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July 11, 2018
Last night at the July Town Board meeting there was a bit of a setback, not just the outcome of the vote on The Loop, but the way the trustees perceive their roles in our community, above the common man. They went on to discredit the usefulness of a public vote, and pranced about in the midst of their being "ridiculously informed" (Patrick Martchink).
There is no doubt that The Loop issue is an emotional one, or that some of the details are confusing, or that many in the public are making statements about issues which have changed and therefore their comments appear outdated and ignorant. Those observations are all true, and whos responsibility is that? As this project has evolved, the project details have changed weekly, and this is, as admitted last night by the trustees, no longer a project about making access to the park easier. No, it has 'evolved' to be a much more important issue than that, as the project has been pressed forward by the Town Administrator and his supporters, they have gained some predictable allies, in the EDC (what is their purpose again?), and all the members of committees that have served this great town government. There is not a black ops conspiracy going on, but when you are immersed in meetings and projects that the Town is supervising under Franks direction, you begin to see it his way. Frank Lancaster seems to be the common thread in all of this, that's why you keep seeing his name, it's not your imagination.
That the trustees would discount the value of a public vote because: our residents are "well educated, but not informed" (Martchink), or that a ballot will merely reflect a "vote of passion" (Martchink), or that the citizens are "consistently 60/40 in favor of The Loop" (Norris) according to his own feelings, she is "100% confident in my choices tonight" (Bangs), and finally, Ken Zornes prediction that the next election of trustees could result in a complete turnover of this issue. He predicted in the hands of four new trustees, if the People still felt strongly enough- they could change things then.
So, that's how the trustees feel about the citizens voting, it's beneath them. They know best, they will decide for you.
Of course, the pro loop crowd (the business hob-nobbers who all get together for craft brews) will nod their heads in agreement that these trustees make the tough decisions for Estes, and "they did a great job tackling this tough issue" by continuing to ram it forward. But, they're not quite tough enough to hear what they don't want to hear. This obstinance is the stuff that 'going postal', or the 'killdozer' is born from- government superiority and indifference to The People. The stance is a dangerous one for these trustees, because while violence has no place in our society, frustration is festering and understandable after hearing the trustees reasons for denying the demand for a vote on this town-changing issue.
The People still don't sound very happy, although the no-loop numbers at last nights meeting showed that the government tactic of wearing down the enemy is taking it's toll. Even one of last nights no-loop speakers attacked his brethren following the meeting in a disconnected vulgar rage, apparently feeling abandoned by past (exhausted) fighters who have been speaking up for years. Frank must be happy this morning, the plan is working: A loop at any cost, naysayers be damned. Is this chaosreally what you want to be remembered for, Frank?
Long time resident and business owner Pat Newsom made some unplanned remarks in apparent frustration and admitted her scattered thoughts, then eloquently stated her heart to the trustees: "You were elected to listen to The People", as she made a plea for a vote. Even former Pro Loop bandleader Art Messal admitted that in his campaign to win an trustee position he spoke with many residents and discovered that the opposition to The Loop is "larger than he ever realized", yet he didn't discover that until he made personal contact, like a survey, or a vote might reveal. Good for him, for admitting this publicly, the 'vocal minority' (former mayor Pinkham) isn't so small when you open your eyes and ears.
Unfortunately, the damage will now continue to grow, until the 2020 election, when as trustee Zornes suggested, anyone still upset about The Loop can run for office and stop The Loop project then. To which the same comment we have made was raised by a trustee- the cost will be even worse for the community, in money, relationships and humanity in 2020. With last nights trustee statements about the ignorance of the public, which public votes are legitimate? Should we just abandon voting, since we're all so dumb? (Alternately, make a case and offer facts for the electors to make good decisions, facts from both sides, versus just taking away the voting privilege to win your case- for the tide will change and voting IS the balance).
Last night, the trustees failed when they intentionally passed the opportunity to take a vote, or even a survey, and move forward. The Town therefore remains stuck in this messy, expensive boondoggle that will plague Estes Park for years to come.
June 30, 2018
finally, a useful message
In an effort to be 'kinder and gentler' there's been a lot of tongue biting going on at EstesTruth about the electronic sign debacle that now graces our pristine entrance view of the downtown corridor.
Since they were installed, the electronic signs have regurgitated sign information that was already quite visible, "This way to the Park" "That way to the Parking" and the omnipresent "Seat Belts Save Lives" PSA that makes the sign programmers feel better about keeping America safe (ah, sarcasm in the right context feels so good).
The first useful message in the short history of Estes Park's electronic message panels:
"RED FLAG WARNING
FIRE DANGER VERY HIGH"
This morning we noticed the hwy 34 sign had a legitimate, valuable, important message that electronic message signs are made for, and that is timely messages that change depending on current conditions. That's right, EstesTruth patting the Town on the back for getting it right. This important message must be in front of our visitors. In front of our locals. In front of everyone because every little reminder about our current state of dry affairs could make a difference.
A highway sign for something other than highway conditions? You bet. Use these signs wisely, Sign Wizard, for their overuse will render them powerless. Their proper use will provide an important communication tool, and if you'd just order some nice timber-looking cover ups for those ugly steel girders which they are erected upon, we can get along.
PS: It's OK to turn the sign OFF when there's nothing to say. Negative space is the absence of data that actually enhances the message, please use negative space as often as possible, and we promise to read the signs when there's something important.
April 1, 2018
Finally admitting that he never did have magic powers, like the ones everyone was told he had when Larimer County dumped him on us (and they all had such big smiles at the time). Frank Lancaster submitted his own walking papers after admitting that his overall stop-and-go-light was actually RED and it has been for a long time. After the first line of the memo that read "I hereby submit my resignation effective immediately", everyone stopped reading, overcome with emotions so no one really knows what else Franks final communication said.
Let that feeling sink in. Close your eyes and imagine.
Did you also experience that sigh of relief? That warm feeling that washed over and you thought, 'maybe things will turn out OK'. Well friends, on this 2018 April Fools Day, we must reveal that this headline is merely a fantasy, an April Fools Joke in very poor taste. To appear on a Sunday morning (hey we don't schedule April Fools Day) AND to tempt the readers with news so sweet, only to be pulled back and leave you hanging....
Lancaster measures his own job performance for the Town Trustees in a regular report by using a stop-and-go-light graphic so trustees like His Majesty Bob Holcomb and Lord Nelson can just look at the pictures and not have to read the words. He prefers to use green lights.
We just wanted to share the feeling of what could be, depending on the election. Your ballot is due before 7pm on Tuesday April 3, 2018 and must be at Town Hall (170 MacGregor Ave) to be counted. Your ballot will not make it if you mail it!
What's the importance of this election? Frank Lancaster is the Town Board's sole employee. He is the voters connection to the Town of Estes Park. Your vote matters! (Our top choices: MARIE CENAC, ART MESSAL, DAVID SHIRK)
Lancaster was starting to feel left out, with all of the publicity of late being focused on the shenanigans at the Park Hospital District, so he poked the hornets nest to remind local voters how the current town trustees intentionally IGNORED the voters when they prohibited a public vote on the issue of The Loop. Lancasters arrogant statements (below) made several assertions that were presented as facts, when in reality there is an exit strategy which the trustees may choose to take, if and when there are enough balls on the town board to conduct a public vote and finally determine- does Estes Park WANT The Loop? This is an issue up to The People, yet against every known rule of democracy, the Town has moved forward despite hours of public testimony against this project. (hey, we meant 'balls' metaphorically- there is a lady on the ballot (Cenac) that we're voting for).
Until the first spade of dirt is turned, The Loop is in jeopardy, and Frank knows it. His recent article shows his hidden fear- as he makes a doomsday prediction 'if the loop doesn't keep moving forward'. Frank Lancaster has been the primary force behind the Loop and should be fired hastily in our opinion for this alone. If, that is, he does not submit his resignation to pursue fishing, hiking or any other activity without keys to Town Hall in his pocket.
Frank Lancasters scare tactics from the recent TG article by Zach Clemens:
"Lancaster also said that if The Loop were stopped, whether that is by the Town Board of Trustees, or if the Board decided to put The Loop to a town vote, the Town would be responsible to pay back $1.65 million that has already been spent by Central Federal Lands as of the end of December.
He said that a big part of The Loop project was to repave Elkhorn and downtown, which would not happen if the project was cancelled or the Town pulled out.
"Honestly we would probably never see another federal transportation grant for a generation [if The Loop was stopped]," Lancaster said. "The federal government allocates their funds because they want to build projects, and there are plenty of other communities around who would love to have the funding for projects."
Lancaster said that, although he has no concerns about it, if the federal government pulled out of the project it would have to absorb the costs already incurred. If there was a technical issue that all parties involved realized it just wasn't feasible, the Town would be on the hook for their local match, which is about a quarter of the total $17.2 million budgeted for the project."
March 13, 2018
Town Wants, Town Gets
"It all came together so quickly", and in the course of a day the Town of Estes Park found a million dollars and is on their way to owning a piece of property they had not planned for, had not budgeted for and and now are gloating about moving so quickly- with nary a word from the neighborhood or a question from the Trustees. Here's what happened.
1360 Brook Drive
Mike Kearney has lived in town longer than you're alive, well most of you - though he's not that old, maybe in his 60s. He is an excavator and with his family has worked hard to build up a small family business that makes deals by mostly looking you in the eye and shaking hands on it. Mike has been offering to sell his 5.5 acres at 1360 Brook Drive for a few years, and despite some well intentioned buyers, nothing has come together. It might strike you as odd then that according to Town Administrator Frank Lancaster, the Town 'became aware of' this opportunity Friday morning (yes, 4 days ago on Friday) and by the end of the day they had a deal. According to the purchase agreement posted on the Town's website, the document was prepared and signed by all parties on March 2nd. Maybe they backdated it, or accidentally said that it came to their attention on Friday the 9th or something like that. Minutia. What matters is that the deal got done, right?
According to Ward Nelson, incumbent candidate for the election ballot that will be in your mailbox as early as today, the Town deserves praise for moving so quickly and working together to get this done. His Majesty Bob Holcomb (also incumbent candidate for re election, please do not elect him), who in typical fashion doesn't participate in the conversation, but always makes or seconds motions (so he appears conscious and involved in the meeting minutes) made the motion to move forward, and without any apparent concern about HOW THE TOWN COMES UP WITH A MILLION DOLLARS IN 8 HOURS, they voted unanimously in favor. Wendy Koenig did ask about the neighbors, to which the utility director replied that the process moved so quickly there wasn't much time to gather that input. In fact (and he's probably right, Bergsten was the most honest person speaking at the podium this night) if the Town owns the property they could control the traffic patterns of the town staff and vehicles to minimize the impact to the neighbors.
There are two issues here, and they have started to meld together so lets separate them:
1. The Town came up with a million dollars for an unbudgeted, unplanned purchase in a day
2. The Water department needs to move off campus from the town shops, they are currently on Elm Road
Director Bergsten made several salient points about moving the water department away from the shared town campus, including having all their eggs in one basket in the event of a natural disaster (ie the Woodland Heights fire that nearly came over the ridge just a hundred yards to the West in June of 2012), also the limited space for operations and the remarkable amount of traffic on Elm Road. Problem being the utter lack of real estate in Estes Park that would permit such an operation. Good news! 1360 Brook Drive is already zoned industrial, and it would be a good fit for the Town.
Unfortunately, the Town struggles with money (we The Peopleare told). They don't have 2 pennies to rub together when it comes to repairing the streets, or other responsibilities that always seem to be near extinction. Weird how this cool million is on the table now, and further strange that not a single trustee questioned the irony of having this much money this quickly without an opportunity for public input. These trustees are the representatives in place to check and balance the Town Staff decisions to spend our money when we're not watching. Despite the Town admitting that public interest would be "Medium", they attributed the lack of public input to the 'pending transaction not being widely known'. Despite that, the resolution is approved and the purchase will move ahead.
This is an election year, so Ward Nelson takes the opportunity to Speak Up! in candidate fashion and compliment the Town for moving so quickly, for putting the residents first, for being simply awesome. Incumbent candidate Ward Nelson probably headed straight for the ER after the meeting to get his dislocated shoulder treated after patting himself on the back so hard throughout the meeting... He was handing out self praise after spending money earlier in the meeting.
So what's the outcome? The Town should buy the property and move the water department to 1360 Brook Drive. The details will work out.
What have we learned? The Town gets what they want, when they want it. This includes not doing things they don't want to do even if the citizens suffer, 'because they're broke". Apparently broke only if it serves the purpose of not doing something they don't want to do.
February 14, 2018
the entire 4th street story
Did you just chuckle to yourself? We did too. Thanks to our readers for submitting timely tips and additions to EstesTruth.
January 26, 2018
Town Administrator Frank Lancaster must be on something
His latest article is so unlike anything he's written before that we are somewhat startled. It's good, mind you, but it's so out of character for the Town of Estes Park to admit they got it wrong when they forcefully "Divided and Conquered" (broke apart) the Chamber of Commerce many years ago. His article advocates for a new Estes Park Chamber of Commerce that is a business owners advocacy group, and has nothing to do with the Town. Or does it?
Back to reality. Lancaster advocating for something, anything, reeks of subversive, self serving tactical maneuvers that will benefit himself or the Town. Hey! That cynicism is hard earned and accurate- just scroll back through the pages of this site and you will see how Frank has always put the Town first, government first- stepping on business and local interest to get there.
Warning! Frank Lancaster advocating for something that smells nice at first sniff deserves a thorough investigation.
We are predicting that his encouragement for 'leaders in our business community to join forces and discuss' is merely a smokescreen of a plan that is already rolling. Expect that leaders of any of the alphabet soup town divisions (VEP, EALA, EVPC, EDC, DBP, XYZPDQ, etc) to "come together" and discuss a new name for an old face.
Dammit. We had hope for a second, and it felt so good.
Could someone call Ted Williams and ask him about The Chamber? He's the man we trust on this issue, he has the keys to a real Chamber of Commerce for Estes Park.
Read Lancasters article below:
What could a Chamber of Commerce do for Estes Park?
By Town Administrator Frank Lancaster
We've all heard the saying "Divide and Conquer" at some point. It comes from the Latin "Divide Et Impera," or Divide and Rule. It has come to mean the breaking up of larger concentrations of power into independent parts which, individually, have less power than the one asserting the power. It's pretty obvious that the saying comes from the perspective of the conqueror, not those being marginalized. The flip side of this coin is that through cooperation by joining forces, we are much more likely to have meaningful impact and be successful.
There are a number of business organizations here in Estes Park -- some large, some small -- representing different niches of our economy. Currently, there's the Estes Area Lodging Association focused on lodging and visitors, the Estes Valley Partners for Commerce working with general business interests, and the Wedding Association focused on the narrow niche of weddings -- just to name a few. Some are less formal, such as the Historic West Elkhorn Merchants who put on the great Hot Cars, Cool Nights car show events last summer on West Elkhorn Avenue. We've seen groups with great intentions come and go, such as the fledgling restaurant association that never really got off the ground, or the Downtown Business Partners which tried to unite our core business district. Each group has a noble mission and good intentions, but may struggle at times with gaining membership, volunteers, and administrative support to organize meetings, take minutes and manage funds.
Most communities Estes Park's size have a Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is a non-profit voluntary partnership of business and professional people who join forces to build a healthy economy and improve the quality of life in a community. Estes Park hasn't had a true Chamber of Commerce in recent history. Several years back we had an organization called the "Chamber of Commerce." At that time, I was the Larimer County Manager and I worked with Chambers throughout the County. The Estes Park Chamber of Commerce was unique and didn't function like the other Chambers in the region. Its functions were more aligned with a typical Convention and Visitor's Bureau, marketing and promoting the Town and the area to visitors. The Chamber ceased to exist after a contentious relationship with the Town government and its marketing functions were eventually assumed by Visit Estes Park with the formation of the Local Marketing District. Since the Chamber's demise, just mentioning it can raise the hackles of some folks here in town. Perhaps it's time to leave that in the past and consider the need for a true Estes Park Chamber of Commerce.
Many communities support their businesses and economic health needs on a metaphorical three-legged stool. The first leg is an Economic Development Corporation or EDC, which concentrates its efforts on recruitment of new businesses and retention and expansion of existing businesses. Second is a Convention and Visitors Bureau or in our case, Visit Estes Park, which markets the town to visitors, business meetings and group events. We currently have organizations providing these two legs of economic support. The third leg is a Chamber of Commerce to support and represent the needs of all existing businesses. A Chamber can advocate for businesses in local, regional, state and even national issues. It helps businesses connect with each other and with other partners, working together to be more successful. It serves as the face of the local business community to locals and visitors alike. Chambers often provide educational and development opportunities for small businesses that they may not be able to obtain on their own. Through networking, a Chamber of Commerce can effectively improve the business climate of a community and help businesses prosper, contributing to the overall economic stability of the community.
The existence of a Chamber of Commerce doesn't diminish the need for smaller niche organizations, but actually can enhance their effectiveness and lend a unified voice. With broad-based membership, a Chamber could have adequate resources to effectively provide services to its members and advocate for the business community. On a regular basis, our staff hear from prospective businesses and residents, and other outside organizations, in search of Estes Park's Chamber. Much to their surprise, we can only refer them to the existing smaller groups.
So you ask, "Why would the Town Administrator be raising the call for a Chamber of Commerce?" As public servants, it's absolutely critical that we at the Town work effectively with all segments of our community... Full-time and seasonal residents, newcomers and long-term residents, seniors, retirees, young families, youth, guests, non-profits, the faith community and the business community. Currently, the lack of a cohesive group and unified advocate for the business community, to be candid, makes working with businesses feel much like herding cats. Someone always gets left out of a discussion and ends up angry and frustrated. Communicating information to businesses and gathering their feedback is a daunting task, to say the least. The community is too large for the Mayor or Town Administrator to regularly drop by to chat with every business owner. A true Chamber of Commerce could provide that venue for better communication between the businesses and the Town, making sure all business voices are heard so the Town can be more effective.
It just might be time to do away with the self-inflicted "divide and conquer" model and instead "Unite and Succeed" with a new Estes Park Chamber of Commerce. I encourage leaders in our business community to join forces and discuss the possibilities. Resources to spark discussions are readily available at www.uschamber.com including "Your Chamber of Commerce; A guide to starting and growing a chamber of commerce."
January 8, 2018
Planning Commissioners break state law
+ are there secrets we should know about?
Frank Lancaster almost pulled a fast one on We The People, then covered his tracks- but more on that later*. The news here is that Frank just announced to the Town Board that the Planning Commission is conducting business via email, which breaks the taxpayer friendly Sunshine law about conducting meetings in private. ..and it's not the first time! Lancaster pointed out that even Great White, the Town Attorney (aka Greg White) has warned the Planning Commissioners about their email conversations and they continue to violate the rules.
This is an error that the chairperson should correct in the PC ranks. We are guessing that the Town calling out the PC will be a chip that may be played at a later date by the Town Board, or Town Staff tit-for-tat. Sorry, but that's the way things seem to be under the status quo leadership of this board and staff administration. Make important facts public only when it's in the best interest of the Town.
* More concerning: Along the lines of being secret, it would appear that F Lancaster intended to send his notification without making it public, as his original email was first distributed to the trustees at 12:01, Trustee Walker acknowledged it at 12:08 (making it public via the Town public email server) and then Lancaster, realizing his cover was blown, attempted to cover his own tracks and resent it, public this time, with some excuse about an email address error. This makes us wonder about all of those emails that Frank has sent without making them public? What are Franks reasons for keeping emails secret (um, 'private')?Government corruption usually reveals itself though a minor mistake that is properly exposed- and here, today dear readers you have witnessed such an event. Will Frank's bosses investigate? Will the newspaper take the Town to task on their secrets? Probably not, for this is good old status quo Estes Park. It's worth noting that Commissioner Betty Hull has been arguing with the Town as she tries to preserve the Senior Center space on 4th Street. This might give the Town leverage in that conversation, if they were those kind of people.
Here's the email string from the Town email server
Frank Lancaster Frank Lancaster
2018-01-08 12:17 PM
(I am resending this e-mail. there was an issue with one of the addresses in the addressing field)
Under policy governance I am required to notify you of any known violation of state statutes associated with Town operations. With this e-mail I am notifying you the Estes Valley Planning Commission has violated the Colorado Open Meetings law by conducting a discussion of public policy via e-mail outside of a required advertised public meeting. Mr. Hunt, Town Attorney White and I have all cautioned members of the Planning Commission in the past about conducting meetings via e-mail on several occasions. A copy of the latest e-mail discussion is attached for your information. Since the Planning Commission members are appointees of the Town Board and the Board of County Commissioners, as Town Administrator I have no authority to take any further actions regarding this violation
Cody Walker Cody Walker
2018-01-08 12:08 PM
Other recipients: flanc...@estes.org
Thank you Mr. Lancaster for the notification.
