Some of the most popular stories of 2017 on The-Journal.com were related to proposed projects and policy changes from City Hall and the RE-1 school district. But ordinary citizens also made their voices heard, whether through public demonstrations like the Women’s March for Unity in January or through the November election, which saw the defeat of a mill levy tax for the school district.
Other stories that drew attention online were about significant one-time events in town, like a well-attended visit from two Broncos players, or crime news such as a suspected homicide on County Road G.
Proposed Main Street medians spark debateThe Cortez City Council and other departments announced several plans this year that received mixed reactions from citizens. Although it was ultimately delayed until 2018, the city announced in 2017 its plan to install medians on four blocks of Main Street, as part of an effort to make downtown safer for drivers and pedestrians. The plan drew many negative comments on social media, and on The Journal’s website, where an unscientific poll showed almost 80 percent of readers were against the proposal. A series of public outreach meetings on the project during the summer was poorly attended.
Construction bids for the medians will go out in January, and the project is scheduled to be completed by Memorial Day. City Manager Shane Hale said the Colorado Department of Transportation has agreed to pay half the cost of several sidewalk ramps the city plans to install as part of the project.
Proposed regulations would impose penaltiesThe Cortez Planning and Building department also received negative feedback for proposed changes to the land use code, including the possibility of penalties for carports and store signs that don’t conform to city regulations. The new land use code, which the city has been working on for about two years, is still a work in progress. Hale said the process was delayed this year by several factors, including Hurricane Harvey displacing employees at the city’s Texas consulting firm, but he expects to be able to present a draft to the public by late March or early April.
“Any changes to our land use code will be a public process,” he said.
School district mill levy fails in November electionThe Montezuma-Cortez RE-1 School District spent several months advocating for a mill levy override, which the board said would have raised money to fund teacher wages, new school buses and other improvements. A ballot question about the override was defeated in the November election, a few days after a letter to the editor that criticized the question’s wording for being too ambiguous received hundreds of online views.
After the defeat, school board members said they would have to consider budget cuts for 2018 because of the decrease in expected revenue, but they also quickly began discussing ways to get their message out to the public more clearly before the next election.
New buildings spring up around townSeveral large construction projects in Cortez were finished in 2017. The grand opening for a new City Hall, located in the former Journal headquarters on Roger Smith Avenue, was held on March 17. In September, a $9.5 million building was completed to house the new Montezuma County Combined Courts. Across the street, the spacious new Osprey Packs headquarters opened its doors in the same month. Meanwhile, Southwest Memorial Hospital made progress on its own renovation with the opening of a new emergency services building. A new hospital wing and other renovations are expected to be completed next summer.
Cortez grieves loss of popular teacher Ray HarrimanRay Harriman, a longtime Montezuma-Cortez High School teacher, died June 6 after suspected heart failure led to a car crash in Dolores. Hundreds of people turned out to honor him at a memorial in Panther Stadium. Bob Archibeque, who had worked with him in the past, said Harriman “was loved by many, but he loved them more than they loved him.”
Other notable citizens Cortez lost in 2017 included Leslie Slavens, co-owner of Slavens True Value Hardware, who died March 14 at the age of 69 after a long battle with cancer. According to his obituary, he “had the heart of an adventurer and loved to experience life.” Larry Gallegos, a former priest at St. Margaret Mary Church in Cortez, died in June at the age of 78, leaving many mourners in his former Cortez and Durango parishes.
Cortez man charged with killing his motherJeremiah Damron, a 36-year-old Cortez resident, was arrested July 20 after the body of his mother, Kristie Damron, was found beaten and burned outside his home near County Road G. He was charged with first-degree murder on July 28, but in an Oct. 17 hearing, he was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. A report on his competency from the Colorado Mental Health Institute is due by Jan. 16, when Damron is scheduled to appear in court for another hearing.
Another suspicious death occurred earlier in the year, when a man was found dead near Denny Lake on May 2. An investigation later showed the man, 26-year-old Charles Evans, had likely died of hypothermia after fleeing the scene of an attempted murder at Vista Verde Village mobile home park. Evans was suspected of shooting 19-year-old Ocean Rodd in the neck on March 27. Rodd survived the injury.
The Broncos come to town in Salute to Fans tourTwo Denver Broncos players, two cheerleaders and Miles the mascot came to Cortez on April 21 as part of the team’s annual Salute to Fans tour. About 115 Montezuma and Dolores County elementary students participated in a training camp led by players Corey Nelson and Will Parks, and about 2,000 fans filled Parque de Vida later in the day to get autographs and meet the players.
Cortez residents march for women’s rightsAn estimated 504 people braved a snowstorm on Jan. 21 to join the Women’s March for Unity in Cortez. Organized by the Montezuma Alliance for Unity, the march was held to show support for women’s rights and other causes, in solidarity with similar marches that occurred the same day across the country. It was the first and best-attended of several similar public demonstrations held in Cortez throughout the year. Others included the Women’s History March in March and the Climate Mobilization Rally in April.
Boutique Air prices go up in first year of serviceBoutique Air completed its first year of service at Cortez Municipal Airport. In August, the airline’s ticket prices went up drastically from the introductory fares that started at $59. But in November airport manager Russ Machen said it was still doing more business in Cortez than its predecessor, Great Lakes Airlines. City officials said they have been pleased with the airline’s performance so far.
T-ball fight results in criminal charges against nine adultsOne of The Journal’s most-read stories online dealt with a fight between several Cortez adults at a children’s T-ball game in Parque De Vida in June. The fight was filmed by a spectator and received tens of thousands of views on Facebook. A total of nine adults and one juvenile were eventually charged in connection with the incident.