Commissioners lose credibility with ‘fake news’ ploy

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 11:44 AM
The CSU Extension Office is located in the Montezuma County Courthouse.

The Montezuma County board of commissioners now say they didn’t intend their Oct. 2 vote to discontinue funding for the local extension office to be viewed as, well, a decision to discontinue funding.

According to community radio station KSJD, commissioner Larry Don Suckla says the move was “fake news” to bring the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension program’s regional director to the bargaining table. The commissioners want the local extension director replaced, the news report says; their goal isn’t to sever the relationship with the state program or defund the local office.

Fake news is generally an accusation leveled at the news media by politicians who don’t want to admit to or deal with inconvenient facts. For the commissioners to involve the media in a campaign of disinformation is a different twist on a disturbing phenomenon of dishonesty.

We don’t even know whether this is the truth. Maybe they had a plan, received a lot of negative responses from the public, and decided it wasn’t such a good plan after all. There’s no shame in that.

Regardless, they now may have gained some leverage at the expense of their credibility, locally and with the network of extension agents statewide.

If constituents had been trusted with honest information, they could have spent the two weeks between the commissioners’ votes understanding and providing input on the real issues – the apparent need for improved communications between the extension office and the commissioners, if Extension Director Tom Hooten is still the right person for the job or something else. The commissioners’ actions suggest that they do not value public input.

We understand the need to get extension representatives to take the issue seriously. But stunts like this – essentially deceiving constituents – is certainly not what citizens elect leaders to do.

This is not the way adults solve problems. They make progress not by trickery, not by yanking anyone around, but by capitalizing on the expertise and the best ideas of everyone who is involved. They sit down and talk honestly about an issue, propose solutions, discuss the impediments to those solutions and eventually arrive at a plan of action, together.

Montezuma County is not Washington, D.C., and the commissioners definitely should not emulate the nonsense that seems to have become the norm there.

Like it or not, brinksmanship is part of politics. Misleading constituents, however, should not be. Deception is the shameful opposite of the transparency that makes possible government of the people, by the people and for the people.