Right from the horses mouth,
"Under CO Open Records Act, all messages sent to or by me from this account may be subject to public disclosure, unless the word "private" or "confidential" is in the subject line. "
On Jan 8, 2018, at 12:01 PM, Frank Lancaster <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Under policy governance I am required to notify you of any known violation of state statutes associated with Town operations. With this e-mail I am notifying you the Estes Valley Planning Commission has violated the Colorado Open Meetings law by conducting a discussion of public policy via e-mail outside of a required advertised public meeting. Mr. Hunt, Town Attorney White and I have all cautioned members of the Planning Commission in the past about conducting meetings via e-mail on several occasions. A copy of the latest e-mail discussion is attached for your information. Since the Planning Commission members are appointees of the Town Board and the Board of County Commissioners, as Town Administrator I have no authority to take any further actions regarding this violation
From: Russ <email@example.com>
Date: January 4, 2018 at 6:22:18 PM MST
To: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>Cc: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Another potential topic
As it currently stands. Is our purview to do something to change this, or does it need to go to another committee?
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
Sent: Thursday, January 4, 2018 12:19 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.orgCc: email@example.com
Subject: Re: Another potential topic
But, hunting can occur on any private property in the County with the property owner's permission. And those county lines abut town lines, so a fence can be the only separation, which is NOT safe!!
-----Original Message-----From: Russ <firstname.lastname@example.org>To: Doyle Baker <email@example.com>; Betty Hull <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Bob Leavitt <email@example.com>; Sharry White <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Steve Murphree <email@example.com>; Robert H Foster, EVPC <firstname.lastname@example.org>Cc: Randy Hunt, AICP <email@example.com>
Sent: Thu, Jan 4, 2018 11:26 am
Subject: Another potential topic
Big game hunting near residential areas.
Should we develop a code which restricts hunting within a specific distance of a residential home?
Sent from Mail for Windows 10
From: Bob Leavitt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: January 4, 2018 at 7:40:14 PM MST
To: Russ <email@example.com>Cc: "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Another potential topic
I think the topic needs more research to find out what authority the EVPC has to place something like this in the Development Code. The town enacted an ordinance prohibiting the discharging of any firearm within the town limits. We would need to find out how one goes about enacting codes or laws in the county portion of the Estes Valley and whether state laws come into play. I think the use of firearms in some county owned open spaces has been prohibited. The same is true for portions of some national forests near residential areas. In this case we're talking about private property in the Estes Valley. As Betty pointed out you can hunt on private property in the unincorporated areas of the county.
I once had a realtor ask me (on behalf of a client) whether it would be ok to hunt in Carriage Hills. The realtor was from Denver and he apparently had no idea what life is like up here. I tried to describe our valley as best I could and crossed my fingers that his client wouldn't move here. As far as I know he never did. The thing is, it is technically legal to fire weapons anywhere in the Estes Valley outside the Town. So yes, we need to look into this issue.
Estes Valley Planning Commission
Recall Bit 'em in the Butt
The premature announcement of the potential recall of Mayor Jirsa and Trustee Walker appears to have backfired, and the fallout continued this afternoon with the resignation of recall organizer Paula Scheil from her position as EALA Board President. Scheils name (alongside other EALA members) appeared on preliminary paperwork that was filed a month ago with the Town Clerk's office, proposing language that would be on a petition that, once approved, would be circulated by recall supporters to force a recall election of the two most recently elected trustees, Jirsa and Walker.
The recall committee, calling itself ACTNOW may have shot themselves in the foot when they prematurely declared through media releases that the recall was going to happen for reasons they would soon announce- just before they all but went into hibernation. There was an uprising of sorts that became (and remains) noisily in support of Jirsa and Walker, even though a recall would have been months away. The recall committee remains AWOL. They did correct their first petition language submission with a second version, which was also rejected. A third try has not yet been made.
In the meantime, many members of the community and EALA members have taken offense at Scheils position on the recall committee, perceived as retaliation for some difficult decisions by the Town Board regarding Visit Estes Park (which is incestuously tied to EALA with the same people serving both places in varying positions of leader and follower that switch between groups). It's complicated, we know. (read down this page to try and untangle the web).
Last week, VEP CEO Elizabeth Fogarty 'resigned' amidst her
So today, EALA is short one angry Board President, VEP is one CEO lighter, and 30 minutes after receiving Scheils resignation, the EALA Board invited Town Mayor Jirsa to attend their next dinner meeting to sort things out, and begin repairing the relationship between EALA and the Town Board.
It is high time we took a close look at the Towns relationships with all of these organizations who proclaim they are doing what's best for Estes Park- at the same time Estes Park is being ground down by the fruits of success in what has been called "Overtourism", not to mention the funding issues and frequent conflicts between groups about what the Future of Estes Park is. Previous Town Boards have raised a monster who is rearing it's head, with the Town Board on a rudderless ship, having lost all control of the monster at hand who's being fed by the captain of said rudderless ship, Frank Lancaster. It is a mess.
What if we stopped advertising Estes Park for 12 months? Now There's a platform to run on at the next election. Innovation is no longer doing what everyone else is doing, but more about this fantastic idea later...
We promise to vote for the candidate who promises:
1. To stop funding EP marketing and spend that money on local infrastructure (quality of life for locals: roads etc)
2. To do everything in their power to Stop the Loop (while exposing the deceitful process that allowed it to get this far)
We think you would win solidly, on those 2 issues alone.
Smoke beginning to clear at VEP : Fogarty Out
At Monday's Visit Estes Park board meeting, VEP CEO Elizabeth Fogarty resigned, following a tumultuous roller coaster ride she was operating with members of the community, Town Board, Larimer County Commissioners trapped aboard and begging to be let off... Along with what we can only assume (it's top secret) is a handsome severance (payoff) package of tax money, Fogarty gave her final budget report and will depart.
In an interesting admission, VEP board member Adam Shake commented that Sunshine Laws had been broken regularly in the past, which is why he was initially against making board emails easily accessed by the public. But now, in the face of public outcry, Larimer County Commissioner criticism and the threat of the VEP being disbanded, Shake is 'on board' with making emails public. The board voted unanimously to change the email policy. Shake will be leaving the VEP board in the next couple of months.
They also voted unanimously to allow public comment just prior to a board vote on issues before it. In an optimistic moment, new board member Lowell Richardson suggested that the first line which currently exists in the public comment policy be deleted that reads "Public comment is a privilege, not a right". That ridiculous statement perfectly captures all that was wrong with the VEP, and is curiously similar to Town Board trustee (His Majesty) Bob Holcombs view of lowly citizens... Come to find out that these self important boards may not be above the people they represent, it just takes time to get them to listen.
Richardson made a good first impression, at his first full board meeting, making statements that were pro-transparency and pro-community advocate, and pro-representative government. Weird, because he used to work for the Town, and that angle is not what he was preaching when he was on the Town payroll. We'll see how that plays out, and hope that Lowell has turned over a new leaf, as a representative of We the People. (Lowell looked pretty hip at the meeting, FYI).
Watch the VEP board meeting for yourself here: DECEMBER VEP MEETING
30:30 - approve public emails
36:45 - amend public comment policy
42:00 - executive session
45:35 - CEO resignation + severance contract
We base every article on facts. Every one has sources, citations, and references for your own personal investigation. Surrounding this issue, the facts seem to have been intentionally concealed from public view, and as you continue reading our perspective we'll present the information we have, which relies mostly on first hand reports from insiders, contractors and engaged citizens.
With that information we'll piece together what we think is happening right under our noses, and behind that government curtain which Frank Lancaster holds the sash cord to, while he can choose to share facts, or as is this case, NOT share the critical facts that have been known to a small group of planners for months.
The current downtown construction project, originally billed as and still called the 'Moraine Bridge Replacement' has taken on a life of it's own, and according to most of the businesses downtown- has been more detrimental to business than 2 years of the Big Thompson Canyon being closed. Pity businesses with a Moraine Ave address for their potential customers have not dared venture into the war zone that now stretches from the traffic light at Elkhorn Ave and Moraine, all the way West to the Donut Haus' front door, or a little past there.
Utility and sewer executives will explain that the trench which defines the length of the construction zone as 'an opportunity' that exists because Moraine Ave, which is actually state highway 36, requires nearly an act of Congress to close down, and with the unavoidable full closure that happens when replacing a bridge, it's a great time to lay some pipe!
So, lay pipe they have. 'They' have also planned and executed blasting and utility work that is only being done because of the opportunity that exists with the Moraine Ave bridge replacement that will make all of Estes Park SAFER for the residents and PREVENT a flood from killing children after rolling school buses into the Fall River. Well, they didn't say that exactly, but the sales pitch for the Moraine Ave bridge replacement was passionate and critical to our survival, no matter which trigger words were employed this time.
So, now we are in the midst of a bridge replacement that no one can complain about- since there were public meetings, media releases ad nauseum and the public sentiment was supportive of the project. Little did We The People know that there was a big plan just beyond our view that would be set in motion at the same time as the bridge project. Most people see the activity and assume that all of the work is related, and in this case you would be foolishly wrong.
So, why not ask Frank? You could even ask the Mayor Todd Jirsa or any town employee about what work is actually being done- and what's the big picture? Most residents have been irritated once or twice by the roundabout traffic pattern that is now required to drive even across the street for deliveries, and they now avoid downtown at all costs, even during the 'off season'. Those same residents don't realize that the WORST is yet to come! We did ask the Mayor if there would be any impact on Elkhorn Ave about a month or so ago and he said not that he was aware of. His answer might be different this week, as the plot, that is, the plan that was intentionally not publicized includes a full closure of Elkhorn Avenue that will take place in the spring for anywhere between 5 days and 5 weeks- if things go well. Did the leaders advise local residents, business owners or even elected officials of this plan as soon as they knew the plan? No.
If you were to ask certain town administrators/liasons under oath, in a court, whether they knew anything about the future of this project, or if there was any intentional plan to hold back information about blasting, road closures etc- you might be angry to learn that the information we have (or have not) been given was deceptive. It is easier to ask forgiveness than for permission they say at Town Hall. You might also decide to vote against incumbent trustees and elect a slate of board members who would work to clean out the cocky status quo leadership and come clean about the future of Estes Park.
This project lays the foundation for future development and responsible growth, as well as maintaining the utilities- which is not what we're complaining about.
The persevering issue is the ongoing attitude of local leaders who do as they please, and in the words of His Majesty Trustee Bob Holcomb when he chastised citizens desire to vote on The Loop, that he was elected with other town leaders to make decisions that the people just don't understand very well.
Tuesday, paperwork was submitted to the Town Clerk's office, which laid out the suggested language for a petition that would force a recall election of Mayor Todd Jirsa and Trustee Cody Walker. News of a RECALL ELECTION spread faster than a grass fire in August, although the alarm was pretty premature. So why the pandemonium just hours after the submission? The committee that submitted the language issued a press release on the front range, that was quickly picked up by the Trail Gazette and thus became news.
The process for a recall is not a simple quick path, and the election- if there is one- will most likely be in April 2018. Oddly, the process hasn't even cleared the first hurdle- #1: Submitting petition language and form for approval (by the Town), then #2: Collect signatures on that approved petition in the hundreds of registered voters (actual; number yet to be determined), #3: Verify the signatures of the petition and finally #4: Set the date for an election. If that step is complete within 180 days of a scheduled election, the recall will be held the same date as the scheduled election.
This image is currently circulating online to show support for the 2 trustees in question- Cody Walker and Todd Jirsa.
The committee behind the recall activity has named their group ACTNOW, and includes several members of the Estes Area Lodging association (EALA), of which Visit Estes Park (VEP) CEO Elizabeth Fogarty is a board member of (that will become much more interesting as you continue reading).
Judging by the nearly instantaneous explosion of community support for Jirsa and Walker, some members of the EALA and VEP boards are separating themselves from yet another VEP controversy- in the first 48 hours since the media release by ACTNOW. Adam Shake, board member of VEP wrote to trustees today to clarify his position: "As a board member of Visit Estes Park, I would like to state for the record that I had no previous knowledge of any recall petition and only learned about it yesterday. To understand whether the EALA board collectively initiated this action, I spoke to Sean Jurgens this morning (another VEP board member and an EALA board member.) He states that he too, only learned about it yesterday."
The concern Shake has about being perceived as part of the effort to oust the well loved albeit relatively new trustees is justified, this argument may be the straw that breaks the camels back, and brings the VEP to its knees, or even causes the organization to be disbanded or completely reorganized. Organizers of the recall include mostly EALA and VEP members - the recall has been called retaliation from VEP and EALA for the recent decision by the Town Board and County Commissioners to remove 2 VEP Board Members against the will of the VEP, especially CEO Fogarty. Fogarty has been the focus of concern for many months by several local groups, Town Board, taxpayers, and today even a county commissioner calling Fogarty out for her behavior, and suggesting she be removed immediately.
We will try to keep up, but there's not much investigation that needs to be done by EstesTruth- there's so much spilling out into the streets by the minute. We'll be grabbing a bowl of popcorn to watch the fireworks this time, since the community is offended and gearing up for a fight against whoever and whatever ACTNOW has planned.
There is a silver lining in all of this, we hope this will be the catalyst that causes the Town Board to disband the VEP as it is and take a hard look at the mission of this group before reforming an organization that works for the community, brings business together and follows the will of the People, via the direction of the Town Board. As it stands, the VEP and EALA Boards have become political forces who think their ***t doesn't stink. Time to wipe clean, then reorganize.
While we're at it- do we really need a dozen "business organizations" that were created after the hostile Chamber of Commerce takeover? We don't think so. Cut these groups from the tax roles and see how they do.
As an added bonus, here's a summary from local resident Art M- posted somewhere online today. Generally, Art is a bit arrogant when he speaks, and he can rub you the wrong way, fast if you don't agree with him. That said, Art has been keeping a close eye on the VEP controversy for some time, and he's been doing a good job at it. We'll admit he's articulate and does his research:
Regarding Elizabeth Fogarty's Retribution Recall
Talking to past VEP staff I knew Elizabeth Fogarty has done some pretty bad things, but a retribution recall of two of the most popular politicians in recent Estes history didn't cross my mind.
Well, here we are.
Some background to demystify some of this. Elizabeth aggressively protects herself, generally by attempting to discredit any detractor through coordinated and vicious attacks against their character accompanied by lengthy but inaccurate digressions about the wonders of VEP. She's created an aura of intimidation. A small number of people find her credible and respect her but a larger number of people fear her. This is fact, based on numerous conversations with ex employees and others who have been hurt by her in this community. While Elizabeth is the ring leader of this recall, there are others. VEP employee Jean McGuire picked up the recall petition (on VEP time?) The recall "committee" is Paula Scheil, Carrie Arnold, and Tracey McGinnis. Paula has been the aggressive voice of EALA and defender of all things Elizabeth. Carrie, also from EALA, goes to most VEP board meetings to give me the evil eye and simply support Elizabeth if and when I expose truth. I expect Lindsay Lamson and Steve Kruger play some behind the scenes roll in this but I've heard little from them beyond some childish hate emails from Steve recently.
There are some consistently used pawns in Elizabeth's game, often speaking up or writing to defend Elizabeth or VEP, generally using statements written for them: Bill Almond, Jon Nicholas, Ken Larson, Pat and Melynn Murphy, Jim Pickering, Scott Webermeier, Kaylyn Kruger, Ken Arnold, Adam Shake, Sean Jurgens, Bob Holcomb, Ron Norris, Karen Ericson, Wendi Bryson, Josh Harms, Michael Bodman, Abi Huebner, Catherine Moon, and others.
Frankly, Elizabeth should have been fired last year at around this same time when she directed her staff to create documents that she lied about having when defending herself to the County Commissioners who were skeptical about her Operating Plan at the time. Thankfully one of the staff intentionally dated these documents correctly, a fact overlooked by Elizabeth when she responded to our CORA request. Sadly, no one cared about this at the time.
After that things just got worse. Michelle, Charley, and others endured vicious attacks orchestrated by Elizabeth and implemented by her pawns. All the while our LMD basically burned money with nothing to show except an elk ice sculpture.
You'd think at some point Elizabeth would stop the drama and move on to something else but several of her former staff told me she enjoys the fight. This fight has, and continues to, hurt Estes Park.
EALA needs to really think through its leadership. I don't have any issue with "lodging" or the majority of EALA members. Goodness, I grew up working in lodging and I even had a recent discussion about investing in a hotel in town. Lodging is central to the identity of Estes, but we can't have toxic personalities controlling EALA or our LMD.
This entire situation is particularly distressing because Cody and Todd are two of the finest people I've encountered in the political sphere. Anyone who's spend time with either of them will quickly recognize their quality of character, genuine concern for our community, and commitment to the children of Estes Park. They are both honest, transparent, and very willing to engage with anyone interested in the community. If you haven't talked with them, you should.
I've considered this entire situation as a test, or a growing pain, for our community. Unfortunately, firing Elizabeth Fogarty is not an easy task. We're at a point where we know this needs to happen but it is easier to let the drama remain and avoid doing the right thing. I'm very curious to see how this resolves, it will say a lot about our community in general, and those individuals in a position of influence, as well as our ability to face the much more significant issues facing the community.
(Thanks to Art for this perspective)
12/14/17: Update: EALA President Paula Scheil resigned from her position of board president. Read the full story above dated Dec 14, 2017.
Town vs. The Seniors
The argument between the Estes Park Senior Center and Town of Estes Park is well known in senior circles, but relatively quiet if that's not your circle. The conversation has been lively, and with actions taken in the last couple of years, it appeared that the seniors were going to be ousted from the building they have called home, fund raised for and otherwise made their own- come January. Their space in the new EVRPD community center sounded pretty nice in the beginning (before the election to approve the community center) but that senior space and those senior services have changed...
The Estes Park Senior Center at 220 4th Street
"1) The 8/14/1936 FO Stanley deed, which clearly states "the above described land is hereby conveyed to said Town of Estes Park for use by said Town solely as a public park and recreation grounds." It further states, "...if said property be used for any other purposes than those herein specified, then and in that event said property shall revert to the grantor, his heirs, executors, personal representatives or assigns."
2) The 10/30/1978 letter to the Estes Park Senior Citizens Center, Inc from the Town of Estes Park providing .65 acres of land at 220 4th Street to provide space for a Senior Citizens Center and offering a formal lease.
On October 11, 2017, Town Attorney White told our attorney he had enacted a Quiet Title action that essentially released the Town from FO Stanley's deed restrictions and enabled the Town to use the land (and our building) as they pleased. As you will see, this was a baffling and, frankly unprofessional, blatant falsehood! I direct you to the following 2 attachments:
1) the 6/20/1995 Town Board minutes, which state, "Mayor Dannels recommended the Town cease all quiet title action effective immediately. There being no further discussion, it was moved and seconded the Town withdraw all Quiet Title actions filed on Stanley Park, and it passed unanimously."
2) the 6/27/1995 letter from Town Attorney White stating, "the Board of Trustees of the Town of Estes Park instructed me to cease all efforts at clearing title to the three parcels which form Stanley Park from the provisions set forth in the revisionary clauses contained in the deeds originally conveying the property to the Town of Estes Park. . . Based upon the action of the Town Board, the Town will no longer be pursuing removal of the reversionary clause regarding Stanley Park. Accordingly, the Town will not pursue a final title policy on any of the above commitments."
Therefore, the basis of our plea is that 220 4th Street MUST, according to FO Stanley's deed restrictions, be used only for recreational purposes. Period.
We understand there are presently two other entities asking for that building.
First is the Museum, who wants to use the building for storage. I'm sorry, but dead storage certainly doesn't have anything to do with 'recreational purposes'. The second is EVICS, whose mission statement reads, "to support and promote quality early childhood services and provide parent education so that all the young children in the Estes Valley have the care, support and opportunities necessary to grow, learn and succeed." Worthy efforts, most certainly, but I would have to question that they utilize recreational purposes.
Now, I present to you once again how we, EPSCCINC, plan to use the building. . . yes, for purely recreational purposes. We will offer a place where Estes Valley's Seniors and their friends and family can relax, enjoy a daily lunch, socialize, do their art projects, put together their puzzles and play their favorite games, like mah-jong, bridge, etc. Yes, these are all clearly recreational.
