to our restaurants and stores, and all that money ends up in the city coffer,” Ellis said.
Gus Halandras said, “We may still have a chance to fix the downtown, but an empty old building won’t help. Empty buildings don’t pay bills, and a dead downtown is not a viable downtown.”
And perhaps the most prophetic speaker at that meeting represents historic preservation.
Rebecca Goodwin of LaJunta, chairman of the board of Colorado Preservation, Inc., was on point with her statement, “I am not here to tell you what to do; finding a compromise is a reality of life.
“…It is the most important thing of all,” she said, “to maintain a sense of community. Do not let this issue tear the town apart.”
Holding a grudge against those on the other side accomplishes nothing.
The pro-school, pro-performing arts, pro-cultural committee members are not going to accomplish anything if they maintain the animosity they have brought so far.
Who is going to want to unite efforts toward an eventual happy ending if bitterness and anger continue.
The idea of bringing a cultural events center, a performing arts theater, perhaps a visitor center, etc., is great. It doesn’t need to go in the old elementary school — but possibly in a number of the other vacant buildings downtown.
The continued assertions that the commissioners were planning all this in secret meetings are ridiculous.
I was at the meeting when the Town of Meeker suggested that the county take over the school “possibly for use as the justice center.” It occurred at a regular meeting of commissioners and was attended by more than one member of the Meeker Town Board.
Nothing was done in secret, yet they were fought all the way with name calling, rumors, private politics and trying to deal with an issue that affected all of Rio Blanco County, not just a special interest group in Meeker.
What a great town this could be if everyone was working together for the betterment of Meeker overall.
Forget past differences, organize a group that will encourage participation instead of threatening those who disagree.
It would be great for the entire community to get behind one project that could make a difference and make Meeker a better place in which to live.
There are right ways and wrong ways to go about it. Wouldn’t it be great if a community project accomplished all that the pro-school group wanted and did so with everyone working together?
It could be done.
Maybe one of these days in the near future all the folks in town will wake up with the mindset of, “Gee, maybe we ought to get on with it and do what is right and benefit the entire town of Meeker and not make these issues so personal.”
Those persons on both sides of the school issue need to take a fresh look at the needs and desires of Meeker in the future.
That is the way to move ahead and to unite a community.