A Cortez official’s Facebook post in December has sparked heated exchanges on social media and at a recent City Council meeting.
The thread was initiated Dec. 11 by city Planning and Zoning Commissioner Lance McDaniel, who also is a board member for Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1. It references proposed names for the park project on the south side of Cortez, at the former site of Montezuma-Cortez High School.
In the post, McDaniel expressed disappointment that South Park had not been chosen as the official name for the park, and in comments under the post wrote, “Damn veterans won again,” referring to the recent renaming of City Park as Veterans Park.
He later said he mistakenly thought Veterans Park was the name of the south side park site.
“It was meant as a lighthearted comment, it was in no way meant to be disrespectful to veterans,” he told The Journal Thursday.
As of November, five names were considered for the south side park: Panther Park, Parque del Sol, South Park, Mountain View Park and Southside Community Park.
McDaniel’s post drew outrage from other Facebook users on McDaniel’s thread, and they shared versions of his original post.
McDaniel also angered some residents with his comments about critics of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposed land use code. He warned his Facebook followers he was being “FB stalked” and comments on his page were being shared with the “local crazies.”
The post that referenced the park’s name came up at the City Council meeting Jan. 14.
“I was just appalled when it was brought to my attention,” said Ray Goodall, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Korean War.
A few councilors thanked Goodall for his service and addressed the issue too.
“I think that this posting was most unfortunate,” said Mayor Karen Sheek. “It was not done in good taste. And I think that this is a prime example of some of the pitfalls of social media.”
Councilor Mike Lavey, also a veteran, said he believed the post was taken out of context.
“I don’t believe that Mr. McDaniel felt antagonistic toward veterans,” he said. “I believe that he respects veterans.”
Rebecca Levy, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission alongside McDaniel, also spoke at the City Council meeting during a public comment period. Her comments appeared in the Facebook thread, and she was a target of some of the Facebook backlash. In one exchange in the comments thread, she called out other commenters, who had suggested that McDaniel be “tarred and feathered,” and she chastised commenters for talking about “lynchings and murders.”
Levy on Tuesday apologized for her part in the thread and claimed McDaniel’s comment was an inside joke that was misconstrued and a “horrible social media lesson.”
She lauded McDaniel’s participation on Montezuma County Flag Watch, a Facebook page that notifies users when flags are ordered to be raised at half-staff.
“He’s one of the most patriotic, sweet people I know,” Levy said.
She added, though, that the backlash got out of hand. She pointed to the Facebook references about hanging and “tar and feathering.”
“There’s been so much hatred,” Levy said. “It’s palpable, and I just want it to stop.”
McDaniel said he was tired of how long the controversy has circulated.
“I’m disappointed in the rancor and the hate and discontent that’s been caused by this,” he told The Journal.
He too highlighted his work monitoring flags and said his comment had been directed to a veteran friend of his, who had no problem with the joke.
Meanwhile, faced with opposition to the proposed land use code, Cortez City Council is considering pausing the code update.
The update was set for a second reading and potential approval on Jan. 28, but city staff have asked to delay the process and restart it with a dedicated focus group.
“Right now, staff wants to hit pause on this train,” City Planner Tracie Hughes said Jan. 14.