We stress again that this would be a win-win for you. Your advantages would be, first, to ease the negative publicity that evicting a membership of nearly 600 Seniors will cause, and secondly, to release the Town from ALL expenses related to the building at 220 4th Street. There are no disadvantages for you."
In our last election, We the People chose leaders who we thought would make a difference and represent the community better. Unfortunately those representatives, Todd Jirsa and Cody Walker, are standing somewhat alone in their charge to represent Us the People.
Word on the street is that those bold trustees who are so overconfident that they can make decisions for the citizens and deny public voting on important issues have gotten a little too big for their britches, and even though there's an election in April that will open up 2 trustee spots, a formal recall is in the organizational stage.
We happened across comments from a citizen who accurately called out Trustee Norris and His Majesty Bob Holcomb (via email) on their ineptitude: "..the two of you have had a profoundly negative effect on the other trustees. In conversations brief and long with other trustees over the last year or so, it has become clear to me that you both have taken a lot of the energy and optimism away from the board. This is truly sad."
Take note that the citizens are still at the top of the organizational chart which was circulated among the trustees and at a couple of public meetings following the last election.
Trustees are supposed to be representatives of the people, but in Estes Park, that ain't happening more than it is.
In order of preference, we nominate #1: His Majesty Bob Holcomb, Ron Norris and Ward Nelson for the recall ballot if the group is taking input.
Feel free to discuss on the EstesTruth Facebook page.
All Or None: The Pinkham 5 are running for the hospital board as a TEAM.
(We vote NONE)
It's official! The appointed Pinkham 5 are officially running as a TEAM. The big question is easy then:
1. Voters will either accept Status Quo and elect the Pinkham 5, or
2. Elect true representatives and take a fresh look at a troubled district by voting with us for the new candidates listed below
** Bruce Carmichael
** Linda Hanak
** John Meissner (write in)
We've seen the disappointing results of Pinkhams touch on Estes Park, and now under his leadership, each of the other 4 candidates are sticking with Pinkham to "solve the problems" they perceive, and follow in the footsteps of the troubled past board.
Please help the hospital district move forward and replace status quo with a well educated, fresh slate of directors!
Just say NO to the Pinkham 5.
10/21/17 Update: Some backpedaling going on after our acknowledgement of their team approach being a negative with candidates saying how important "their individual attributes are", and some Pinkham 5 supporters pointing out that "they're not listed together on the ballot". The ballot lists each individual to be voted on. The approach of running as a team is evidenced by the groups website (where this publicity photo is from), by their pre-appointment relationships, by Bill Pinkhams public letter to the county commissioners and once complicit Trail Gazette, by the weekly letters to the editor by members of the Pinkham 5 that sell the virtues of the team, and by the League of Women Voters performance where the Pinkham 5 worked together like a basketball team, passing the compliments back and forth between one another. Sure, they are listed individually on the ballot, but make no mistake, this group loves working together. Since our first article, they have distanced themselves from one another, but too late. Even if they were not a team, they each bring the complicated status quo perspective to the board and are not the best choice if the voters are truly interested in change. Voters should take time to watch the LWV meeting and do their own research. What most voters do not realize (this is the reason this election is so important) is that the hospital board can not be ruled over by the town. They are essentially free to do anything. Zoning included. This election could seat wanna be town decision makers who may influence, or in one terrifying case re-inflience, important issues in town. This isn't just a benign special district election. Vote for change!
Reject Status Quo: Chapter 2
If you recall in April 2016, Reject Status Quo: Chapter 1 resulted in a grandiose statement by the People of Estes Park that status quo was NOT acceptable any longer, and we elected Todd Jirsa and Cody Walker to the Town Board. Time passes and another set of elections are in the mailbox - you'll have your ballot within hours if you don't already.
This week, Chapter 2 is 90% a set of questions and candidates that are not earth shattering, but each represent keeping things the way they are:
"** Yes for Kids! **
** Yes for 4H & the best fairgrounds **
** Yes for Experienced candidates! ** "
Our quick thoughts on these issues:
1A - Larimer County Fairgrounds request for more money to keep things running smoothly.
NO WAY! This tax was originally promised to sunset (end), and this campaign has evolved exactly as predicted. Sunset tax provisions are tricks, and this is the second stage of that trick.
1B - Term Limits would allow voters to decide when leaders should change vs term limits.
OK to vote YES, because the People elect representatives each term. People retain the power through voting.
3A - Estes Park Schools need a million dollars to keep everyone happy at the school.
Sorry, No thank you. Strange that this is the first we've heard from the school district - - since the last time they asked for money? Is that what our relationship is? Have you tried anything else? How about cutting extras? School district decisions have been made which have consequences. Elections are ways to let the taxpayers speak. Therefore, we now vote NO on 3A. Pro 3A-ers, Feel free to condemn the stupid taxpayers who don't understand how the system works, but you'd be wrong. We do understand: Spend, tax, spend, tax, spend, tax, spend, tax, Vote.
Park Hospital District - term until May 2018 (vote for up to 2)
___ David Batey (Bill Pinkhams friend)
_X_ Linda Hanak
___ Sandy Begley (Bill Pinkhams friend)
_X_ (write in) JOHN MEISSNER
Park Hospital District - term until May 2020 (vote for up to 3)
___ Monty Miller (Bill Pinkhams friend)
___ Bill Pinkham (please just retire quietly Bill)
_X_ Bert Bergland
_X_ Bruce Carmichael
___ Diane Muno (Bill Pinkhams friend)
Your vote for any of the Bill Pinkham Five will permit the continuation of the nearly recalled hospital board, as the subsequent appointed board has taken the reins and followed their predecessors lead by doing what their friends think is best, community be damned. There are facts on both sides to support both sides. Ask yourself if this appointed board did what they were tasked to do? No. They went WAAAAAAY overboard and have encumbered the future elected board with more questionable decisions (check out the COMMUNITY page to see the madness) and expenses.
Reject Status Quo! Vote.
Hate the traffic?
You might have heard the bitching over the last 4 days: "I've never seen traffic this bad in 40 years", "What HAPPENED?!? to cause all of this traffic?", "what idiot at CDOT closes a major highway during the busy fall season?", etc etc etc.
The past weekend was a good illustration of 'The Chickens Coming Home To Roost', or 'Reaping What You Sow' -- both morals to stories where the character makes a decision, then has to deal with the consequences.
In Estes Park we are suffering through the short term success of the local marketing district and town leadership, who have very aggressively marketed this little community over the last several years. Very often directing threats toward the voters of losing tourist dollars to ski towns who are stepping up their game to attract the same audiences that Estes Park relies upon for tourist dollars during the summer months. Often we hear from Visit Estes Park CEO Elizabeth Fogarty what an awesome job VEP is doing, measured by marketing reach, ad distribution and visitor counts. What we do not hear about is a measure of quality improvements. When we do hear about the measure of quality, the quality numbers are used to justify changing Estes Park into Anytown USA, hell bent on building more roads to accommodate 'inevitable growth', speeding tourists to the national park faster, buying homes and businesses to pave over for a new highway.
CDOT is VERY on board with building for the masses. As their directors have said many times, they focus on the roads, and not necessarily the communities along the roads. Highway 34 is a testament to their BUILD mantra, as they slipped in under the cover of "Flood Repair" and "Public Safety" to implement projects to streamline travel between Estes Park and Loveland- at the cost of the natural landscaping and beauty that has drawn visitors for many years. The trip to Estes Park has always been such an important part of the Estes Park experience. An elevated flyover is not helping, at all.
The Loop, a road builders fantasy and small town citizens nightmare, is in the phase of buying private property with the force of law to construct a new exit highway that will make it even easier to ignore Estes Park while passing through on the way home from the national park (CDOT doesn't care about this impact they have admitted).
Once the projects are done, or a few more years of progress have been made, Estes Park will not have the same attraction power. Estes Park will be like the city you moved here from. Estes Park will be "benefitting" from the great decisions made in 2015, 16 and 17, and will closely resemble a grape dying on the vine. The evidence is starting to show its face (overwhelming traffic, national park closures, angry locals, etc) although the timing couldn't be better to get involved and reconsider the Quality of Estes Park, versus the current focus on the Quantity of visitors.
The Town Board is currently accepting applications to be on the board of the Local Marketing District (LMD), the town funded advertising office for the Estes Valley. There is a Town Board election in April, and THREE positions will be open for fresh faces that have the best interest of Estes Park in their heart.
Don't hope 'someone good' runs for the spot- consider participating yourself, and save Estes Park from itself for the future, and our own sanity.
PS- With history as the best teacher, do-gooders with minimal life experience in Estes Park are not the best choice for community leadership. Just look at what we have now.
Bye Bye LMD Board
Tuesday the gavel came down on Estes Park Local Marketing District board members Steve Kruger and Lindsay Lamson, abruptly ending their service immediately. Tuesday morning the Larimer County Commissioners voted unanimously to remove them (3 votes), and Tuesday evening, the Estes Park Town Trustees provided the other 3 votes to meet the criteria for the removal of a board member when Ward Nelson, Todd Jirsa and Cody Walker supported of the removal.
This vote wasn't unexpected, and it followed the quiet departure of board member Charley Dickey, who resigned just days before this show of force by the elected bodies. Lamson and Kruger were involved players in the recently messy, contentious scrap among its own members, members of the community and the LMD CEO Elizabeth Fogarty.
6 out of 10 elected officials req'd to remove
3 (LarCo) + 3 (EP) = 6
That's it! Easy to understand, sorry we didn't provide this cheat sheet before the meeting.
If you don't care about the LMD, or who's on the board, this story should interest you for what may be the bigger story of this event: A few Town Trustees duked it out with the Estes Park attorney during the Tuesday night meeting, showing either their ignorance of the way things work in government, or this issue in particular. On several occasions during the meeting, trustees challenged Attorney White's advice and interpretation of the law as it pertained to the LMD operating under an IGA (intergovernmental agreement) with the Town of Estes Park. We don't like attorney White much, but on this issue he was right, and despite slurring his words a bit, made the issue very easy to understand for even us simple folks (taxpayers) who aren't as smart as the trustees (according to some of the trustees)..... It is now crystal clear that Wendy Koenig, His Majesty Bob Holcomb and Ron Norris are not really paying very good attention, and as a result, they are not representing us very well. Norris and Koenig made their own cases for why the process was flawed, making a last minute effort to sink the boat to save their name.
This one's a humdinger: His Majesty Holcomb tipped his hand early in the meeting, fussing about the way he voted in a previous meeting when he tried to change his vote by changing the meeting minutes. OMG Estes Park, this is the clown you elected against our advice 4 years ago. Holcomb never ceases to amaze us with his indifference for anyone outside of his circle of friends, and here, before the world, his hissy fit is caught on tape, and he provides the crown jewel for the campaign to NOT ELECT His Majesty ROBERT HOLCOMB in April 2018- he just doesn't get it as he plays trustee for his entertainment at our expense. Much more to come about His Majesty. (why do we call him His Majesty? Scroll down this page to read the gory details)
Don't take our word for it, Watch the video for yourself... Make sure you don't miss Wendy Koenigs speech about a survey that told her "The stakeholders don't have a problem with the LMD" starting at 1:15:00... She went on for 7 minutes uninterrupted, citing a survey that represented 1/10 of 1% of business owners feedback that she said supported her bold statement, and when called out on this embarrasing statistic by Mayor Jirsa, she interrupted him repeatedly during his 28 second comment. No class whatsoever, but it doesn't matter! Wendy Koenig refused to allow her emails to be included on the Town website with the other trustees, and as she is term limited, taxpayer opinion doesn't appear to guide her performance any more. We should add that Wendy used to be an excellent trustee, but seems to have let her spiteful angry side out of its cage since the last election.
Next, the Estes Park Board of Trustees will appoint successors to the 3 vacant LMD positions. As it stands, Adam Shake and Sean Jurgens are the remaining board members for now. Interestingly, Adam Shake is also part of the EDC & EVPC - spinoff organizations of the Great Chamber of Commerce implosion in Estes Park several years ago.
CDOT: The Drool Flood of '13
This is the flood you didn't hear about, that began just after the series of catastrophic flood events that cascaded downhill beginning in Rocky Mountain National Park, via Estes Park, Glen Haven, Drake, Loveland, and all points in between... that day in September 2013 as Mother Nature removed the flood proof improvements which CDOT had constructed following the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood. The flood we describe of anticipatory drool began to immediately flow from the mouths of state planners, construction moguls and everyone else in the food chain who would benefit from the unprecedented local funding that always follows tragedy. Are we far enough beyond those heart wrenching events for cynical reflection? Oh yes. It was time to be critical minutes after the project was announced, the timeline scheduled, and especially during the drool climax: as funding was secured and the remarkably broad plan was unveiled, albeit just a few pieces at a time, so as to be easier for mere residents to comprehend and accept peacefully. Road closures, business disruptions, massive rock work and surprising design plans emerged in the 2017 version of 'future flood prevention' and as an unavoidable emergency expense due to acts of nature. Who can argue with that? We needed roads back in place to move living supplies, fuel and the wallets of those visitors who provide the financial means to maintain our amazing community. CDOT kicked ass in their emergency repairs. So it was a bit of a surprise when they completed those repairs under the protective patience of anyone affected by these projects, then revealed the subsequent scope and schedule of the additional chapters they had in store for what was once the most scenic drive in the Rocky Mountain region.
Estes Park Mayor Todd Jirsa humbly reflected on the changes early in the summer of 2017 when he said that although he couldn't describe exactly what he thought of the construction work, it made him feel sad to see what had been done. If you've traveled the 34 corridor between Estes Park and Loveland since May, you have witnessed the magnitude of 'flood repairs' CDOT-style. Now, CDOT does a great job maintaining our roads, keeping the passage open in cases of snow and small crisis', but they SUCK at planning projects and considering the full scope of public interest. Case in point: The Downtown Estes Loop. Community sentiment be damned, the loop must go in (they have the studies to prove the need, and hosted a series of pretend public feedback sessions to claim that the public weighed in).
CDOT is at a crossroads, in the midst of their master plan for Hwy 34 that is already removing massive segments of the Big Thompson Canyon under the guise of 'public safety' and flood work. The ultimate solution might be a straight shot through a tunnel with no curves, from Loveland to Estes. Unfortunately, the grant writers can't shoehorn that project into the confines of 'flood repair work', and we are stuck with their disfigurement of a famous scenic route. CDOT should know that we are happy with a spectacular canyon at a lower speed. It's not necessary to "FIX" everything.
Before you get your panties into a bunch Director Johnny Olson, acknowledge that this Big T project isn't 100% flood motivated design- there's a bit of streamlining the curves in there... A hint of bigger picture stuff being included with this urgent flood repair/prevention/public safety project, right? Although we're just simple people, engineers, business owners and taxpayers- so are you. The difference is that today, you are on the other side of the government firewall and we're still just on the people's side.
We'd like to hear the details about what the real plan is, and let us have a say in whether or not we want you to rebuild the 34 canyon or not, because we chose to live here despite the curvy roads, the dangerous flood plains and the risky prospect of driving between mountain towns on 2 lane highways.
Doing a facelift on our community should not be your unilateral decision to make, and we're not happy about the way things are going.
DANGEROUS CRIMINALS CAUGHT
Today, in an awkward, uncommon announcement, Town of Estes Park Public Information Officer (PIO) Kate Rusch distributed a media release via email, Facebook & Town Website that a crime couple in their 80's had been apprehended after diligent work by local police detectives and the IRS! The annoucement was swiftly made just a couple of minutes before lunch today, less than 24 hours after the dangerous couple was cuffed and booked, finally off the streets and in the custody of the Larimer County Jail. WHEW! Good thing this was an all points bulletin so every man woman and child knew the crime (alleged) and the disposition, but odd that it was the first media release by the PIO about an arrest, ever? (no others exist in the archive)
Read the Town of Estes Park media release about the criminals below:
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If you didn't believe it before, this is business as usual for the Town. Occasionally someone will accidentally pull back the curtain and We the People will catch a glimpse of the reality of how our town is run by leaders like Town Administrator Frank Lancaster, Police Chief Wes Kufeld, Trustees Ron Norris, Ward Nelson, His Majesty Bob Holcomb, Wendy Koenig and others.... Despite the community vote to bring in new trustees at the last municipal election, the Status Quo of government still rules the roost. The trustees representing the people (Jirsa, Walker) need help, for they are outnumbered by the old guard or sit among spineless do-gooders, and todays slip is just one of the symptoms of the problem. The need for a clean slate of managers and community representatives is now greater than ever.
Oh, Kate made a mistake with her first media release, and corrected it as soon as the police gumshoes had a look at her fine work, she released a corrected release an hour later that cleared up that it wasn't the dramatic almighty IRS, but was the Colorado Department of Revenue instead. Proofread Kate, proofread. We posted the corrected version above for your review.
"The Community Wants Paid Parking downtown"
(Spoiler Alert: Secret parenting tactic will be revealed in the following sentence)
If you're a parent, you know the old trick of offering your child multiple options, as long as they are all options that you are OK with. They feel better about choosing, but they didn't really have a choice at all.
Enter the Town of Estes Park in their pursuit of parking management and the magical Downtown Plan. As we all know, there is a plan for Estes Park, 'we' just don't know what it is exactly. If you've been collecting little tidbits and details along the way, as we have, you might also have an idea of which way this thing is going.
This idea is interesting, but shortsighted and is an affront to the character of Estes Park, which predominantly exists today along Elkhorn Ave, except for remodels and upgrades that have used this overused look that was cool about 15 years ago. To remodel the eclectic character that IS Estes Park will desecrate memories and discard the advantage that has been built up over decades, the character that the town, VEP and development professionals can't seem to identify, much less value properly. The Planning Commission had a handle on it until the Town Trustees began thumbing their nose at some PC opinions which supported preserving what makes Estes Park, Estes Park. Shameful.
So Thursday night is another pretend community input seminar. It is in the new format of 'Government Divide And Conquer' (GDAC), whereas the meeting is broken up into several small groups so that if you do present an opinion that is not consistent with the direction that the committee/board/group/staff want to travel, only 6-8 other citizens will have heard your idea- versus a room full of informed citizens. Is this GDAC a problem? F*** Yes, it is.
This approach appeared about the time CDOT pitched and sold their LOOP project, at open houses held at the museum, event center, town hall etc ad nauseum. GDAC has been deployed as an effective technique to collect data that 'Supports paid parking downtown', when in fact if you ask 100 regular people (not gavel sniffers), they will argue against paid parking as the sacred cow that the Town is making it out to be.
What is the best method to collect public input you ask? A vote. That's it, without question, through the years and among any group that claims democracy: A PUBLIC VOTE. Is anyone angry that the trustees intentionally denied the community's demand that a public vote be taken on the Loop. Um, yes they are very angry. So what do you do about that? Change the leadership.
If the Town was actually concerned about public input, they would hold a public meeting, and not segregate little groups with suggestion boxes and quietly collect opinions, but stand in front of the people they claim to represent and listen to the words of the people BEFORE THEY MAKE A DECISION. This concept will be categorically refused by His Majesty Robert Holcomb and his followers Martchink & Norris, who think THEY know better than the people. Please come soon, election day!
If you would like to participate in the pretend public input meeting, and be assigned a little idea group, head over to Town Hall on Thursday August 24th at 5:45 pm. There will be a big meeting then everything we've laid out here will go down: "Your Opinion Matters!"
Paid parking will come, the further character gutting of Estes Park will continue, and unless a trustees set of balls (metaphorically) appears before the audience, the carnage will continue. We hope not, but are losing confidence in even our new 'representatives' to stop the madness without some help from new trustees that promise to represent the people who elected them.
Thursday, be prepared to 'choose' which plan you want to implement paid parking in downtown Estes Park. Ha ha ha. You're not really choosing, but thanks for playing along and making the GDAC process more comfortable on the leaders.
July 19, 2017
PIKAS: The Devil is in the Details*
(Irritating public input has no place in local government)
Welcome to Estes, where we don’t conquer the opposition, we quash it.
Case in point is “Pikas in the Park”, a harmless enough exercise in absolution and bandwagoning (see cowboy boots in Cheyenne, dairy cows in Chicago, etc., etc.) that cannot fail because it must succeed.
Three years ago, examining the wreckage of the 75th anniversary celebration commemoration (which left us with indefensible plaques on selected businesses, filled with errors because we consigned the research to one individual from Boulder), I made an easy prediction, not that Estes Park would learn anything from this, but that it would go out of our way to replicate the same exercise on its 100th anniversary.
Indeed we have, by producing a pamphlet connected to a scavenger hunt connected to a $300 souvenir that THANK GOD can be fixed once we burn through the first printing of 10,000, meaning by 2019.
