OPINION: Bulls in a china shop

At the March 19th commissioner meeting, dozens of residents were present to question the recent decision to eliminate the Upper North Fork seat to the Delta County Planning Commission (PC).

Several simply wanted Jen Sanborn, who had held the seat for more than three years, reinstated. Others questioned the transparency of the appointments and their legality under county regulations.

Commissioners summed up their reasoning by telling the public that the “system needed to be fixed.” They told residents they made the decision so that each district would have equal representation.

The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that Delta County’s planning areas are not divided by population, as are districts. They are – by design – divided by community. The Upper North Fork is very different, community-wise, from Crawford for example.

More than ten years ago, Delta County’s planning department put considerable resources into developing the Planning Commission bylaws, the planning areas and how each area would be represented. The process was long, and involved countless hours of well thought-out work, yet it took commissioners minutes to dismantle the PC makeup, conceivably breaking the system rather than fixing it.

A close examination of meeting minutes obtained by a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request revealed that no discussion about why commissioners felt that the system needed to be fixed was recorded on public record.

Commissioner Don Suppes, who brought the original complaint to fellow commissioners, said on March 20, 2017, during a public meeting, he did so “after a discussion with RPI,” the county’s consultant for the Master Plan update. He provided no details and commissioners simply agreed.

In a conversation I had last week with Gabe Preston, principal consultant with RPI, said he didn’t recall any conversation involving the PC makeup other than anecdotally mentioning how Park County planning is done. He added that he didn’t know a lot about how Delta County’s PC was configured.

Commissioner Mark Roeber, whose district lost a PC seat, agreed that the system needed to be fixed. “There needs to be more equalization among the districts,” says Roeber. In other words, he and the other commissioners, have chosen their own political districts over community uniqueness and their right to representation. As a result, one such community has lost its voice – the Upper North Fork.

Rather than district equalization on the PC, would it have been smarter to examine the planning areas, which were meant to be redesigned as communities grow and change?

Commissioner Suppes’ original complaint could have been easily addressed by adding an additional planning area within his district. Cedaredge is arguably very different from Orchard City.

At the end of the day, had this discussion taken place in a public forum with County staff, the Planning Commission and members of the public, well-considered options, without public backlash, would have been a lot more likely.

It’s called the democratic process.

JoAnn Kalenak, DCCR senior blogger