Saving La Plata?

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Children of the Intellectual Enlightenment, liberals, progressives, seekers of objective facts and rational learning based on constructive debates, believers in our pluralistic society and our democratic way of government, please look around and take note. We are in deep trouble.

For decades while we’ve been distracted with our own concerns, the Koch brothers and friends have been busy spreading their tentacles ever deeper into USA’s election process and they are getting poised for a hostile takeover bid this election season.

They are consolidating their forces and targeting liberal bastions for takedown. Their strategy is to find a local issue that raises blood pressures. Then they feed anxious people their Libertarian Siren Song, heavily dosed with contrived hostility and misinformation.

Here in Durango we have an example unfolding that I want to look at. First the set-up. The Koch front group Americans for Prosperity opened a recruitment office. (Some would call it a brainwashing center, since they don’t listen. Like over-the-top evangelicals brimming with self-certainty, they tell you what to think, accept it or become a bad guy.)

Then another outfit calling itself “SaveLaPlataCounty.com” pops up. Followed by yet another, this one calling itself the LaPlata Liberty Coalition, which set up a blog and Facebook page boasting the wonderfully vague libertarian mission statement: “A Coalition of ‘We The People’ Working to Protect and Preserve the Historical and Constitutional Rights of the Citizens of La Plata County.”

What’s that even mean? Historically we had the right to cruise local roads drinking beer and it wouldn’t bother anyone, but decades sneak by, landscapes that used to be wild and free are full of homes and septic tanks and traffic and kids and all that jazz. Then, “Save” La Plata County dot com. Let that one soak in for a moment. All things considered, “save” sounds a bit hysterical, doesn’t it? When I look at the outside world, seems to me we here are amongst the luckiest people alive. While they deny being connected to the Koch network, a closer look at their blog and braintrusts puts the lie to that denial. It’s too convoluted to explain in this short column, but you can find the documented details at my February 18 AmericansForKochsProsperity. blogspot.com article.

What does La Plata need saving from? The march of time and population growth? An overdue update to our county’s Land Use Code? What’s the gripe? Okay, it seems all sides agree, the Land Use Code’s first draft, released without proper vetting, was a disaster.

The consensus is that all three county commissioners share blame and they have been duly raked over the coals for it by the public outcry. SaveLaPlataCounty’s fix is to start a hostile recall petition against the guilty commissioners. Oh, but wait, they only went after one of them, Gwen Lachelt. I wonder why? Oh yes, Gwen, that squeaky wheel, constantly bitching about protecting public health and making oil companies responsible for their messes.

SaveLaPlata tells us she’s the cancer that must be cut out – it doesn’t matter that the other two commissioners are just as culpable, or that she was reelected with a comfortable margin, or that she has committed no misconduct. Koch and pals want to cleanse our political system of such misfits; she must go.

Interestingly, while “SaveLaPlata” was busy running around creating misunderstanding and ill feelings, on La Plata County’s “dryside” the remnants of our local land-use code planning group, made up of local landowners, approached the problem quite differently.

Four members whose terms had actually expired, but who had never been replaced, decided to take ownership of the problem. They put together a community meeting at the Breen Grange to explain the Land Use Code problems, or more specifically, explain the complex process and what went wrong, along with a suggestion to get the process back on track.

Around a hundred locals gathered to listen, share and learn. Thanks to Jenny Burbey, the ex-chairperson for the Fort Lewis Mesa Planning Group and a wonderfully competent speaker, the meeting was amazing. She explained things succinctly and fielded edgy questions with aplomb. She kept it informative, positive, and moving forward.

For a study in human nature there was the one talkative gent disparaging commissioners for sequestering themselves in town and having no interest in what happens out here in the county. Ironically, having it pointed out that all three commissioners were sitting in the audience listening to us didn’t seem to make much difference in his attitude. Begs the question, what’s the guy upset with, our commissioners or a phantom of his own making?

An interesting development was that, as the problems and process was explained and the layers peeled away, it became clear that it wasn’t only the commissioners’ fault. Surprise, surprise, turns out there is plenty of blame for everyone, including the Planning Department, as well as the firm doing the background research and compiling the draft. Compounding the problem was a decade slipping away with its continuity issues, new staff, forgotten knowledge, bureaucratic constraints – all this conspired to produce a preliminary draft no one likes.

But most fascinating was that it turns out there was another, and possibly the biggest baddest culprit in this fiasco. Our own citizen apathy.

Fact is, that for the past decade we’ve had local planning groups set up, made up of landowners. They were tasked with compiling our expectations and guiding the overall county planning process. That never happened. No surprise, it’s a hideously thorny issue with boring meetings scheduled and no one showing up, and so on and so forth, and the issue fell off everyone’s radar screen.

We set the tempo: ignore the issue. Why be surprised if our elected officials and the bureaucracy slipped into lethargy and dropped the ball? The beauty of the Breen meeting, besides Jenny clearly explaining the issues and problems, was that we got the message.

A reinvigorated community started taking names and making commitments, they set the next planning-group meeting, along with compiling a mailing list to keep the rest of us informed, even took donations for expenses and pretty much everyone pitched in. The ‘flmpg@ yahoo.com’ is back in business and all it took was a three hour meeting of our community talking with each other.

To me that’s what democracy looks like and it requires some good faith between neighbors, and we’d all be better off if the Koch Klan just kept out of our business, but it’s too late for that. Democracy, use it or lose it!

For more information on SaveLaPlata- County’s “Facts” Tainted by Koch’s Dark- Money Tentacles, see https://americansforkochsprosperity. blogspot.com/2018/02/ savelaplatacounty-facts-tainted-kochs.html

Peter Miesler writes from near Durango and has recently started a new blog dedicated to gathering and sharing articles and information about the Americans for (Kochs’) Prosperity, americansforkochsprosperity.blogspot.com

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From Peter Miesler.