Two weeks in, the sculptor commissioned to produce the dozen (with a built-in promise of more) pikas has yet to respond to my questions. It is not that he is out of town (well, he is out of town, but it’s not that he is out of that town). He is very much physically present and able to screen telephone calls and answer other, more cheerful emails.
My guess is, he has forwarded these questions on to someone in Estes Park, who, following the recently minted “when challenged on anything, it is best to just say ‘thank you’ and move on” gambit (which I would refer to as the Neville Chamberlain defense – cowardly and self-serving), advised him to ignore them.
So here are the questions, which seem relatively straightforward:
(1) Was there ever any intention, or is there any intention now, to produce a less-expensive replica of the pikas that would fall within the price range of a child's allowance or birthday/Christmas present, or were these objects just intended for a specific socio-economic segment of the community?
(2) Did you have any input on the local "celebrities" chosen to commemorate with pikas? For example, F.O. Stanley was an avowed white supremacist, and W.T. Parke spent time in the Canon City penitentiary for having sexual relations with an underage girl, but do you think pikas are the best way to introduce children to the dangers or racism and pedophilia?
And here is a question for Estes Park: Why do we continue (in the age of internet and easy crowd-sourcing) to rely on one or two individuals to produce copy for a plaque or pamphlet which covers 100+ years of history and, if done property, would consume the knowledge base of a university-level faculty and staff?
Collectively, why do petty jealousies and outright laziness stop us from getting our better angels in front of the outside world?
Please note that I am not grousing that I was not asked to participate. I don’t give a crap if we want to name pikas after alleged pedophiles and charge tourists $300 to place them in their kid’s bedroom. Maybe they’ll work to ward off other pedophiles.
I am simply saddened that, once again, *the community was not encouraged in any real way to participate (we didn't even get the fake public hearings), and the defense is (as it always is):
Silence the opposition. Make it so they don’t exist.
June 30, 2017
Town of Estes Park, Master Pika Marketers
The town is touting another successful public-private partnership, this time bringing art to public spaces (as well as education and exercise) with "Pikas in the Park".
Let me be clear: I have nothing against pikas, I have nothing against the town putting art in public places, I have nothing against using a quasi-scavenger hunt or treasure hunt as a way to teach people about Estes Park businesses and Estes Park history (as an aside, the Hupp Hotel was built and opened in 1907, not 1906, but I'm sure this will be corrected quickly, as is every other easily corrected history error the town reinforces by constant repetition).
Those who have lived in town any length of time will find the clues too obvious to make finding the pikas much of a challenge, visitors with a certain level of sophistication will start to wonder if this isn't instead an exercise in getting them in front of selected businesses, but again, I'm all for the idea of getting people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks and enjoying themselves with a harmless activity.
Let's get to my concern: The artist, an out-of-town sculptor, is being rewarded not only for the initial commission of the 12 pikas scattered about, but has been given exclusive rights (as he should) and an exclusive distribution network (through the Art Center of Estes Park) to sell copies.
Currently, you have to place an order for one or more pikas, and cannot avoid shipping charges. However, by mid-July, there should be pikas available for purchase at $295 each (for comparison, the Lonzo Ball "Big Baller" brand shoes retail for $495), plus $22 sales tax.
Whoa. Suddenly our private-public partnership became very much skewed toward the private. Are these pikas, some of which are placed on public land, promoting Estes Park, or are they promoting the artist and the sale of more pikas?
Let's disregard the fact that the artist is not from Estes Park. We obviously don't have anyone capable of making bronze pikas in Estes Park, or this wasn't put out for bid, or who knows, maybe the artist is a friend of the community. It's a no-win situation for the artist, because if he was from Estes Park, and if these replicas sold like hot-cakes, other Estes Park artists would be jealous that he got the commission, and would wonder aloud why there couldn't be "Hotcakes in the Park" or "Gloppy paintings of Basquiat in the Park" or whatever they specialize in.
The more important question is: How is the Estes Park taxpayer benefiting from these sales? Or, perhaps, should the Estes Park taxpayer benefit from these sales? Should we even be asking if we have any financial stake in art on public land?
It seems likely (the artist has yet to respond) that we will at least benefit from the sales tax portion of the sales. So, if the ambassadors at the visitor's center and the folks giving the downtown walking tours are doing their jobs promoting the pika search, we should see a pretty good revenue. I trust the Art Center of Estes Park will keep track of sales, and the visitor's center will keep a close count of "completion" buttons given away upon locating all 12 pikas (and not give any buttons away to people who haven't convincingly demonstrated all 12 pikas being found), so that we can have some objective measure of success.
Oh, right, this is one of those things where success is already built in, where the success is in the cuteness of the pikas, and the idea to scatter them about and give people a map to find them. Just coming up with the idea and getting donors and getting it installed was the success, which is why everyone else in town is a believer except me, because I have yet to grasp the concept that every idea someone else comes up with and convinces others to contribute to is brilliant and a guaranteed winner. If I need proof of success as a taxpayer, I can just commission someone to take a poll, or stare again at the cute pikas until tears run down my cheeks.
Remember, replicas of all 12 cost less than $4000, and make great souvenirs.
For completeness, the response of our town administrator to these questions is pasted below. I have yet to hear back from the artist or the head of the Art Center, although they currently have a handout which is fairly self-explanatory, except for how much of a cut they get on sales for exhibiting them.
Town administrator Frank Lancaster: "The Pikas in the Park is a Town project and the pikas are considered public art. They are owned by the Town. The locations are on a mix of private and public property. The sculptures and the locations were reviewed and approved through the Town's art in public places process. The artist has the right to sell replicas of the original 12 pikas owned by the Town. Since the Arts Center is located within the Town limits, they will be paying sales tax. This is similar to all the products sold at any retail outlet that may be produced out of town, but sold in town. I'm unaware of the arrangement Mr. Dwyer has with the Arts Center; I assume they recieved a sales commission as well, and I don't know if they have an exclusive right to the sales. This would all be a private contractual arrangement between the artist and the Arts Center."
Town Board treatment of Commissioners results in resignations
It's been said for many years, and it seems that the commissioners and committee members themselves are realizing they may actually just be formalities in the process of governing our community. In a first for Estes Park, 2 members of the Planning Commission (PC) tendered their resignations 'for personal reasons' today. 12 year PC member Doug Klink and PC Chairman Michael Moon abruptly abandoned their posts just 2 days after being subject to their final snub by the Town Board with concise letters of resignation they each submitted individually.
If you follow local development or planning issues, you'll recall seeing issues raised, considered and ruled on by the PC only to be overruled by the Town Board without any rhyme or reason. Tuesday night's meeting that discussed the convoluted, complicated issue of raising the building height in the Estes Valley appeared to be the final straw, when the Town Board essentially thumbed their noses at the opportunity to have the PC revisit the issue equipped with a complete set of information.
The problem here is that the PC provides the community with a layer of expertise, and community representation. Well educated community members serve on the volunteer board and spend a remarkable number of hours pouring over details of changes that determine how the Estes Valley will look in the years to come. They offer the Town Board a nearly expert opinion about issues that are generally so detailed that it would make a trustees job unbearable. Unfortunately, many trustees don't see the value, and on more than one occasion have followed the wind after reading a few letters or drinking some Town Staff KoolAid before rendering their almighty decision.
That attitude has now cost our community the benefit of 2 servants who have provided a great service to the residents. So what does the Town Staff do about that loss? They removed Klink and Moon from the Town website within just a couple of hours. The Town Board remains broken and drifting at sea.
Breaking our (work induced) silence about VEP
If you work in Estes Park, you'll understand our collective silence over the last several weeks. BUSY! We do continue to read up on and occasionally peek in on the town board via the video archive and live feed...
The Tuesday night board meeting featured a performance by a well funded, self empowered local 'board' & staff raising their head in anger as a result of some well deserved public concern about their recent behavior. Reminds us of a street fight!
This morning, town resident John Meissner sent this email to Estes Park mayor Todd Jirsa:
" Todd - You did the best you could under the circumstances last night, but these orchestrated kabuki theater portions of the town board meetings have got to stop, or be greatly truncated.
Look, I'm no fan of Mike Romero's fake sanctimony either, and he obviously picked the wrong bear to poke, but to have a stream of people come up to the podium and make the same scripted threats ad naseum is an execrable waste of the public's time (I timed it at one hour, and this was after you kindley noted they were violating the spirit of that portion of the meeting), especially when the TG, for the first time under Mike's reign, has actually started investigating something, has actually started behaving like a newspaper, rather than just regurgitating press releases from the PIO office.
Here are just two suggestions: (1) The 3-minute time limit is being grossly violated. We get it, VEP board members, your power structure is under attack and you are emotional because there are only 27 volunteer boards related to promoting tourism and commerce left in town for you to be a part of. Maybe a count-down clock where speakers can see it needs to be set near the podium, with a loud buzzer that rings after 3 minutes and continues ringing, drowning out the remaining seven minutes of speakers' comments until they step away from the podium.
(2) Don't allow people to read other's people's letters. If the people feel that strongly and can't show up in person, why can't their comments just be handed to the clerk and entered into the public record, like every other letter writer's? The "tag-team" approach to reading PhD dissertations that run pass people's bedtimes is especially frustrating, because in this case, they writer is giving the public the finger not once, but two and three times over, and couldn't even bother to show his finger in person. I realize there will be cases where elderly folks or those in poor health cannot represent themselves, but we have things called video cameras now, Skype, etc., and there are other ways to permit their voices to be heard if they feel so strongly on a subject.
Finally, to have 17 stakeholders in a row say how wonderful VEP is, how they are hitting all their metrics, how their director is coveted by the Smithsonian, the United Nations, and is on the short list for White House social director, and then have said director step up and say she didn't understand how a town board meeting works, is laughable on its face.
For those of us familiar with science and how experiment work and how to interpret actual data, there is one metric that is an absolute, objective measure of peformance for VEP, and that is to compare VEP to the "null hypothesis", that is, what would these numbers be if VEP didn't exist. In short, how much would sales tax, bed capacity, visitors to the museum, etc., drop if $0 tax dollars were spent on advertising. Since this will never happen, since this experiment will never be carried out because the lodge owners and downtown business people would hemorrhage blood from their eyes if this were even suggested, VEP is in tall clover, and knows it. So every subjective comparison that is better than something similar measured the previous year will be trumpeted as proof of VEP (or EALA's, or Downtown Merchant Association, or Allied Sno-Cone Vendors Association, or whatever, and every measurement that is worse will be massaged and excused and presented as "well, these things are a lot more complicated that it seems, with a lot of other moving parts", or "we had three inches of snow on Trail Ridge Road in May", etc., etc."
Meissner shoots straight and weaves in a chuckle every time we read his thoughts. Jirsa responded:
I really feel that the TB is there to listen. That said, in retrospect I wish I would have cut off the comments much sooner. Clearly it was an orchestrated event and certainly not in the spirit of the intent of public comment.
Mayor - Estes Park, Colorado
So there it is, a quick summary of how the VEP comment performance went. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that Jirsa let them go on and on- seemed that with every passing minute of commentary, the noose on the collective neck of the existing VEP board and management got tighter and tighter.
READ TRUSTEE EMAILS HERE
WATCH TOWN BOARD VIDEO HERE
Tonight is the night Estes Park changed
Try and figure out what this agenda item means:
"3. REQUEST TO INITIATE ACTION ON MASTER LIST OF PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE ESTES VALLEY DEVELOPMENT CODE. Director Hunt"
At the Town Board meeting tonight, item #3 as above will give Randy Hunt permission to change Estes Park. Completely. Everything you think is protected by a rule or law will be 'updated'.
Revisit this page in 5 or 10 years and your 20/20 hindsight will be crystal clear. This document gives hunt permission to revise, rewrite and replace any part of the code, without guidance from the comprehensive plan- which he may also 'update'.
If the trustees give Hunt approval to 'run with it', you won't be able to catch the Randy Hunt Train. Read his 'memo' to the right, and read the facts for yourself that prove Randy Hunt is the tool to effect change in the Estes Valley, and he's already shifting into second gear. We predict Randy will be back in a couple of months because the work load is now just too much for the existing staff.
Is change a bad thing? No. Is changing a community without a plan a bad thing? Yup- Like a shotgun blast in the dark, bad.
...and the status quo trustees are going to let it happen, you'll see.
Randy Hunt, Director
Randy hunt memo.pdf
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Type : pdf
May 4, 2017
Police Chief declares Estes Park a sanctuary city
The Police Chief declared Estes Park a sanctuary city, in an article he wrote on April 21st. That's right, if you can make it to Estes Park, even if you broke the law to get here, you're safe!
In Chief Kufeld's own words:
"In Estes Park, our police department depends on good relationships with all community members including immigrants, documented or undocumented. Our police department always has, and always will, protect the rights of everyone who lives in or visits Estes Park – and we value diversity."
Are there enough Estes Park residents living here illegally to support this statement? What movement caused two pages of letters to the editor to say "AWESOME, and THANKS" for declaring Estes Park to be a sanctuary city? Is it Wes Kufeld's place to make that decision? Who enforces the rules when the police refuse to? Is that really what it's come down to- allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States, because ... ??? Have you tried to travel to any other country illegally? Proudly, the USA was built with immigrant blood sweat and tears- and we are all immigrants without a doubt. There is a difference between legal and illegal- and now our law enforcement agencies taking the soft PC stance is hard to understand. For a police chief to write a public article that says 'we're not going to check your immigration status (because that's not our job)', it must be a big sigh of relief for someone that is here illegally. Whew. The police are going to stick with crime like.... actually, we'd better not even start down that road.
So many questions. Comment on our Facebook page if you have an answer, or opinion.
Long time Estes Park Police Officer turned chief, Wes Kufeld
Trustee Holcomb "OPTS OUT" of transparency after getting caught
At the Tuesday night meeting of the Town Trustees, Trustees Bob Holcomb & Ron Norris were publicly outed for cheating the email system by both improperly marking emails intended to influence a Board Committee.
It was hard to believe even hearing it first hand from the live video feed, but the truth is being revealed as Holcomb and Norris' emails became public. In emails to fellow board members, Norris and Holcomb marked their emails "Personal; Confidential", which they thought would conceal the content of the emails from the public. Their ignorance showing, through a CORA (Colorado Open Records Request) their emails were revealed. The content of those emails included unwarranted personal attacks on several local citizens (See the emails in the box below).
Holy crap! If this doesn't get them fired.
Oh wait, elected officials have to be recalled by the people that elected them- they can't be fired.
1:45 - Michelle Hiland comments on emails
25:40- Holcomb Opts Out of email transparency
1:24:00 - Michelle Hiland comments on VEP conflict of interest
1:26:00 - Art Messal blasts Norris and Holcomb for emails
Early in the meeting, before the cat was out of the bag, His Majesty Bob Holcomb made a critical statement about the process of the trustees emails being made public on the website, saying that he "hasn't received one email from a voter since the email policy went into effect". He officially then said he would no longer be allowing his emails to be published on the town website. (Another bad move, Bob)
As you read through this collection of facts, remember when several trustees said that there would be no vote on the public issue of The Loop, because "we (trustees) were elected to represent the people" then they summarily rejected a public demand to hold a vote! It appears that a few of the trustees would prefer that they be allowed to operate in privacy, because in Bob Holcombs words- the trustees have better information than the common people. Hence, we call almighty Bob, "His Majesty".
There's always a contingent of fussy people that demand a recall if something doesn't go their way- and they become background noise eventually. This week, Norris and Holcomb have crossed the line, and no matter how sincere their apologies sound as they read them at a future meeting, they revealed their integrity- that they would abuse policy to hide their mean and potentially false accusations against citizens - and in one case, a citizen that wasn't even in the running for the position Bob said she was unsuitable for. You won't believe these emails.
By the way, Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Koenig opted out of transparency from the beginning, without a reason. She is term limited and public opinion doesn't matter to her at least on this issue. Recently elected trustees Jirsa, Walker and Martchink just watched the circus unfold around them, looking almost as amazed as we felt watching from the outside. What a mess.
Might want to get on the horn with the town attorneys and figure out how to best handle the settlement discussion with the people named in these emails, Bob and Ron. Your behavior is inexcusable, and we would vote to recall you if given the opportunity, based on this, and past behavior and statements about this community.
Email from Trustee Bob Holcomb to Committee Chair Walker:
Friday, April 14, 2017 at 5:32 p.m.
RE: VEP-Private and Confidential
Bob Holcomb (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Cody Walker (email@example.com)
Hi Cody, I see from Frank's update this morning, you held interviews for for the VEP board yesterday so maybe my thoughts are too late or hopefully unnecessary. I have been hearing from people within and without the VEP that the recommendation to appoint Michelle Hiland to the board would be a complete disruption to the organization and would result in the delay or reduce the ability to attain their mission. As you are know from the meetings you have attended, Charley Dickey is already a distraction. Based upon the unsuccessful lawsuit of Michelle and Art Missal to force confidential information be made public and to change the marketing direction. Michelle would be a further distraction and take much needed time and resources from a small staff to satisfy her requests. I believe her appointment to the Board would result in loss of staff. As you recall, Michelle has recently called for the entire board be replaced and new appointments be made. That is not a harmonious situation to subject the Board to deal. It is my perception that Michelle believes (among other things that change almost daily) the current Board is weighted too heavily toward lodging and not enough to downtown merchants. Looking at the revenue, it is lodging that is increasing and downtown is declining. Since it is the VEP's mission to bring people to town, the town benefits most from overnight stays, not the day trippers and therefore, in my view, if there is an imbalance, it should favor lodging. In total, I question the need for Board balance given the mission of VEP. Based upon what I hear from guests at the visitor center, it is the lack of new assortments at the shops that is causing the revenue loss. I am confident that I am preaching to the choir and you and Todd have made a different recommendation. If not, I will be in opposition to your candidate. ( <--- OMG, DID HE JUST WRITE THAT?!?)
Friday, April 14, 2017 at 5:42 p.m.
RE: VEP-Private and Confidential
Cody Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Bob Holcomb (email@example.com)
Bob thanks for the opinion. Michelle isn't one of the candidates. Right from the horse's mouth.
Email from Trustee Ron Norris to Committee Chair Walker:
Monday, April 17, 2017 at 6:56 a.m.
Re: Personal; Confidential
Ron Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To Cody Walker (email@example.com)
Morning Cody. Just wanted to inform you that I have been hearing concerns from many people about the possibility of Art Messal being appointed to the Visit EP board. Most comments relate to adding a person who has been very adversarial to a board that is already struggling. Based on what I have seen and heard, I think this would be a mistake, and so would not support Art for the VEP board. I have heard no concerns about any of the other candidates.
Monday, April 17, 2017 at 10:20 a.m.
Re: Personal; Confidential.
Cody Walker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Rnorris (email@example.com)
Ron - I appreciate the feedback.
I am a little concerned about the use of "personal-confidential," on emails like this one. I received a similar one from Bob and it feels like it borders on "taking a straw poll." If Art was a town employee I certainly think it would fall under this classification, discussion about a possible appointment I am not sure. Indicating to another board member about how you would "vote," on a particular person could be a grey area. It could be that I am watching what the EPMC board has done and it has me on high alert.
I have asked Attorney White about how this may be viewed. I also asked Todd to make sure it was part of the discussion when we follow up on emails in general. The question I wanted answered was, the board voted to make emails public, "unless what?" In my mind it was issues that would qualify for executive session when it was board member to board member. Obviously if it was from the public to a board member then that is completely different. Thanks again for letting me know about the concerns being voiced. I truly believe we both have the best intentions. My recommendation will be Jurgens.
The People are Getting Pissed, again.
In the old days, there were cycles of citizen activism that would heat up, then settle down- for years. That cycle has become shorter, and if you look at the order of business for government, it becomes painfully obvious that the people have lost control of the government that was created to serve the people.
Take note Estes Park leaders: You are where you are because of the people, not to spite them.
Denying a vote on The Loop, reconstructing the Big Thompson Canyon under the guise of helpful flood repair, bowing to the greedy growth desires of a few, inventing layers of boards and special interest commissions with budgets and boards have complicated all of this, and our community along with the people who live here are suffering the consequences.
This community sent a clear message with the election of non-status quo, non-establishment trustees, but underestimated the momentum of the administration, the 'way government works', the leeching effect of dozens of new organizations that all think they have the best solution- and there's no master plan, or strong leadership.
The Town Board continues to move forward with "progress" to the dismay of many. However, an opportunity to make some much needed changes onthe town board will come in April of 2018, when we hope to see Bob Holcomb, Ward Nelson and Wendy Koenig leave the pedestal of local governance for good.
