Leaders from Montezuma County and the city of Cortez met for an informal joint meeting Tuesday night to discuss mutual interests in statewide legislation, local construction projects and potential areas for partnerships.
Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek said joint meetings can help leaders from the two entities get to know each other.
“Maybe if we join forces, we’ll be more successful,” Sheek said.
County Commissioners Keenan Ertel and Jim Candelaria represented Montezuma County, along with County Administrator Shak Powers and IT Director Jim McClain. Also seated at the table was Candelaria’s campaign manager, David Spiegel, who introduced himself as a member of the Montezuma County Republican Party.
On the city side, Sheek was joined by City Manager John Dougherty and City Council members Gary Noyes, Ty Keel, Orly Lucero and Sue Betts.
“Talking board-to-board and face-to-face helps, I think,” Ertel said.
The group tentatively decided to schedule joint meetings on a quarterly basis on the third Tuesday.
Legislation worries commissionersMuch of the 1.5-hour meeting was devoted to partisan statements and attacks on Democratic lawmakers. Ertel and Candelaria expressed concern with multiple bills coming out of the Colorado Legislature with little warning or input from rural Colorado.
“Not to be political, but you’ve got Democrats running everything in this state,” Ertel said.
Dougherty said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has asked Cortez for local support on SB 19-181, a bill to Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. Dougherty on Tuesday night said the bill was headed to the floor tomorrow.“Does anybody else have any problem with — this isn’t exactly transparency,” Dougherty said. “The full council doesn’t get to see it and vote on it, nor does the public know anything about it.”
Candelaria said he thinks that timeline is the new normal.
“They’re going to hit us, and they’re going to present it within one to two days,” Candelaria said. “I think we all better be prepared within a 24- or 48-hour period to be able to respond to these.”
Ertel said he believes SB19-181 would stifle the state’s economy.
“I’m gonna tell you what, they’re going to stop oil and gas production, exploration and everything in this state if they can.” Ertel said.
He said there has been more action coming out of the statehouse and Congress in the past couple of weeks than in the past six months. Sheek attributed the uptick in action to the number of Democrats elected in Colorado and nationwide in November.
Noyes asked the two commissioners what they have heard about the Colorado bill and similar action from other states to elect the U.S. president by popular vote.“The destruction of the electoral college?” Ertel asked.
Candelaria campaign manager Spiegel responded, falsely, that Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill. SB19-042, which was approved in February, was last seen in Legislative Legal Services, where it was being checked and printed. A representative from Polis’ office on Wednesday confirmed that the governor has not signed the bill, though Polis has said he will.
Colorado would make the change to a popular vote only if enough states signed on and committed their electors to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. With Polis’ signature, Colorado would be the 12th state, along with the District of Columbia, to sign on, giving the group 181 electoral votes.
Candelaria said Montezuma County and several other counties are seeking a voter referendum in 2020 on the popular vote question. He said he believes Colorado will “have no vote of anything at all anymore” the way the bill is presented, adding, it’s “kind of a scary deal.”
“Hopefully this referendum works, and in 2020 it goes to the vote of the people,” Candelaria said. “Which it should go to a vote of the people and not just – I mean, I don’t understand how these guys up there in this legislative session are pushing all of these things through that are just – I mean, they aren’t asking anybody.”
“He wants the popular vote to elect the president, because that means East and West Coast will elect everybody,” Ertel said of Polis.
Ertel added that the House, Senate and governor are going to run their agenda, and Montezuma County needs to be ready.
“We are the minority in this state,” Ertel said.
Possible partnershipsPowers discussed the possibility of the city and county working together to curb opioid overdoses.He referenced a Jan. 28 story published by The Journal with the headline, “State looks to expand opioid treatment centers, but not in Southwest Colorado.”
He said the two local entities could work together to address mental health and substance use disorders.
“If the state’s not going to do anything about it, except for try to confiscate personal property from law-abiding citizens, maybe the city and the county need to team up and do something without the state,” Powers said.
Ertel asked city leaders for an update on the Cortez fiber-optic public-private partnership. Dougherty said Cortez is in negotiations with telecom company Allo.Ertel asked whether Allo would monopolize broadband in Cortez, leaving Zumacom and Farmers Telecommunications left out.
Dougherty said Allo has told him the network will be open access, meaning it would allow other companies to use the fiber infrastructure. He said Allo is not concerned about competition, stating the company will be competitors on price.
“And then once they beat them down, they follow the golden rule, right?” Ertel said. “The man who has the gold makes the rules.”
He said he’s seen in other industries that companies destroy competition and then raise prices. Sheek said the existing competition has poor service and high prices.
“The things that you say you fear by having another company coming in and ... maybe taking over the lion’s share of the market, we’ve got that here right now,” Sheek said.
She said the city has worked on the fiber project for years and the dream was originally to make a broadband partnership countywide. She said fiber is vital for economic development. But, Ertel said, the city’s fiber program has been a very costly and unsuccessful venture.
“Your business model is a failure,” Ertel said.
Sheek said the city has made an investment and has found a company that thinks differently than other telecom providers. Just because someone chooses to live in rural Colorado, doesn’t mean they deserve fewer services, she said.
“We’re just now beginning to reach a point where we are beginning to have a voice, and more power to us, I say,” Sheek said.
Infrastructure needsCandelaria discussed interest in connection Sligo Street in Cortez east to County Road 27, south of Montezuma-Cortez High School. Ertel said that’s a busy intersection and most of the easements and right of ways are established.“I would like for Council to maybe revisit that, see if that’s something that you would go into a partnership with us on building that extension and alleviating some of that heavy traffic,” Ertel said.
Candelaria said it would be safer and easier for school buses.
The two commissioners expressed interest in purchasing or renting a tire chipper at the landfill. Ertel said the county can’t afford to buy a chipper, but even a temporary rental in conjunction with a countywide cleanup effort would be great.
“We’re all tired of seeing tires in arroyas, just kind of everywhere,” Candelaria said. “It affects us all, and it cleans our whole county, our whole community up.”
With spring on the way, Candelaria discussed improvements to the parking lot at the Sand Canyon Trail at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.Candelaria said the Bureau of Land Management is moving slowly, but the county will move forward on improving the parking area.
James Dietrich, federal lands planner for Montezuma County, said the county has enough right of way to bring in machinery one day to level off the area. He said engineering could be done on the fly. Once it’s graded off, the county could level it off with gravel.
Candelaria said it’s the first place people want to hike in the spring because it dries out early.
Sheek brought up the issue of water conservation. Cortez adopted a water conservation plan in November that seeks to reduce per capita water consumption from 200 gallons per day to 180 gallons per day. The plan calls for metering all water users and rebates for water-efficient appliances.Regardless of anyone’s feelings about climate change, she said Montezuma County has been in a drought for a long time.
“If push comes to shove and we have very little water, we’re going to have to figure out ways to decide how we’re going to use that,” Sheek said.
Ertel said the Colorado River has been in decline since the 1990s and has been downhill ever since. “Water will be the liquid gold of the West,” he said.
Candelaria said he will do everything he can to promote xeriscaping to save water for farms.
“Our agricultural community is going to face a lot of trouble,” Candelaria said.