Perhaps, IN THIS TOWN WHERE MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT REPRESENTED IN ANY WAY, if only those who can vote would volunteer in the summer, the town would realize the rest of us are important too.
SPEAK UP! ..or buildings will be taller (meeting on Tuesday)
According to a staff report from Randy Hunt, community development director for the Town of Estes Park "The differences are not all that great between a 30' and a 40' building". Randy moved to Estes Park from Laramie Wyoming last July to join the town administration, and seems to have a quiver of solutions to Estes Park's problems.
On Tuesday, the Planning Commission will meet and provide an opportunity for residents to voice their opinion about the 'Town Staff' proposal to increase the building height from the current 30 ft limit, to 40 ft.
This issue is complicated, but it's being pushed through, possibly without adequate public input or an intelligent look by the planning commission.
The subject of public input is also somewhat complicated when it comes to local government, as the issue of building height is not on the agenda for Tuesdays meeting, which means the public may appear and speak about it, BECAUSE it's not on the agenda. You see, once it's on the agenda (next meeting) many minds will be made up and the decisions, which will then be on the agenda, Will Be Decided- just a few minutes after you give your passionate speech with your 'public input'. So, if you want to be heard about any issue in this town, you have to speak up about it BEFORE IT'S ON THE AGENDA- and that is Tuesday at 1:30pm.
Slow down, Town!
There are still some areas that demand clarification related to this height increase, but it appears that the Town (Hunt, Frank Lancaster, Bob Holcomb) are driving a building height increase to be approved by the town board sooner than later- perhaps before the public is able to properly weigh in on the future of our community, again. You may recall that Holcomb insisted that the Town Trustees were more capable of making a decision about The Loop than the citizens. They have set an urgent deadline that threatens adequate time to evaluate the entire issue by the planning commission, made up of Estes Valley citizens (and not under the influence of the Town Staff).
If the planning commission doesn't evaluate the height issue and the myriad of related concerns, the Town Board will take action without the planning commissions input before summer.
What's the hurry? Perhaps developers nipping at the Town's heels, ready to begin taller development since they heard a whisper that an increase in density might be offered for housing units that address the problem of workforce housing.
Do we, Estes Park, want to subsidize workforce housing with exceptions to the rule and financial incentives? Probably.
Does Estes Park want to subsidize retirees that can't afford to live in Estes Park otherwise? Subsidized retirement housing?
How about subsidizing hard working families that contribute to the community, but can't afford to live here. The Town is pretty dodgy when the terms 'attainable housing' and 'workforce housing' come up, they are often used interchangeably and because they sound similar, but subsidize a very different demographic than what the spirit of the law was written for. You might call it a loophole.
GO TO THE PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING TUESDAY at 1:30 at Town Hall and speak your mind about building height, and workforce housing. Or, another decision will be made for you by our leaders, and they will say "but we DID get public input".
UPDATE 4/17: We work on tips. Not FOR tips, but ON tips. We get a tip, gather as much info as we can to verify, then write. If we get information to update a story, we do that. Our goal is disseminating facts, and you will see stories updated on this site as facts are submitted. We prefer documents. This story has been updated to move Bob Holcomb out of subsidized housing, dispelling a story that has been circulating around town hall since he moved in. You're welcome Bob. The story now portrays Bob as a neighbor to subsidized housing, a more accurate statement. He remains in a unique position to give his opinion about this issue. As if he needs an invitation to give his opinion.
Estes Park's New Look
Ahhhhh, the long, strong lines of concrete.
"The citizens wanted this" (your elected officials)
Soon, Twin Owls will be balanced atop the Eastern most edge of the top floor of the solution to our parking problems, the 400-something stall parking garage that hits you right as you enter our beautiful downtown corridor....
Makes you feel at home, huh? Whether you're from any of CDOT's other project cities, or even downtown Denver- this brings the concrete canyon to our little mountain town.
Even garage proponents have acknowledged the garage is a bit larger than we all expected, 'bigger' in so many ways.
"You only see it for a few seconds when you come into town", or
"It will be real nice after they get done finishing it", or
"Development is inevitable, deal with it".
There is a choice to make, and that choice could be to stop growth. To put a moratorium on new construction. To hold things in place. Backwards thinking?
Estes Park is suffering through growth that is past the breaking point, and our solution is to
1. Continue aggressive advertising for more more more visitors
2. Build and permit and allow expansion to what end?
We propose a cutting edge solution: Hit Pause. Elect leaders that will say no to prostituting our community's character for road money, to developers that offer piles of fees to fund the growing town budget and staff......
Being innovative is to do something that not every other community is doing, which is to stop the ravenous expansion and remain a small town atmosphere that will continue to succeed, as we begin to look inward and serve the community better than the visitor- THEN become a destination that fewer visitors will pay more to be a part of.
...and Estes Park has a chance at survival without adding another concrete canyon along Moraine, and the new East Riverside.
If we don't rescue Estes Park today, the next stop is "Everytown Colorado", right here on top of what used to be known as 'Estes Park'.
Stare at the picture, Estes Park: CDOT is your friend
Concentrate on the little dot between the logos and simply gaze at the dot for a few minutes while someone reads this bullet list to you. then trade places so that everyone has a fair chance to experience this fun way of thinking.
- Accept a nice section of West Elkhorn Ave between Moraine Ave and Wonderview Bypass from CDOT
- Accept a gift of 4 million dollars as a token of our appreciation for accepting that piece of highway
- Agree to construct The Loop no matter what happens to your downtown because it's good for your visitors
- Let CDOT help you by taking private property and turning it into a highway along East Riverside
- Let CDOT own the new highway along East Riverside even if you struggle to maintain that old one we gave you
- Don't complain about traffic signals in downtown, CDOT knows what traffic pattern is best for you
- Don't go through the red light even though the cycle is 3 minutes long in the middle of the night
- Agree to let CDOT close hwy 34 without breaks so we can 'repair flood damage' because it will be over faster
- Agree to let CDOT close hwy 34 for up to 2 more years so we can repair more 'flood damage'
- Any suggestion that CDOT is using 'flood repair' as a cover for extra projects is a mean lie
- Any suggestion that CDOT has been misleading is a mean lie
- Tell your neighbors that CDOT is working FOR the people to make things better
- Town leaders will not question the great wisdom and opinion of CDOT
- All citizens will agree with CDOT and TOWN decisions because the government is here to help you
There, now everything is better. Just look at the image and nod your head, CDOT is your friend.
February 21, 2017How To Quietly Rewrite Laws With a
by The Town of Estes Park
At today's planning commission meeting, the understated notion of revising a few words in the development code came from the desk of Randy Hunt, director of Community Development. He called it a "Text Amendment" which at face value sounds like adding some punctuation or correcting a misspelling, but you would be foolish to think that was the truth. After you read the memo that Randy wrote, you see that the end result would be outlawing that handy second kitchen that some homes have which provides a snack bar for the kids movie night or backup for Thanksgiving or - heaven forbid - a second kitchen in your home that might be the loophole for a second housing unit! The heat is on for the Town to identify and eliminate all those dastardly second units, of which they have NO idea how many exist...
It's not so much the objective that is bothersome (removing second full kitchens), because we can talk about that if the Town would present is as such.
It's the sneaky way of changing laws that is the problem. These sneaky moves erode the relationship between the Town and the people even more, and really, you're already on pretty thin ice with trust, Town.
We hope the planning commission will stand up for what's right and wrong, as they have in the past, and not bow to almighty and wise Town Staff.
Silence of the (Downtown) Plans
The Town has been remarkably silent about that pesky downtown plan, wouldn't you agree? When The Loop was a hot topic, the 'Downtown Plan' was their answer to "working with downtown businesses to make sure the Loop worked for everyone"........ Except that they fired the original downtown plan consultant, then dragged their feet to find another, and now... and now?
Ironic that the wise old town leaders will foist a community changing public meeting upon the business folks in the height of the season, when everyone (but the Town leaders) are working 25 hours a day. But when we're all counting the winter pennies and closing for repairs, there are no conversations about anything significant. Unless, that is, if you're on one of the 15 local boards that meet for dinner or drinks, and to discuss attracting more tourists. Distracted by the shiny objects they are.
We noticed your lack of interest. Maybe we'll work on something by ourselves.
Town Board: "Supersize Me"
412 parking spaces coming soon to a visitor center near you
Last night at the regular Town Board meeting, the board approved using the value of the 18 hole golf course (that is on land the Town of Estes Park owns) as collateral for financing that would pay for phase 2 of the parking structure that will begin construction on the 17th of this month. The change adds 2 parking levels to the 2 levels already planned to be be built, along Hwy 36 just West of Stanley Avenue. Several concerned golfers spoke out about their concerns, which were summarily dismissed and sounded very insignificant in the midst of the opportunity to answer the single largest concern about Estes Park by locals and visitors: Parking.
The cost of adding Phase 2 now is $4+ million, but with the competitive 15 financing arrangement at 2.99% and the ability to move immediately in order to complete both phases at once- we think the decision was in the favor of Estes Park's responsible growth future.
Of interesting note, Mayor Todd Jirsa and trustee Cody Walker voted against the issue, not because parking isn't needed, and not in defense of the golfers concerns, but because of that little detail you probably forgot about in Issue 1A that when passed several years ago, promised to spend $430ish thousand dollars a year on street maintenance. Street maintenance that doesn't seem to be a priority, now proven by this decision to take that money and put it towards paying for this obligation to add on to the parking garage.
Town resident Ted Williams is pretty passionate about some local issues, and will share them with you when you run into him. He participates in discussions and committees, but he has rarely if ever spoken in front of the town board. Last night he did, and made the important point that THIS is the decision point, whether to take the bait of a shiny new project and fund it, or live up to past commitments and keep street maintenance a priority. Well, last night the board redirected that formerly promised money to a shiny new project and no plan was offered to the residents about how that prior commitment will be satisfied- but that's the way things go in Estes Park. Heck, most of you readers probably forgot they even made that promise? Government is counting on your forgetting things so they can move effortlessly around the budget.
So last night, the issue was voted on and passed- approved to mortgage the 18 hole golf course and add 2 more levels to the parking garage. Within seconds, Greg Muhonen (public works director) was at the podium to say "Since you just approved that, we're going to need another $150,000 to do some preliminary final design work". Sure, it's necessary, but after the initial $600,000 design fee, then a $300,000 change order along the way to change the site etc, and now another $150,000- the stage is set for the money machine to pay pay pay.
Thanks to the money machine (taxpayers) for funding for this important project.
Rec District: Excuse us, may we have another $133k ?
Giving away our tax money
The Rec District has formally asked the Town to waive $136,783.00 in planning and building fees as they work on assembling the plans for the Community Recreation Center... the project which has gotten smaller already and seems to have swerved out of the financial lines a bit since the community voted in favor of the project...
The concept of fee waivers is sound, when the Town forgoes charging for projects in the best interest of the community, like they properly agreed to with Habitat for Humanity at the last board meeting. There's a bit of gray area here with the two tax entities managing our hard earned money by offering handouts to each other etc... and the issues with the Senior Center being 'transferred' to the Rec District... and the Community Center picture changing a little each month after the election ... and ... it's the Town, so we're skeptical to start with, sorry Rec District.
At the last town board meeting they tabled this request to answer some of these questions- we'll see what 2 weeks of thought bought us. Trustees, please don't give away what you don't have! According to Frank Lancaster's report this month, expenditures are greater than revenue- something he admits is not sustainable. There you go.
July 30, 2016
Well deserved heat for Frank Lancaster
Although there are some holes in this diatribe, it gets to the point that Frank Lancaster is not the solution to Estes Park's woes, and maybe he isn't even the right guy anymore, with an evolving new board that even the Trail Gazette compliments for having their shit together (in PG terms for newspaper publication). The writer calls for the bills to be published. Hear! Hear! We'd like that too.
Sorry, we can't insert a link to a Trail Gazette article with a clear conscience, the paper is such a suck up for Town Hall. You'll have to Google Lancaster and Trail Gazette to read his column.
Here is the criticism:
Am I the only person in this town who read Frank Lancaster's rant in this week's EP news? It is also posted on the city's website. Now we all know that Frank Lancaster does nothing but to put it in writing, insisting that doing nothing is his job, to me it is time to replace Frank Lancaster. In fact, I have publicly called for his resignation right here at this site. I have also demanded that the city produce their bank accounts to prove they still have the $10's of millions of dollars they have received in the form of grants for projects like the LOOP that they have never built, and the multi-story car park, etc. you all know what I am talking about. We have already had our local sales tax jacked up twice in the last two years for projects that have NOT been built, and property taxes have increased the last 3 years to fund projects that have NOT been built and they will continue to rise the next 4 years. As far as housing goes, if you have a conversation with any realtor living in Estes Park they will laugh in your face as they brag about how much they are making in commissions by selling residential housing to corporations (for rental income) they will shove it down your throat that they are continuing to grossly over-value all of the real estate in this town 'because' they are selling to corporations and corporations are HAPPY to pay for this over valued real estate.
The good news is; in the third quarter of this year the market is scheduled to crash again (as you can see stock brokers and real estate brokers think just alike) and we are headed into another depression. This is good news because it will force real estate prices 30 - 50% lower…however, in EP like every other mountain town that will merely bring real estate values to the place they should actually be at. But if you can afford to buy in the fourth quarter of this year I suggest you do so because the corporations will be here property grabbing as well.
The city of EP did just build a new apartment complex. The problem is that EP is a tiny town, there simply is not much build- able land left. It is not good enough to merely get on this website and moan about the plight of our poor little town. You must take a pro-active stance. I have done so but my suggestions and/or demands fall on deaf ears. Money talks.
...Perhaps but it is time for the city to publish their monthly bank statements. I have called for it before because we have a legal right to see it as taxpayers before Lancaster and our former Mayor do a disappearing act with it.
July 25, 2016
Lazy B, Habitat, Vacation Rentals & Electricity, etc
"The attitude reflected in the past has been to rubber stamp recommendations from town staff, especially once a 'study' has been completed. Everyone seems to like a study to give them cover for voting on increases rather than digging deep and using zero based budgeting analysis."
"this site is virtually unbuildable for one house, let alone two." and another neighbors concern that the proposal will negatively affect Trustee Bob Holcombs adjacent property value (although he can't vote on the issue).
"Proposed project would change to Commercial usage by way of “Special Review”. This is an extreme change in zoning and will establish horrible precedent for use of the “special review” process. Who will take the town seriously about any zoning if this project is approved?"
"This enforcement moratorium has encouraged the proliferation of essentially small hotels, without on site management, into our single family residential neighborhoods where they cause the most disruption to the daily lives of local citizens."
Read more comments and review the whole 'packet' by clicking the Town Board Materials link in the article below.
7/26/2016 after board meeting UPDATE:
- Lazy B Wranglers project: APPROVED
- Habitat for Humanity rezoning and building plan: subdivision and rezoning APPROVED
- Fee waiver for Rec District Community Center project, to the tune of $137,000: CONTINUED 2 weeks
- Utility department request to raise electric rates (10%+ for residential): APPROVED
- Moratorium on enforcing vacation rental occupancy limits: UNCHANGED
July 20, 2016
Town Board Materials Link
When we say a sliver of time, it is posted for a couple of days before the meeting, and removed promptly after the meeting is over. That's because those packets are generally rich sources of valuable public information, organized in a fashion that is easy to understand, and full of important details for the board members to consider during their due diligence as they prepare for meetings. Good or bad, those packets generally contain details that may not be the details that Town wants to willingly share, and up until this week the way they limited that circulation was to limit the time frame that you could download it. If you remembered to download it, you had to move quick and download it in their narrow sliver of time, because if you wanted to review the material after that, you'll need to go in and ask for it politely at Town Hall. Of course, we have always stated that packets should be made available online as a public record organized by date so that those of us citizens with mobility issues could research important public issues from home. That has never been the case, and now, a change to the download process creates a monitored state of 'transparency'.
Now, if you want to review the packet, you must ask permission with a Google Drive account that identifies your download and reading activity of these 'public files'. Like asking you to put on a name tag, then watching over your shoulder as you review what should be much much easier than that.
Who made this change? and Why? By itself, maybe no big deal. In conjunction with every other stumble that the Town has fallen into, it seems deliberate and opaque (the opposite of transparent).
Didn't we elect a new mayor and trustees to improve on the pervasive anti citizen/business owner rut the Town had fallen into? How's that going? So may questions.
7/21 Update: The next day, the files are accessible again without registering for a Google Drive account. Thanks so much, Town.
May 17, 2016
Community Development is Imploding
You all (aka "Staff") have been talking quietly among yourselves for months, and now the signs of the coming implosion are visible to the community. Take for instance at the Planning Commission meeting today when the question of the 'temporary permit' issued by the Community Development Staff came under question, or when Town Staffer Audem Gonzales all but challenged the community members to visit his office if they had a problem with the temporary permit he issued to the new "Lazy B Wrangler" enterprise, and stretches all summer long for 3 years. He articulated that the Town Staff has the authority to make these type of decisions, then went on to say that the Planning Commission and Town Board had no say over these type of decisions.
One of the ongoing fundamental issues with the Community Development of the Town of Estes Park is the range of discretion that this department uses when applying "the Code". We have dozens of examples of instances that the Code has been applied loosely, in our favor, which we accepted quietly not knowing if it was an accident or intentional. We also have an equal amount of instances that the Code has been applied to the letter of the law when discretion was warranted for special circumstances- which we dealt with begrudgingly and quietly so as not to create any additional hurdles (which the Town also has a reputation for doing). What is apparent is that there is no consistent pattern, or manner that the Code is applied. This will make Will Birchfield angry, cause he really tries to do the right thing. The support staff may also be offended, but they're good folks too. So what's the problem? Look to your planners, your leadership, your managers.
- Exceptional customer service
- Treating others as we would like to be treated
- Innovation and Creativity
- Problem Solving
- Customer Bill of Rights
Customer Bill of Rights
We Believe Our Customers Have the Right to...
- Be greeted with a smile;
- Be treated with courtesy and respect;
- Timely service when seeking service in person and by phone;
- Receive service from knowledgeable, competent, and cooperative staff;
- Complete, accurate, reliable information and feedback;
- Consistent and fair application of codes and rules;
- Formally appeal staff decisions;
- Communicate their appreciation or their dissatisfaction about staff, Department policies, procedures, or requirements;
- Expect our staff to explore alternatives and find creative solutions.
That the Community Development department 'lost' a level headed planner last year when Dave Shirk departed was noticed by many, and he is missed. Allison Chilcot's selection as department head was also noticed and many heads shook (left to right). She is no longer the department head (and is none too happy about it), but the continued turnover, use of an outside agency to do the work of the department, and the now painfully obvious shortcomings of this department should be addressed! But by whom? We say: Frank Lancaster, who is everyone's boss ultimately, and must take responsibility for the goings on of the Town Staff and this department for the last several years.
The Community Development department could at least be consistent and follow their posted objectives, and in turn, we will also treat them with respect. (or face having our permits denied, or approved, depending on which way the wind is blowing or whatever method they base decisions on day to day). Doubt this statement? Ask anyone that's dealt with the Code Enforcement officer. Ask anyone that's been issued more than a dozen permits (has local experience), they probably have a story to tell about the wide variety in the Staff interpretations over the years.....
Issuing the Lazy B temporary use permit is the first big question to be answered: How did THAT happen?
<-- Grade on meeting the Core Values: D
Live performance tonight!
epic pleads for fosh money to sprinkle into the black hole downtown
May 10, 2016
On tonights Town Board agenda, RMPAC Vice President Tom Dority will make a desperate plea to the Town Board for $475,000.00 that this community donated in good faith toward a performing arts center. EPIC (Estes Performance, Inc) says that it needs money to raise money, and presented a letter to the Town Board that reads like your mother guilting you into doing chores.
Lets touch on the high points:
1994: Town and Stanley Hotel agree on a 10 year lease to use the Stanley Concert Hall as a community performing arts center.
1995: Stanley Hotel declares bankruptcy. Same year, the new hotel owner: "New Stanley Associates" (aka Grand Heritage Hotel) and the Town decide emergency repairs are needed for the Concert Hall, so...
1998: Friends of Stanley Hall (FOSH) is created to raise money for the project. They raise over $475 thousand, plus Colorado Historical Society grant funds that the Town secured for the project. Subsequently, "New Stanley Associates" decided they didn't want to work with the Town on this community theater project, and ended the agreement.
2002: FOSH and the Town of Estes Park declared that the Town would become the custodian of $475,434.34 with some specific rules for the use of the money, including a deadline of 7 years to design and build the facility in order to use the FOSH money. Fundraising continues.
2006: FOSH and the Town realized the theater would not get built before the deadline, and extended the agreement five more years. Also this year, a Town team determined that a theater at Stanley Park (aka the Fairgrounds) would be a better location and that a group should be formed to pursue the goal of the Stanley Park Performing Arts Theater. And so it was: SOPA (Supporters of Performing Arts Inc) was formed. Fundraising continues.
Oddly, according to the Town Attorney Greg White in a memo to the Town dated April 2011, FOSH was dissolved after the 2006 agreement, yet Colorado Secretary of State records indicate that FOSH was dissolved May 1st, 2004. Nevertheless, FOSH no longer had any say or control over the money it raised for local theater. Fundraising continues.
2011: A new group is incorporated, calling themselves EPIC, and claiming that the Stanley Park site wasn't well supported by the philanthropic community, decided to take the dreams of a performing arts theater in a totally new direction, and set their sights on 23,000 square feet of recently vacated downtown space, formerly known as the Park Theater Mall (destroyed by fire in 2009). Fundraising continues.
2012: SOPA and EPIC merge. The downtown site suffers through heated criticism for the location, in the center of downtown that is already plagued by traffic and parking woes, and concern about any substantial fundraising in a decade. Boards change, fundraising leadership changes, and... Fundraising continues.
2013: Town Attorney Greg White, in a memo to the Town dated April 18th 2013, stated that the "last potential date of distribution of all the FOSH funds will be May 9, 2015". At the April Town Board meeting, trustees Koenig and Phipps moved that the FOSH funds remain in the Towns custody until January 31st 2017, and on that date, if no significant theater construction was underway, the Board could take applications for the distribution of the funds (according to the original fund raising terms). Fun fact: The Town Board was allowed to define what 'significant construction" means at the time of the deadline, so, anything goes. Fundraising continues.
2016: EPIC needs money. They had raised $5 something million before the flood, then spent a bunch, then found a tenant to rent the slab of concrete (that they were still fantasizing about) to help pay some bills, yet, despite continual fundraising they are having trouble getting off the starting line towards their goal of $25 million for the completion of the project. To solve this, they really really would like the Town to give them the FOSH money, NOW. Tonight, May 10th, 2016. Fundraising continues.
Stan Black, EPIC Chair writes in his 5/5/16 letter: "the dispersal FOSH funds to us is crucial if we are to complete our task of raising the funds required to make a professional theater a reality in downtown Estes Park."
This may be backwards thinking Mr Black, but shouldn't you raise the money FIRST, if the project is such a good idea? It may be time to regroup. Will dropping nearly a half million dollars of donations, into what has been an expensive drawn out painful process make a difference?
In the last 2 years, the makeup of EPIC has changed. The plan, the facilities, the use, and most importantly- your supporters. This project has taken on the appearance of a vehicle to insert lodging and retail under the wing of a well meaning theater group that is almost 20 years old- and not even close to their goal. Hearken back to the days of a vote for a 'Wellness Center', with the possibility of some lodging scattered in- and today, see the lodging project fully erect, with no sign of the wellness center anywhere in the dust behind.
$475 thousand dollars would go a long way infused into existing local theater, but would hardly make a sound in the bottom of the bucket you have stashed out there behind the barrel's shipping container. Your track record must not be overlooked by the Town Board when they hear your passionate plea tonight. Please don't press this last minute demand for the same money which would revolutionize existing theater groups in our community, that have been in operation for decades, who present high class entertainment in small town surroundings using existing facilities on shoestring budgets.
Update 5/12: We received a message defending Mr Cullen, that went like this: "If he does not want anything to do with the former owners then why would
he be currently building a full scale bronze statue of F.O Stanley in
the center of the maze? And why would he be building a 15 million dollar
film center in his name? This is a man who cares about your town and
will make it an even better place to live one day.... Has he given you any reason to not trust him?"
We omitted a line that would help identify the writer, but you get the point, except the writer seems to be missing some important details. The Stanley name is what makes The Stanley, The Stanley, hence the statue. Mr Cullen has shown his generosity to the Estes Park community and has been showered with deserved gratitude. Re-read this article above and note that Mr Cullen is not bashed in any sense. The business operations of what is now The Stanley Hotel under Mr Cullens watchful eye is not however sitting still, just look across the front yard and see the development of the Aspire Residences- 48 new rooms renting for $375+ per night, but no sign of the wellness center that the community voted yes to. Recall the recent articles about Mr Cullen "joining forces" with Range Property Management (article here), and the word that he is behind the 'boutique hotel' that will be situated in the prime location downtown with EPIC, which is being well funded with donations from this community. Indeed, these could all be marks of a community leader acting in a philanthropic manner to better the world we live in, and if so- hats off to John Cullen.
In other, related news, the Town Board voted to give the $475k+ to EPIC in a 6 to 1 vote.
To check availability & rates at Aspire Residences at The Stanley Hotel, available beginning May 27th, 2016, click here.
PUBLIC DOCUMENTS: From the Town Board meeting packet posted on the TOEP website:
A new tower coming to your neighborhood
May 9, 2016
The Town is moving forward with a 15 year lease for the construction of a permanent cell tower with the good folks at Verizon, on town owned property, in order to provide excellent phone coverage to Verizon customers in the west downtown area. The tower will be built on the existing asphalt of the Weist Parking lot, in the area currently marked no parking with stripes on the ground. The antenna will rise thirty feet above the ground and jut out into the lot, but be protected with posts to shield the cinderblock equipment shack, although they promised to paint the structure dark green. Other technology companies will be allowed to rent space on the tower from Verizon if requested. No mention of who gets paid for this opportunity (Verizon?).
Benefits: More service bars! Town generates income.
Cost: The view. EMF impacts (radio frequency)
There was no mention in the minutes of radio frequency concerns for pedestrians or neighbors, with the radio antenna located at about window level for adjacent homes. They'll probably work that out, not to worry.
May 3, 2016
Estes Truth is not all Doom & Gloom
In our experience, since Bergsten took on the responsibilities of director in March 2011 he handles issues efficiently, he does what he says he's going to do, and he treats others with a somewhat surreal kind of respect, like you're his boss. He seems to always be the servant when you ask him something, but retains an impressive span of control over his responsibilities downtown. Good job Reuben, and thanks for a sliver of shining light from inside the Town's nerve center- we all really really really appreciate a good job, well done.
Reuben Bergsten is the tall one on the right
April 19, 2016
Another Hot Local Button
Right now, the Estes Valley Planning Commission is convening to discuss the future of Estes Park. They do this regularly, but today is of particular interest with the introduction of a new entertainment operation "Lazy B Wranglers" out on Spur 66...
Watch live online, or catch the replay here:
April 14, 2016
Final vote tally announced for Mayor
From the Town of Estes Park:
The final count placed Jirsa ahead by just 6 votes. YOUR vote WAS important, Estes Park.
Problems with the Procedure
Part 3: Take Responsibility!
For those that have stuck around this long and made it through to the final installment, you no longer need coddling. What follows is what follows, without abbreviation or apology.
1. In the first two decades of this century, as domiciles change, personal e-mail addresses and mobile telephone numbers have tended to stay more "attached" to those nomadic segments of our population than physical mailing addresses, or work or residential telephone numbers. Ideally, in any decade, maintenance of up-to-date voter contact information should rely on the least expensive option available, and the shortest delay time to discover when it is no longer current. For example, in today's world, an e-mail address that no longer applies can be returned as undeliverable much faster and cheaper than an outdated physical mailing address. If we are going to continue mailing paper ballots to overseas voters, or any voters whose employment, training, or lifestyle requires or invites frequent relocation, we need to be "depth pinging" these folks on a routine basis, to see if they are still with us, and to assess if their provided contact information applies or has been shed based on changes in status or location. Ideally, we should be transitioning towards voting methods that don't depend on physical delivery to and return of paper ballots from these individuals. That doesn't mean talking about paperless ballots in study sessions and nodding our heads and saying what a wonderful idea, that means actually implementing it.
2. Embarrassing cases of registered Estes Park voters passing away long ago yet still receiving ballots demonstrate the need for local monitoring of voter rolls curated by Larimer County. Apparently, Larimer County lacks the funds or wherewithal to remove deceased Estes Park residents from voting rolls in a timely manner, especially in the case of voters registered abroad. The internet is a wonderful thing, and our ability to track down a large pool of potential voters scattered all over the world in a negligible amount of time, plus confirm the death of an unnumbered number of them in less than 20 keystrokes, demonstrates that this is not that difficult a task. One of our current town trustees campaigned on their vast international experience, so keeping tabs on the health and well-being of our registered voters scattered abroad would seem to be the perfect assignment for such an individual, once he or she is finished writing thank-you notes to the utilities that kept us 24 hours without 911 service and the ability to run credit cards.
3. Candidates leading in a preliminary vote count ought to have at least a 50% chance of emerging victorious in the final count, or what's the point of releasing initial totals? Ballots removed from the initial pool to "protect anonymity" (never a guaranteed right) of overseas ballots that may or may not arrive using traditional methods of absentee voting should be representative of the total pool. There are three changes that must be implemented immediately in Estes Park to balance the problem of "protecting anonymity" of overseas voters versus protecting the rights of candidates to a fair and impartial election: (1) Speed up the process of getting overseas ballots into the pool (or determining if they have any chance of ever entering the pool). (2) Withhold a much larger pool or much smaller pool of local votes from the initial count, and use a random removal process in either case. (3) In elections where preliminary totals are close (within the margin of any overseas ballots that have the potential to arrive and whatever additional ballots have been pulled from the local pool to "protect anonymity"), wait until there is absolutely no possibility of people in earlier times zones casting legal votes to release preliminary counts.
The first change, while simple in theory, is the one that would take the longest to implement, or might never be given a chance to be implemented, and would likely only work where there was a small pool of military and overseas voters, as in Estes Park, anyway. Even if all the overseas voters were in agreement and willing to cooperate, it might still encounter legal obstacles if an outside group felt it was an invasion of privacy, and challenged it in court. Electronic ballots could be mailed out and sent back instantaneously, but that is not something that will likely be available locally by the time of the next election. This exercise demonstrated, however, that the current pool of Estes Park's overseas voters could be contacted, and were quite willing to provide responses (except for those who were deceased, and despite numerous cases of publicly-available contact information on voter registrations being outdated) within 48 hours of the preliminary vote count being posted. Still, if it is a state or federal law to wait eight days, anyone opposed to the above suggestion of how to speed up the process (reducing the risk of already-cast votes sitting around, increasing the possibility of untoward things happening to them, but opponents of this will say there is no possibility of that ever occurring, until the candidate they support loses) will still say we have to wait the full eight days, because voters are not obligated to tell the truth, and may have forgotten that they actually did mail in a ballot. Which it why it is crucial to implement the second and third recommendations prior to the next election, so that we don't find ourselves in this situation ever again.
Anonymity of how a particular voter voted can be protected by as few as one additional cast ballot (Individual A votes for one candidate, Individual B votes for the other, all we know from a secret vote is that one candidate got one vote, we don't know where it came from), but could conceivably still be at risk even with 100 cast ballots (for a wildly popular candidate, until someone voted for the unpopular candidate, we would know how everyone voted). If we had a large pool of overseas voters who actually consistently voted in large numbers, they would provide anonymity for each other, without having to withhold any locally-cast votes. However, because Estes Park has a small pool of overseas voters, to reduce the risk of final outcome reversing the initial reported results, our suggestion would be to either withhold the smallest number of locally-cast ballots that would still have a greater than 99% likelihood of providing "cover" for the overseas ballots (certainly less than 15 in Estes Park's case, a good workable number would be 5, and any fears for their "safety" over the 8-day waiting period would be correspondingly low, but objections would immediately be raised to this, because there would still be a possibility, even in an evenly-matched race, that all five ballots pulled out randomly would be for the same individual), or withhold a "large" randomly-selected sample size of ballots (around 5% of the total votes cast would be a good working number, for example, in this last election, withholding 100 ballots.). In a non-competitive race, withholding 100 ballots would not affect the outcome, and so the 8-day wait would be a mere formality, and everyone could relax. In a close race, the 100-odd withheld ballots, randomly selected, would provide absolute (to within 0.00001%) anonymity to overseas ballots, and would be a large-enough sample size to accurately reflect the distribution of the total pool. Again, the 8-day wait would not be a matter of stress, because the final outcome would be predictable and essentially "knowable". For those who raise concerns about vouchsafing such a large number of uncounted ballots, either a reliable system is in place for protecting ballots or it isn't. Guaranteeing the integrity of stored ballots should be scalable, so that if you have a reliable process in place to protect 5 ballots, it should be able to protect 100.
Will our suggestions of withholding a smaller or larger number of ballots, something other than 15, and selecting them randomly from the total ballot pool rather than non-randomly, be considered by the town administration? Since it is coming from us, absolutely not, and it would be in the best interest of the town's welfare to actually put our full support behind their current process, since the town would then automatically implement something different. If the nightmare scenario of a candidate being up by 3 votes preliminarily and then down by 7 in the final count plays out, the town won't have a choice, because outside forces will be brought to bear, and their blood-simple finding will include what a horrible decision it was to remove 15 non-random ballots from the pool.
Will the town take our suggestion of waiting to post preliminary election results in close races until the morning of the following day, to avoid the possibility of registered voters receiving ballots in time zones to the west of us casting "legal" ballots after being apprised of the preliminary results? Again, it seems unlikely, because it's coming from us, but SOMEONE might want to look into it. *This paragraph updated at the request of the author
Unless the town keeps a separate list of eligible overseas voters that is different from the list Larimer County maintains and provides to the public, there are no overseas ballots left to arrive that haven't already arrived, and the final vote count (allowing for run-to-run variations by the counting machines) should not change by more than 15. Indeed, since one individual, unbidden, has already approached and revealed to us how they voted, the unknown number of votes out there is no more than 14, and the candidate for mayor currently in the lead is actually ahead by 4. (We recognize that individual may be lying to us, but the circumstances of how this was revealed, before the preliminary results were even posted, by someone who is a casual acquaintance at best, certainly not someone that discusses politics or was recognized previously as potentially holding the same political views, makes it unlikely. Besides, none of the speculation or predictions to follow can alter the hard reality of the final results, and only if the vote went 15-0 could this lie by exposed. We might as well go forward with otherwise reliable information where we have it.)
Regardless of how the 14 unknown ballots were removed, the range of possibilities for vote distribution and how they could change the final vote count would break down like this: 14 votes for one candidate and 0 votes for the other, 13 for one candidate and 1 one for the other, 12 votes for one candidate and 2 for the other (now that this pattern is obvious, we will resort to shorthand to save space), 11/3, 10/4, 9/5, 8/6, 7/7, 6/8, 5/9, 4/10, 3/11, 2/12, 1/13, and 0/14. The next likely distribution is 13/0, 12/1, 11/2, 10/3, 9/4, 8/5, 7/6, 6/7, 5/8, 4/9, 3/10, 2/11, 1/12, 0/13 (since there were three candidates and one of the 14 votes could be for this third candidate, although other possibilities exist - a vote for the third candidate, based on the preliminary count of the 2000+ ballot pool, is probably less likely than the possibility of one of the 14 voters simply choosing not to vote for mayor, and probably more likely than a ballot being thrown out because it was incorrectly marked, or couldn't be interpreted because it contained votes for two or more candidates for mayor). The next likely distribution, if two ballots don't end up going for Candidate A or Candidate B for whatever reason, is 12/0, 11/1, 10/2, etc., etc., and so on, and so on.
If these ballots had been selected "randomly" from the pool, we could compile all these scenarios and make mathematic predictions on whether Candidate A or Candidate B was more likely to win, based on Candidate A's current lead, and how many ballots remained uncounted. Indeed, without going into the math, and if elections were allowed to be wagered on (we can't bet on the results of U.S. elections in the U.S., but Europe is allowed to bet on the outcome of U.S. elections, so, ironically, some of the folks whose ballots we are awaiting because they could determine the outcome could actually bet on the outcome if this were an election covered by European gaming houses), provided the 14 ballots had been removed randomly (emphasis ours), Candidate A as it currently stands would have a 64% chance of not losing (it is easier to report odds as "not losing" rather than "winning", because of the potential for a tie) after all outstanding votes are counted and the results made available on April 15, and Candidate B would have a 36% chance of not losing. Again, if we were betting on this (and making a bit of an oversimplification), if we wanted to place a bet on Candidate A to emerge as the winner (or at least Candidate A not losing - a push would return the bettor's money) on Friday, April 15, we would have to bet $2 to win $1. If we wanted to bet on Candidate B, a $1 bet would win an additional $2. Both candidates would probably accept these odds going in to this Friday's announcement, and, in truth, Candidate B would have no choice. If Candidate B won after all was said and done in an election where the playing field beforehand was level and all votes counted correctly, and a pool of ballots removed randomly, i.e., if Candidate B in such a scenario came back from down by 3, the community at large would likely accept this result, because it's a part of myth and the American underdog story, down by 3 in the bottom of the 9th.
However, since the ballots were not pulled from the pool randomly, all bets are off as to the predictability of the final outcome, or how the local populace will react if the final vote flips. Here is all we know about that, encapsulated in the form of a white paper brief:
15 non-UOCAVA ballots were withheld from the initial count on April 5, 2016. Should the total number of votes from the preliminary April 5 count to the final April 15 "official" count increase by more than 15 (in either the race for town trustee or the race for mayor, although obviously, the only contested race is the race for mayor), or increase by less than 15, there is a potential problem.
If the final vote count for mayor increases by 16 votes, 17, votes, 18 votes, etc., i.e., some number greater than 15, this increase can only be explained in one of four obvious ways:
A. Vagaries of a machine count (obviously would be harder to justify the greater the difference from 15 votes was, and would be corrected/confirmed by a hand count).
B. UOCAVA registered voters were not being entirely truthful when
contacted by us, in this case, one or more individuals who said they didn't receive ballots actually did receive ballots and sent them back in, and/or one or more individuals who said they did receive ballots but didn't return them actually did return them. This is possible, although seems unlikely, and could be easily corrected or at least followed up on by comparing the list of UOCAVA votes the town says they received versus the list we compiled, and contacting those folks who told us initially they didn't vote to ask why they felt they couldn't be truthful, or indeed, if they feel their ballot is actually a fraudulent one, because they had no memory of voting or mailing back a ballot.
C. The town maintains a different list of UOCAVA registered voters than the one made available to the public through the Larimer County elections department, and their list includes more names. This would have to be explained by the town. It is possible that registered voters stopped in during the voting period and requested their ballot be mailed overseas, for example, but this would certainly raise suspicion, since the town already admitted on April 6 to the Trail-Gazette they had received 4 UOCAVA ballots up to that point, the same number we independently tallied by contacting all the UOCAVA-registered voters, so these hypothetical people would have had to make a special request for redirection of their ballot that they then failed to mail in, or mailed in around the time the initial count was made known. Any UOCAVA votes coming in after April 5 would have to be closely examined as to where they originated, and if they were legitimate voters, since they didn't originate from the list maintained by Larimer County, and could likely be challenged in court.
D. Additional ballot(s) somehow materialized in the initial 2000+ ballot pool. This would require explanation and justification on the part of the town.
If the final vote count for mayor increases by less than 15 votes, this decrease could only be explained in one of three obvious ways:
A. Not everyone on these 15 ballots cast a vote for mayor.
B. Vagaries of a machine count (see above)
C. Ballots lost/removed from the 15-ballot pool prior to final count, or ballots lost/removed from the initial 2000+ ballot pool prior to the final count. This would again require explanation and justification on the part of the town, and could likely be challenged in court, or at least the competency of those in charge of assembling and protecting ballots called into question.
4. A tall tale published in a Loveland newspaper over a hundred years ago tells of a Larimer County ranch located in a canyon, with the best grass located on the steep hillsides of that canyon. Until a drought occurred, and the cattle had to be removed to the flatlands, where "the animals began to stumble and fall in the most peculiar manner", was it discovered that the cattle's legs were much shorter on one side than the other. "This story should teach us," the author wrote, "that custom may become a second nature." Our local newspaper of record, in our opinion, has long stretches of laziness and ineptitude punctuated by occasional seizures of frantic self-justification. It may resemble a newspaper in size and shape as it circulates through our little cul-de-sac (although even those required to support it through a sense of community pride, the "my town right or wrong" Rotary crowd, have started to audibly wince, and clearly most local advertisers have fled) but once it slips outside into the real world, it is likely the subject of mockery and derision, and could never stand alongside a real newspaper. Sadly, we used to have a real newspaper of record in Estes Park under the same name, so those of us who have lived here longer than a few years know what we are missing. It is not that it once was a "Republican" paper and has now become more liberal in its leanings, so that readers of the "strict Republican" persuasion have become uncomfortable with the views it adopts, it is that it was once a more intelligent paper, presuming intelligent readers, staffed by individuals striving to examine all sides of an issue, and allowing for plenty of qualified outside input and opposing viewpoints to fill in where this knowledge base fell short. It wasn't great, but it was by any measure better than the slop currently dished up. Now, along with all the embarrassing typos and factual errors, our paper of record behaves like an huckster gaming a community desperately trying to stave off the inevitable, as if Estes Park was a fragile boom town back in the gold rush days, built on false hope and assays that kept coming back loaded only with disappointment. Since Estes Park's sales tax revenue and visitor counts and housing starts are clearly doing just fine, and have been steadily improving over the last three decades, the relentless boosterism and calls to do something, anything, quickly, lest we disappear or are crushed into rubble, resemble adolescent death fantasies, under-the-cover journalings of the least mature member of a mature community. To be fair, the newspaper of record as currently comprised demonstrates remarkable proficiency when it comes to gloating, or belittling those with opposing (or sometimes merely different) approaches or views, or trumpeting the hypocrisies of others while ignoring its own glaring deficiencies. Sadly, the unsigned editorials of the anonymous editorial board are no longer hiding anything, because their authors' opinions are so boringly predictable. Without having to read beyond the first paragraph, we have all come to recognize the "nails on blackboard" stridency of editorials penned by X, and the condescending fake-fatherly "sense of place in time" inanities of Y.
As this potential election nightmare, and the lack of any coverage of same, in the 10 days leading up to it (besides what appeared on social media) makes clear, local Estes Park outlets need to become a whole lot smarter, more independent, and less reliant for content on press releases and Stanley Hotel easter eggs. A newspaper of record that serves as little more than the propaganda arm for local government and special interests, a paper that does a poor job of investigating anything, and to top it off selectively picks and chooses who to go after and what to suppress or ignore based on publisher bias or pretend consultation with an incestuous circle of hand-selected, myopic, largely unaccomplished (certainly not nationally recognized for any of their supposed accomplishments), brittle, bitter board members, ceases to be a real newspaper, and more resembles a vanity press for wannabee journalists and grudge-holding cranks. The first step towards regaining trust in the community is to man up and stop hiding behind an editorial board, using the justification that other papers have editorials pages written by unnamed members of editorial boards. Yes, and these are big-city papers with a staff of beat reporters and investigative journalists and wire editors and one-phone-call-away policy makers and power brokers assembled from all walks of life. Stop allowing selected members of your editorial board to write editorials in full without taking full responsibility for them. Unless they are exposing something that puts their life in danger, which is never the case and will never be the case, protecting their anonymity is just a cop-out. You are not the Washington Post or Boston Globe, and believe me, nobody on your staff or editorial board as currently comprised is willing or capable of exposing something like Watergate or Love Canal. Previous editors may have stopped signing their editorials because they were too pressed for time to write any. Now, with an editorial board bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, having nothing but time and lots-o-stuff on their minds, the responsibility of doing valid investigation, or putting opinions to paper and signing them, works just like this:
(with help from the friends and family members of some of our amazing uniformed and overseas voters, who remain unnamed to protect anonymity)
Problems with the Procedure
Part 2: Was it really Random?
As with part I of this three-part investigation into the local race for mayor, we provide an initial capsule summary of part II, for those pressed for time, and a lengthier exposition beneath.
1. State or federal law may require accepting ballots mailed from military or overseas citizens with a valid "day of election" postmark, but no law requires preliminary election results from Estes Park be released on the day of election. Town officials are smart enough to recognize the existence of countries and U.S. military bases with populous cities in earlier time zones to the west of Estes Park. Releasing a preliminary vote count shortly after 8:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, as in this case, may not have led to any known examples of registered voters who received ballots in countries with large cities west of Estes Park casting legal votes after preliminary election results were known, but the town should look at the list of the people they are sending ballots to overseas and acknowledge the potential for this to occur when preliminary vote counts are released prior to 5:01 a.m. the day after an election. To be safe, local election results should be released no earlier than 6:01 a.m. the day after an election.
2. All of the folks on the current Estes Park military and overseas citizens voting list maintain or believe they maintain legitimate ties to Estes Park, either directly or through close family members. Many of the folks on this list do all they can at a distance to follow local campaigns, or recognize names of candidates on the local ballot. However, in a few cases it appears most or all ties to Estes Park have been severed, or are tenuous at best. It is possible some individuals maintain an Estes Park address because it would be otherwise difficult to have a U.S. "anchor" to continue receiving state or federal election ballots. A subset of these individuals may actually have other options, but lack the motivation or knowledge of how to transfer their registration to a location outside of Estes Park (for example, to a different state where close family members now reside). For hypothetical U.S. citizens whose sole remaining link to the United States is working and renting an apartment in Estes Park for one summer many years ago, this is obviously a difficult topic, but if these individuals aren't "self-abstaining" from local elections, the possibility (no big surprise, since it also occurs locally) of ballots entering the local election pool that are indistinguishable from ballots produced by lemurs trained to throw darts should at least be acknowledged.
3. The "nightmare scenario" for the town of the mayoral vote count reversing in a significant way from preliminary count to final count is not only possible, the choice the town made in withholding ballots from the pool, both how many and how they were removed, makes it even more possible. This is a huge problem, and steps should be taken immediately by the town to educate the citizens of Estes Park to this possibility, or on April 15, things may get ugly fast.
1. For those who are unaware, Estes Park is a community in Colorado in the United States, and adheres to "mountain standard time" (MST, also known as MDT in the summer, for mountain daylight time) which is more scientifically represented (ignoring, for the purposes of this discussion, daylight savings time) as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) - 7. The easiest way to think of this is that Estes Park in the winter is seven hours "behind" Reyjavik, Iceland (Reykjavik is always on GMT), so that if it is 9:00 p.m. local time on Christmas Day in Iceland, it is 2:00 p.m. local time on Christmas Day in Estes Park. Time zone differences are the reason you don't telephone your friend in Austria after you finish eating dinner at Ed's Cantina for a casual conversation, because they may be a bit cranky, having been awakened from sleep. Also, for those who are unaware, there are land masses connected to the North American continent to the west of Estes Park, and separate land masses surrounded by water to the west of Estes Park. Some of these contiguous land masses and island land masses do not share the same government as the United States, and are considered separate countries. Some of them are semi-autonomous but dependent on the United States, and are considered U.S. territories. Here is a critical point, and this discussion cannot proceed until everyone understands it: Estes Park does not abut the International Date Late, the line which, when crossed going west, moves the time one calendar day forward. Either you need to consult a map and convince yourself of this, take our word for it, or think about those times you have visited California, for example, and discovered they use a different time than we use here in Colorado. In fact, they use an "earlier" time in California referred to as "Pacific standard time", which is one hour "earlier" than here in Estes Park. Truth be told, there are five times zones "earlier" than Estes Park as you travel west towards the International Date Line. Again, in scientific terms, there are parts of the United States and parts of countries or entire countries in the Western Hemisphere that use GMT - 8, GMT - 9, GMT - 10, GMT -11, all the way up to GMT - 12 (along with some island nations east of the International Date Line that do their own damn thing with their clocks regardless of what the map "tells" them to do). In all of these locations, it is still the same calendar day as it is in Estes Park, it is just earlier in that day. So, again as an example, let's pretend local election results in Estes Park were released at 9:00 p.m. on the night of the election. The local post office is not open at 9:00 p.m. in Estes Park, and we don't know of surrounding post offices in larger communities in Colorado that are open at 9:00 p.m., but it has never really been a concern of ours, because we tend not to engage in voter fraud or play potentially legal but morally questionable voter games, or wait until the last minute to attempt to cast a legal ballot. However, in this example, we can easily imagine post offices in cities to the west of Estes Park, in different time zones, perhaps in different countries, being open when it is 9:00 p.m in Estes Park, because it may be 4:00 p.m. in those places, or 5:00 p.m. We can also imagine metropolitan cities in different countries in the Western Hemisphere with a central post office that might keep much longer hours than a post office in Estes Park, or, at the very least, might have someone working in such post office all the way up to 12:00 midnight who could be cajoled into postmarking an envelope if a convincing plea was laid out as to the importance of it. Can you imagine folks living in, for example, the Canadian province of British Columbia, perhaps near a major metropolitan area, learning of our local elections results when it was only 8:00 p.m. where they lived? Can you imagine if they were registered to vote in Estes Park elections, and received ballots to vote in Estes Park elections, and it was perfectly legal for them to submit these ballots after they already knew of the preliminary results, and immediately recognized their vote could have a significant impact on the final results? For reasons of protecting anonymity, we are not going to reveal whether such a hypothetical event, that is, voters living in western Canada receiving ballots that could have conceivably been legally cast after preliminary election results were made known, had even the remotest chance of taking place. Having said that, the town is now on notice that we may or may not have already been in contact with such individuals, should such individuals exist, and "Thank God we dodged that bullet" are words that may or may not come to mind. The take-home lesson from this should be obvious, and if local election officials don't immediately get the hint about how to satisfy state or federal requirements while at the same time removing local concerns about voting "games" or ballot fraud, justified or unjustified, we will happily spell out what must be done henceforth and forevermore in our final installment.
2. What can you say about the people living abroad with Estes Park ties, except that Estes Park should feel both lucky and proud to have such wonderful "ambassadors" representing us across some of the most far-flung outposts of the worth. These are folks defending our freedom, working, researching, writing, teaching, or studying in locations both exotic and cosmopolitan, for the most part very much connected to the internet and social media, and reading about them and their accomplishments as we searched for contact information made our hearts, which were already big and trusting, grow three sizes larger, because, without revealing names or countries to protect anonymity, many of them are doing amazing things to make this world a better place, and restore basic human rights that we take for granted. Because this is such an educated lot, by and large they decide for themselves whether they are informed enough to vote in local elections, which is admirable, since the opposite approach is probably adopted by an unknown number of local voters. By and large, they "self-curate" or "self-correct" no longer correct contact or mailing information when the they move to a different country, or back to the United States, or (hopefully) when all connections, including property and family connections, to Estes Park end. To protect anonymity, we cannot say whether the list of voters living abroad but eligible to vote in Estes Park election maintained by Larimer County contains only names of individuals that satisfy all these requirements. We don't even know what the requirements are to be allowed to vote in Estes Park. To protect anonymity, we have to board the imagination train once again, and speculate on "What if?". What if there was an individual or individuals on the voter role, say, single adult male(s) U.S. citizen or single adult female(s) U.S. citizen, who rented an in-town apartment in Estes Park for three months back in 1999 while they worked at an ice cream parlor or LP record store. What if they had no other family living in the United States, just them. What if they registered to vote during that time, and then moved far, far away, and updated the county when they moved far, far away. What if they continued to receive ballots and continued to vote, or voted just enough to be considered active, in elections both local and national. What if they never returned to Estes Park after 1999, didn't keep up with anyone they met in Estes Park who was still living in Estes Park, a boss or landlord or co-worker, and likely had no intention of ever returning to Estes Park. What would you call such individuals? Obviously, if such a hypothetical individual or individuals did exist, federal law requires that we call them registered voters, and continue sending them Estes Park ballots. But interestingly enough, just the simple act of contacting every voter living overseas on the list provided by Larimer County and posing two and only two simple questions ("Did you receive your ballot and did you put it in the mail prior to April 5?") has given us hope, based on the responses we received , that one or more of these folks immediately and without prompting recognized the unforeseen quandary they had potentially place Estes Park in, and they may have decided, while the next Estes Park election may have 99 problems, they ain't going to be one.
3, The town freely admits that they chose the number of ballots removed from the total pool to satisfy the state or federal requirement for protecting uniformed and overseas citizens anonymity by asking surrounding Colorado communities what they did. This is almost never a good idea, because it presupposes these other Colorado communities know what they are doing, or that Estes Park is identical in every way to these nearby communities.
Even if 15 ballots were removed from a 2000+ ballot pool randomly, these 15 ballots would be unlikely to reflect the distribution of votes in the total pool. Let's pretend that we were picking 15 ballots at random (meaning with our eyes closed) from a very large hopper holding all 2000+ ballots cast for mayor in this race. This is a small sample size, and is therefore unlikely to break down along the same lines as the distribution of the 2000+ ballots. As a simple analogy, if there was a pool of 200 fish containing 100 blue fish and 100 red fish, and you closed your eyes and randomly pulled out 10 fish without returning any of them to the pool, no one would be shocked if 7 of the fish were blue and 3 were red, because the sample size was small, and an "unbalanced" distribution is common with a small sample size, and would correct itself as you continued sampling. In this same scenario, starting with the same 200 fish, if you randomly pulled out 100 fish without returning them to the pool, and 70 of the fish were blue, that would likely raise concerns about whether the blue fish had started eating some of the red fish, or the blue fish were being attracted to your net. Larger sample sizes trend towards the actual distribution, in this case, 50% of each type of fish, until the ultimate sample size (sampling 100% of the fish in the pool) is reached, in this case totally exactly 50% All this means is that 15 ballots is too small a sample size in the case of 2000+ ballots to reflect the composition of the total pool of 2000+ ballots.
Here is the important point: The likelihood of "non-representative distribution" already applies if the 15 ballots were randomly pulled out of the 2000+ ballot pool. As we have attempted to make clear, repeatedly, the 15 ballots the town pulled out were not "random", they were purposefully selected. This approach, fair or not, justifiable or not, should absolutely not be called "random". More significantly, this approach has an even greater likelihood, on top of the small sample size, of the ballots not being representative (in this case, meaning votes not breaking down equally between the two essentially-deadlocked candidates). In fact, they are quite likely to be "clumped" or skewed towards one candidate or the other (because not every voter votes in isolation, and it is not uncommon for couples or friends or even families to vote at the same time). Bottom line, if one had to predict the votes for mayor on the 15 withheld ballots as the town chose to withhold them, they are unlikely to be distributed "evenly" among the two essentially-deadlocked candidates, and quite likely to be distributed "unevenly". These 15 ballots are more likely to contain 11 votes for one candidate, and 4 votes for the other, for example, or 12 votes for one candidate and 3 votes for the other. Even 13 votes for one candidate and 2 votes for the other would not be out of the realm of possibility, and would be "predictable" or "fair" despite their pervasive and undeniable odor of "unfair". In this case, the Japanese would say "shikata ga nai" (nothing can be done, c'est la vie), and that will be the town approach, even though many things could have been done to prevent such an outcome.
Having said this, and despite everything weighing against it, the small possibility still exists that the 15 ballots may contain 8 votes for one candidate and 7 votes for the other, which will not change the outcome of the preliminary count. Everyone might not go away happy from such a scenario, and a hand recount off the ballots could still change the outcome, but the large majority of people would walk away from such an scenario thinking it was at least "fair". Similarly, If an "unequal" breakdown of the 15 ballots goes towards padding the lead of the candidate currently in the lead, there will be little the losing candidate can do except acknowledge the futility of continuing to fight a losing battle, or hold out the slight hope of better results in a hand recount.
(We are fully aware of a third candidate - name removed to protect anonymity - in the race for mayor, but unless that individual receives 13, 14, or 15 of the remaining 15 outstanding votes, it will have no impact on the discussion up to this point, or the projections that follow. Based on the the number of votes this third candidate received in the initial vote count, If this third candidate received all or nearly all of the 15 uncounted votes, it would almost certainly trigger an investigation into ballot fraud.)
In the nightmare scenario, the final count made official on April 15 will reverse the results of the initial count, and the reverse will not just be by one or two votes, but by 7 or 8 votes. This is entirely within the realm of possibility even were the vote count completely above-board and fair, but it will be a nightmare for the town because (a) the widespread release of the initial count, coupled with the delay in the final count, has given most residents the 10-day impression that one of the candidates received more votes and is deserving of being mayor (b) the town continues to insist that the 15 ballots removed from the pool were removed "randomly", when they were not, and (c) rather than being dead serious about the possible and completely justifiable perceptions resulting from (a) and (b) above, and educating people through the town newsletter, the Trail-Gazette, about the very real chance of a "flipped" final outcome, the representatives of the town instead insist on making jokes in public forums about coins that don't flip, using a two-headed coin, etc. Because so many people within the town administration, including the outgoing mayor, are already on record as supporting a particular candidate, if this candidate goes from down by 3 votes in the preliminary count to ahead by 7 votes in the final count, the election will appear to many, including many impartial observers living outside of Estes Park, as having been "stolen".
If Estes Park was a larger town with a radio station, or even if the Trail-Gazette was a real newspaper, the "suspense" or "anonymity" of these 15 ballots would have been removed already, because a notice would have been broadcast to the general public the morning after the initial results appeared along the lines of "Hey, if you were one of the last people to vote in the recent election, if your a procrastinator and waited until the last minute, or if you know someone who did, we'd love to hear from you." Not only would a volunteer head count have been incredibly useful to reassure the public there was nothing "sinister" or "preplanned" about how the town chose to withhold votes from the pool, the embarrassment to the town of everyone knowing the results ahead of time would have prevented the town making such a questionable choice in the future. Indeed, people being people, and pre-summer Estes Park being a small town, such self-reporting of last-minute voting and candidate selected has already occurred in the absence of a general request, and gives a glimmer of hope that Estes Park will escape the "nightmare scenario", or at least reduces the unknowns so that better predictions can be made.
town, once they spend any time reflecting on this choice, which,
surprisingly, they have yet to do, will eventually stumble onto a
defense that these 15 withheld ballots were never meant to be predictive
of the ultimate outcome, or representative of the total pool, they we
just pulled to protect anonymity of votes coming in from overseas. And
that would be wonderful and probably completely applicable in the
abstract, but in this case there were no votes to anonymously protect.
Once again, and sadly for the town, good intentions and helpful hints
from consultants on how to address public concerns look like the same
old incompetence when exposed to outside light, a topic we will address
in the conclusion of this three-part series.)
April 10, 2016
Problems with the Procedure
Part 1: Sending ballots to dead folks, et cetera
1. There are dead people on Estes Park's uniformed and overseas citizens voting roll.
2. Either the list of eligible overseas voters the town maintains is different from the list Larimer County provides to the public, or the town is very bad at counting beyond 20.
3. We are doing a very poor job of getting ballots to folks living overseas who, whether or not they are "qualified" or even desirous of voting in local elections, still have a constitutional right as U.S. citizens to vote.
4. Having said that, in this particular instance, there are no more uniformed and overseas citizens votes left to come in, so we are waiting these eight days for nothing, and the town withheld locally-cast ballots from the pool for no reason, except that federal law pretends to grant something it can never guarantee, anonymity, and we apparently bow to federal law even when it brings election results to a grinding halt and has the potential to unloose chaos, instead of implementing an easy quick fix.
5. Call the 15 withheld ballots what you want, but stop calling them "random".
And here is the long-form version:
1. The list of uniformed and overseas citizens (which will hereafter be referred to as military and overseas citizens, because uniformed looks too much like "uninformed" for those who read quickly and process less quickly, which is certainly not the intent) registered to vote within the town limits of Estes Park includes a number of individuals who are no longer living. It's not that they are no longer living within the town limits, or no longer living outside of the town limits, or in another state, or in another country, or on another planet. It's that they are no longer living anywhere. They are dead. The number of dead people on this list is low (to protect anonymity, the actual number of dead people is not given), but it is not zero. This is a problem. The town can claim this is a county problem, not a town problem, because Larimer County is responsible for curating the voter registration list, but now that it has been brought to light, the town should do all within their power to fix it, because ultimately it reflects poorly on a town to continue mailing ballots to dead people. In one instance, the town has been sending a ballot to a dead person buried in foreign soil for the past four years.
2. Luckily, we know of no instances in this particular race where dead voters actually cast a vote (well, we don't actually know this for certain, because to protect anonymity, the town does not reveal how many dead people voted). But the town recently revealed to a Trail-Gazette reporter (to protect anonymity, the Trail-Gazette reporter's identity is withheld) that, as of Wednesday, April 6, four people from the military and overseas citizens list voted. We arrived at the same number based on contacting everyone on the most recent voter registration list assemble by the county, and the four individuals we contacted abroad who said they had mailed in their ballot shortly after receiving it appeared to be very much alive at the time we spoke to them.
3. Besides this number (the number of ballots received from overseas voters as of Wednesday, April 6) we disagree with the town on every other number provided to the Trail-Gazette, including the total number of individuals on the military and overseas citizens list, and the total number of ballots returned as undeliverable. This is a problem. Either we are working with different lists, or the town is not being truthful, or, more likely, the town cannot count. The list of registered voters was provided to us by Larimer County shortly before the local election got underway, so our list is current. Obviously, names can be added to the list as new voters register, and registered voters can come to the town clerk and request their ballots be sent elsewhere without it being reflected on our list, but why would someone come to the town clerk, make a special request that their ballot be sent overseas, and then not vote? The large discrepancy between the number of overseas voters the town says ballots were mailed to and the number of actual overseas voters on our list is too great to be explained by an already unlikely scenario playing out multiple times. As far as the total number of ballots returned as undeliverable (which again, the town probably cannot reveal as far as actual individuals there were addressed to, in order to protect anonymity), the discrepancy between the number of ballots the town says were returned as undeliverable (6) and the number of people we contacted who said they didn't receive a ballot (4) is too small to worry over. Perhaps one or more of the contacted individuals who told us they did or didn't receive a ballot were lying to us. We cannot definitely rule out the possibility that these people are not being truthful. By and large, the folks with Estes Park ties living and working abroad are an intelligent group, quite capable of engaging in directed conversations and understanding simple requests. They would seem to have no obvious reason not to speak the truth when asked basic questions about whether they received a ballot and, having received one, whether they dropped in in the mail on or before April 5. But they are obviously not constitutionally obligated to tell the truth to strangers, even strangers sharing a common origin.
4. More to the point, and with the strong belief that the town is able to recognize and correctly count the small number of ballots sent to an out-of-country or military post office address, as well as the even smaller number of ballots returned as undeliverable, these discrepancies make it obvious we are working with completely different lists. This is a problem. If the town has a "super-secret" voter list that varies significantly from the voter list provided by Larimer County (in particular, if it includes 50% more names of military and overseas voters than what the county has on record), now is probably an appropriate time to reveal such a list. Voter registration lists are a matter of public record, so transparency almost certainly trumps right to privacy.
5. Let's agree to temporarily accept the town-provided count of six ballots set to military and overseas citizens being returned as undeliverable, a number apparently provided without apology or hesitation. Does anyone else not see this as not just a problem, but as an unacceptable failure of the democratic process? If any of the 20-odd folks these ballots were intended for provided an incorrect mailing address, or moved and didn't update their mailing address with Larimer County, the blame for not receiving a ballot rests on them. But if four to six Estes Park voters living abroad provided completely correct and appropriate-for-their-country addresses, but were denied the right to vote because computer-generated mailings from this end could not be deciphered by postal carriers in the respective countries at that end, whether it is a town problem or a county problem, it is a disaster requiring immediate attention, because it was so easily avoidable. Despite the prevailing belief or desire, English has not achieved the status of universal language, and U.S. standards for addressing envelopes (the position of the street address, for example, or where a postal code goes) do not apply in every country. If the standard forms we are forcing people to fill out do not allow for country-to-country variation, we need to fix the forms. Perhaps short term we need to allow voters living in countries where Arabic or Chinese is the primary language the option of providing their own adhesive mailing labels.
6. In this particular election, waiting eight days for any remaining overseas ballots to arrive is a bit like waiting for Godot, or waiting for moonlight to boil a pot of water. We are waiting for nothing, because nothing is going to happen in those eight days as far as a change in the current preliminary vote totals. We know this because we have contacted all the people on the military and overseas citizens list registered within the town limits of Estes Park, and they either already mailed in their ballot well in advance of April 5, never received a ballot, received a ballot and chose not to vote, or are still dead. This is completely true and indisputable but for one possible exception, an individual living abroad who voted for a candidate not currently in the lead (to protect anonymity, neither the person voting nor the candidate voted for can be revealed, although, hint-hint, that vote could have really helped that particular individual, but too bad, that's the problem with mail-in ballots), whose ballot obviously didn't arrive prior to April 5 and if it hadn't arrived by then will likely straggle in too late to be counted, if it is ever found. When the town does miraculously discover this lost ballot and deems it authentic and acceptable, we will be glad to say told you so. As the town will unapologetically inform you, this "sitting around for no reason" problem is a federal problem, because federal law requires it, and there is nothing they can do about it. In this particular instance, all I can say is "Thank God for the federal government." Because these eight days are like our Prague Spring, when the airing of grievances can occur without fear of reprisal, when those who have been oppressed by a government screaming "vocal minority" for eight years can dance and laugh and sing and feel like they might actually emerge victorious. There was no reason to wait these eight days, because there was nothing to wait for, but it will be a glorious eight days, and for eight days should be reveled in by those who deserve to revel. After that, of course, on April 15, the tanks will roll in to restore order, and these tanks are the 15 votes "randomly" withheld from the initial count, the withholding of which is not a federal law, but a arbitrary decision on the part of the town, both as to number of ballots withheld and to "randomness". And this is going to be a big, big problem.
7. The total vote count on April 15 will not change one whit from military or overseas citizens ballots arriving after April 5 (unless the magic ballot previously discussed is required, in which case it will increase by one). It will change by 15 "random" votes withheld from the initial pool, and may go up or down according to the vagaries of running 2000 ballots through a machine. Let's ignore the latter problem, which will be corrected by a mandatory hand recount. The problem with the 15 "random" votes is that the town insists on calling them "random", when they are exactly the opposite of "random". Here is a simple example that should make the distinction clear: Case #1: A magician holds out a deck of cards to you and says "Pick any card." Case #2: A magician holds out a deck of cards to you and says "Pick the top card." In both cases, you know a trick is coming, but in the second case, you would really be reluctant to participate, because you would think either the magician was inept, or playing you for the fool. The town, at a time when the mayoral election is in dispute, and the outcome likely to be challenged (especially if the final outcome reverses the preliminary outcome), is currently claiming that Case #1 and Case #2 are indistinguishable, that both are random, that there is no difference between picking 15 ballots randomly out of a giant pile and setting aside the last 15 ballots to walk through the door. This is a problem.
Obviously, the town can (and will) say, "But it doesn't matter which 15
ballots we withheld, the 15 ballots were going to go into the final pool
anyway, whether we counted them that night, the following morning or 10 years later."
And the town is absolutely correct, and, once again, absolutely missing
the point. The "randomness" of picking the last 15 ballots added to
the pile assumes, incorrectly, that the last 15 people to walk in the
door on election night were distributed randomly. And this is
incredibly, incredibly unlikely. Ask yourself, if you dropped off your
ballot, how you dropped it off. Did you drop it off alone, did you drop
it off with your spouse, did you carry in your spouse's ballot along
with yours, or that of a friend, or an aged person to do them a favor?
Even if you dropped off one single ballot and kept a 50-foot cone of
silence between you and everyone else, can you at least acknowledge that
the other examples provided could and probably did occur? Can you
see how the folks who are already skeptical about how this mayoral
election played out over the month leading up to the preliminary count
on April 5 could be even more agitated by a choice that has a greater
than 99% probability of being distributed "non-randomly" being called
"random"? Words and the proper use of them at this juncture are
critical, and the intentional misuse of them just invites more
head-shaking and expressions of concern.
Why do the town spokespeople continue to be so flippantly glib about this?
Please share this story with your friends, and stay tuned for Part 2.
..and so It begins
Oddly, it is today's edition of The Estes Park News, formerly the most non-committal non-political source for information in the Estes Valley that takes the first step toward unseating Todd Jirsa from the Mayors position. (to be fair, they may have merely reprinted a Town Media release, but since there's no attribution for the article, the Publisher gets full credit)
Pickup a free copy and take a look at today's article on page 2, and you may notice the glaring statement written between the lines, that a Mayor has not been selected by the voters. They state all facts, true, but read that first paragraph and you'll feel the temperature of this situation, that it is pretty uncomfortable for some that a voice of the people has been unofficially elected by the voters- if you're reporting facts.
Estes Park News - April 18, 2016
This political semantics move reminds us of Frank Lancasters statement way back in April of 2015, and the subsequent Trail Gazette publicity that questioned the boundaries of 'Downtown Estes Park' as he and the paper began to build a case for the New and Improved Downtown boundaries which would be revealed when the Loop came closer to reality and Downtown Estes Park shifted to the East with new development and tax collection opportunities. The political government tactic of making a statement is tried and true. Make a statement about it, or fail to make a statement about it (whatever IT may be) and later you can hearken back to when the statement was originally made- and the time that has passed gives an air of credibility to just about any statement that's been made - whether it's reality or not. That the statement was made is the 'fact' that then becomes something to build a case on. People believe what they hear until someone challenges the statement or presents their own side of the case. We are challenging the notion that the voters did not elect a new Mayor, and contending that They Did- and his name starts with Todd and ends with Jirsa. The writing is on the wall for this campaign though, there are a lot of formerly comfortable people that are not happy.
Confusing? Perhaps. It will make more sense as the Status Quo continue to position themselves to maintain - Status Quo- and maneuver to squeeze Chuck Levine into his comfortable position in the Mayors seat at Town Hall.
The Votes Are In
By now, you have probably read and reread the election results from Election Day. The community chose Todd Jirsa as Mayor, then elected newcomer Cody Walker, newcomer Patrick Martchink, and re-elected Ron Norris as trustees.
Bu that's not all! The election isn't over.
The election results more importantly shouted that Estes Park residents are NOT happy with the Status Quo, having now elected 3 brand new faces to municipal government. It would appear that the electors did not accept the Town's notion that things were going pretty well, and opted for representatives that would represent.
The election results are not official means that the Town Clerk held 15 random ballots in reserve until all of the out-of-country mail in ballots are received by the Clerk's office, at which time the 15 ballots held in reserve will be mixed with the potential incoming ballots that were properly postmarked by the election date- and then all of them will be counted. That could change things couldn't it?
Here's the funny part, but it's not really funny: I signed the back of my ballot, and so did you, and so did all of the voters. There are some voters that you know would vote for Todd, and some that you know would vote for Chuck. What's that mean? It may raise questions about the process of 'randomly' selecting 15 ballots to place into reserve. Did you notice the rush of endorsements for Chuck Levine's campaign nearer election day, as the establishment realized change may be at hand. Heck, even the sitting Mayor endorsed a candidate from his perspective of Mayor and First Lady (welcoming in new Mayor Chuck and First Lady Kathy)... Yikes!
Because of the slim margin of the Mayor votes cast, there will be a recount, mandated by Colorado statute. Including the 15 'random' ballots in reserve, and additional mail in ballots received if they arrive at all.
So, if after the recount, and additional ballots are counted- the outcome changes, what do you think the voters will have to say? "We're happy to have a Mayor with decades of government experience?" or "Happy to have a Mayor that has been part of the Status Quo in Estes Park before?" Probably not what they will be saying.Mayor Elect Jirsa only won by 3 votes (unofficially), but from where we are watching this play out, he has solidly won this race and should take his turn at leading a troubled local government by providing a fresh perspective on behalf of The People, the folks that are demanding change. If the official results change the outcome of the election now, we will probably get a little more comfortable in our seat, because the conversation about this election is about to get a little bit more interesting. Sure, if the wind shifts and Chuck wins by 3 votes, the Town Clerk will declare 'The majority has spoken', but is that the real message?
Look back at this year. Divisive, controversial, difficult conversations going on at Town Hall. Public input that wasn't read for a year, 5 1/2 hour public meeting choreographed by Town Staff (including the Police Security plan) from start to finish days before it even occurred and the "public had a chance to speak". We get it, you haven't been listening, and we aren't buying it anymore. It is time for a change at Town Hall from Status Quo to a fresh perspective.
The best course of action may be for Chuck to humbly congratulate Todd and acknowledge that the community is fed up with Status Quo, since Chuck ran on the Status Quo platform. Or, he could ride it out and let the Town go through the motions and further consternation and to what end? No matter who is elected, the cry for change can not be set aside as the 'Vocal Minority' (as Mayor Bill Pinkham called the folks that raised their voices last year).
Chuck Levine conceding the race may strengthen shaky relationships and would be remembered for a long time to come as him taking the 'high road'. It may be a leap forward to resolving some issues that have been created by the Status Quo, the folks that know better than the residents, and begin to heal the division that has been carved into the Estes Park community over the last 2 years.
Making that statement is not the advice that the Town Staff is giving Chuck for sure, since the talk around the Town Hall water cooler is 'who will lose their jobs after the election is final? That's not the conversation at the street shop water cooler, or parks department water cooler- those employees and others to be sure work their butts off and the people in this community love them for it. We hear it's going on at the Administration water cooler (figuratively of course).
There should be no sense among "Town Staff" that any one candidate is going to fire anyone - remove it from your mind. You folks that collectively refer to yourselves as "Staff" (capitalization to show importance) should be contemplating that your actual employer (We The People) are concerned enough to elect some new supervisors to try and get a handle on things with our local government.
It has already happened. The people are not content with Status Quo.
Time for Change at Town Hall?
This week, ballots for the Town of Estes Park General Election will arrive in local voters mailboxes. This is a mail-in election only, with 'election day' (due date) of April 5th.
Throughout the Loop process, there has been a lot of well substantiated, well deserved criticism of the process that has allowed the FLAP/Loop project to move forward. Just read down on this page to discover some of the antics of our current Town Trustees.
Amazingly, the representatives that this community elected have come up a little short to represent the community sentiment faithfully. Some sitting trustees have even said that they would be better suited to determine the outcome of this issue than the citizens.
Here are some points to ponder when completing your election ballot for the Town of Estes Park General Election:
This election is basically:
A) Voting to stick with 'experienced' government mentality Trustees, or,
B) Elect new representatives that bring a fresh look at our existing issues- with some of them offering pertinent experience to hit the ground running.MAYOR CANDIDATES
- 30 year small business owner in Estes Park
- Past school board president
- 'Walked' every Estes Park street to connect with residents (and get a look at the streets)
- Has been critical of The Loop process and the false pretense of building a loop for better park access
- Looking carefully at Town's weak financial reserves
- Raised the issue of the current deferral of maintenance which now exceeds one hundred million dollars (which must be completed by the Town sooner than later)
- Has specifically identified areas to improve on with housing and vacation rentals
- Said "If you want status quo, don't vote for me"
- EP resident for 32 years
- [Why we're voting for him: He recognizes issues others overlook, gathers info from all sides and takes action without creating mountains out of molehills. He seems efficient and fair].
- Former 8 year Estes Park Trustee, who voted for the Multi Purpose Event Center at the fairgrounds
- 27 year government employee before moving to Estes
- Current member of Park Hospital District Board
- Offers "Vison", "Collaboration" and "Voice"
- EP resident for 14 years
- [Why we're not voting for Chuck: Too much government in him. Consider a couple of his government leader endorsers: current Mayor Bill Pinkham, past park superintendent Vaughn Baker. We need to take a fresh look in this election, not stick with the same ol' government. We appreciate your service, but need new eyes on the issues]
[X] Todd Jirsa
[ ] Chuck Levine
[ ] Christine Heiberger
[X] Cody Rex Walker
[X] Jessica McGee
[ ] John Meissner (write in candidate) or
[ ] Charley Dickey
[ ] Paul Fishman
[ ] Ron Norris
[ ] Pat Martchink
[ ] Joseph Placek
- "When I came to Estes Park, I knew this was where I’d spend the rest of my life. Majestic views, awe inspiring wildlife and a wonderful people. Growing up in a small town where everyone knew each other and looked after one another, finding Estes Park made me feel at home."
- Experience: Baker, Freelance Artist
with over 25+ years of Customer Service and Retail Management
experience, and former business owner Student Lobbyist, Community
Cleanup, Event Organizer
- EP resident for 2 years
- [Why we're not voting for Christine: She is very well intentioned and intensely promoting a happier, kinder community, but lacks the experience to lead the community through some difficult issues]
- Advocating for all ages, but represents young professionals & family perspective personally
- Family has lived in EP since 60's
- Born, raised and now working full time in EP
- Works at Housing Authority, understand this issue well
- 'Horrified' to hear that The Loop project is projected to be twice the submitted budget, but Not decided on The Loop, and very interested to hear 'what her community has to say' and what the results of the EA will be.
- EP resident for 35 years
- [Why we're voting for Jessica: She is articulate when she speaks and has obviously been paying attention to local events her entire life. Her young view is a perspective the Town Board has been completely missing for... ever?]
- Citizen activist with Town events and procedures, attending and leading several citizen focus groups
- Has run for Trustee before
- Actively Involved with 10+ local boards
- In favor of The Loop 'at this moment in time'
- Has initiated several traffic and parking studies on his own
- EP Resident for 7 years
- [Why we want to vote for him: Charley isn't just saying he will get involved, he has demonstrated that he will get involved. It's a double edged sword: is he in bed with local government leaders? He seems to be an independent thinker and has a strong character, so we think he would do a good job representing the people.]
- One of the smartest guys we know (former DuPont engineer). Understands complex issues. He's an engineer, and evaluates things like an engineer. Facts. Facts. Facts.
- Current Trustee, that voted against a public vote regarding The Loop. Recently he has said he will reserve his judgement of The Loop until when the final EA is in. So, he's not taking a position despite the overwhelming input from his electors.
- EP resident for 9 years
- [Why we can't vote for Ron: He didn't return phone calls at the beginning of the heated discussion about The Loop, and seemed to disappear during that period of time when there were lots of tough personal questions to answer. Also, we need a change in the way the Town runs currently]
- Uniquely qualified to represent young families
- Works as a physical therapist full time in EP
- Promoting health, education & overall wellness
- In favor of The Loop, and not in favor of a public vote on the issue. Says voters elect trustees to vote for them on important issues.
- EP Resident for 7 years
- Says he brings an open mind that will listen to all sides before voting. However:
- [Why we can't vote for Patrick: He laid down a challenge at the candidates forum to the voters and said that (summary) Voters know where the candidates stand on issues, and should keep that in mind when they cast their ballots... Right after he said 'No Loop', and 'No Vote on The Loop'. Sounds like his mind was already made up, so we'll take another look at him during the next election. Hope he doesn't go away- he seems interested in making a positive difference and there's a lot of places for him to pitch in]
Cody Rex Walker
- Eagle Scout in High School, current Scout leader in EP
- Owns and operates 2 of the largest stables in town
- School board member for 5 years
- Has said he is against The Loop, but more importantly:
- Is interested in a solution that will heal the damage caused by the way The Loop process has been handled, including bringing the Loop to a public vote which he says would allow citizens to take ownership of the results and begin healing to work together
- Specific ideas on housing, budget and other issues
- EP resident for 30 years
we're voting for Cody: He is a slam dunk; heavily invested in the
community through business and family, and strong enough to make the
best decision even if it's not the most popular one]
- Official Write-In candidate
- Remarkable local historian with a firm grasp on local events 100 years ago, and the most current issues facing Estes Park. Ask him any question, you'll see.
- Willing and experienced asking tough questions that no one else wants to talk about or even acknowledge. He always does so with respect and humility.
- Takes issue with current Trustee sentiment that citizens should not be allowed to vote on such an important issue as The Loop. In favor of a public vote.
- Has spoken out against The Loop and the mess it has created
- [Why we want to vote for John: He's the third best candidate, but because he is a write in, a vote for him may cost valuable votes when every single vote is going to matter. If you want him, WRITE IN HIS NAME and vote! He won't let us down.]
- Always interested in Town events, government activities and attends nearly every meeting that's scheduled
- Connects with people a lot downtown. Stops into businesses regularly to discuss current events
- Passionate about doing the right thing
- Eager to please.
- EP resident for 14 years
- [Why we can't vote for him: Paul is way too nice and too eager to please. Not decisive enough to take a stand on hot topics. We do like him a lot though, and hope he continues to contribute as an informed citizen; we need more citizens like Paul in Estes]
- Says "We need to look to the safety and needs of the residents and visitors, both for a more diverse and robust year-round business environment and for community stability."
- Also says "We shouldn’t ask what we can do for our businesses but rather: What are our businesses doing to promote community and a welcoming place to visit."
- Interested in preserving the character of Estes Park (!)
- Owned a design studio and music production company
- His best quote "The time has come to plant the trees under whose shade we will never sit."
- EP resident for 2 years
- [Why we can't vote for Joseph: He just doesn't have enough personal experience in this community to govern it. We hope he will become more involved as a an informed citizen, because he has the right attitude for the long term planning of Estes Park.]
Update 3/15: We won the bet! When the candidates were announced formally a couple of months ago- we predicted who the Trail Gazette would endorse- based completely on the newspapers affection for pro government 'experienced' candidates. Sure enough- the Trail Gazette endorsed Ron Norris, Paul Fishman, Charley Dickey and Chuck Levine. Yay for our bet! Too bad for gullible TG readers.
Earlier commentary and articles are posted on the 'Loop Update' page, click here to view it.