It has come to my attention recently that there is an unhappy camper among the readers of PeachTown News, and since he has taken the trouble to comment on our Facebook page and request ‘transparency’ (and the fact that I am Facebook-inept)  I thought I should respond to his comments transparently on PeachTown News as well. He has also touched on a favorite topic of mine, civic responsibilities and expectations.

Here’s the first comment we received after publication of a summary of the Planning Commission meeting recommending that Trustees issue a Conditional Use Permit for a marijuana infused product manufacturer, and the follow-up responses:

James JJ Fletcher: No surprise! Just smoke and mirrors. The announcement of the agenda was released the day of the meeting. The “town” approves!

Betsy McLaughlin: For the record, the agenda and meeting packet were available at Town Hall on Tuesday, December 30, for any interested citizens, not January 5, the day of the meeting, per JJ’s comment. As a courtesy, the agendas are usually put on the town website as well, although the legal requirement is that the agenda be posted at town hall, which it was. Due to the New Year holiday, the agenda was not online until Monday morning, Jan. 5, the day of the meeting, but IT HAD BEEN AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED on Dec. 30. The “town” has yet to approve; as the story says, the Trustees will hear the matter at their January 27 meeting. There will be a public hearing, with the meeting starting at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center meeting room.

Betsy McLaughlin: OOPS! The public hearing is actually at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 13, not 7 p.m. on January 27 as I said in the previous comment. So sorry!

James JJ FletcherThe Peach Town News is a web based publication. In order to be fair and transparent I would believe you would give adequate notice on the web site. Would you put the newspaper on the wall at the city hall and hope someone might read it? Provide the public with adequate notice on the web site. Why even bother to inform the public, are voice is seldom heard. I pay thousands in property taxes in the town of Palisade. I believe I have a right to be properly informed. It seems like the decision has been made, and someone is in such a hurry to get the ball rolling. It takes 6 months to get a drilling permit on average in Colorado, and currently the permitting on a coal mine takes 5 years. So what is the hurry? In one week you will pass this permit, from the planning Commission to the Trustees. Seems very rushed. It takes Joe (P)ublic time to let the community spread the word. Why not hold a town meeting and give all the facts to the community, allow the town people to voice their concerns to the Trustees and the mayor. Allow some time for folks to express the pros and cons of this decision. I have been waiting on the Keystone pipeline for Five years. I want Government to work for us. The towns seems to be focused on special interest, not broad based development.

Betsy McLaughlin: I guess a little more explanation may be in order here regarding civic responsibility and informational websites.

First of all, the PeachTown News is a completely volunteer operation and, at the current time, it is taking every bit of ‘staff time’ that we have available each week just to attend and report on the various board and committee meetings and events in Palisade. We are making improvements to our website as time and information become available. This website is not a part of the Town of Palisade government, not tax supported, not directed by town hall. We’re just a couple of local folks who couldn’t stand the fact that Palisade had no newspaper any more, and wanted to still get information to citizens that the Daily Sentinel wasn’t going to cover.

My point here is that as citizens, we might be asked to look at new sources of information and new routines of communication as we enter into this new era of news delivery. At an age where I’m not yet ready for Medicare, I’m still a dinosaur when it comes to the new technologies, SmartPhones, tablets, the Cloud (???), streaming everything, whatever that means…and then there’s Facebook… AND also to the new ways of doing things. Change is hard, but life goes on.

As to your comment about town meeting schedules, “why don’t we put the newspaper on the wall at town hall and hope someone might read it?” You were obviously being sarcastic, but that’s exactly how it has been done since I moved here six years ago. Of course, the ‘newspaper’ terminology is your own inclusion, but notices of public meetings have always been posted at the entrance to Town Hall as required by Colorado statutes. They’ve also been put on the Town website, purely as a courtesy by the town staff. They were also printed in the Palisade Tribune, in space donated by the publisher. Now that we are without our paper, any notices of special meetings are paid for by the town and printed in the Daily Sentinel 14 days before each meeting. The ‘Public Notices’ section of the Sentinel is where the special meeting notices are to be found, as required by statute.

As a recent candidate for local public office and past Chamber president, I really can’t believe that you weren’t aware of when town meetings are and don’t really feel that it is the fault of PeachTown News. We will be adding a calendar page to the website this week, however, and will keep all town meetings on the calendar.

As I’ve written many times before, town business does not go on hiatus simply because citizens quit paying attention.  And just because you “pay thousands (of dollars) in property taxes in the town of Palisade,” you are not entitled to spoon-fed information. You certainly do have a right to be “properly informed”, as you stated. And you are, the town that collects your tax money has always supplied meeting agendas and notices of meetings as required. It’s actually your civic responsibility and obligation to avail yourself of the information that the town (and the non-profit, volunteer website, the daily paper, the chamber, the library, and local TV news) put out. The PeachTown News website is not required to follow any state statutes regarding posting notices, agendas, etc. to the public although we certainly try to inform, but the Town is required to and has always done so! Consider yourself “properly informed,” your tax dollars are working on your behalf.

I’m sorry but I’m stunned at your suggestion that the town “hold a meeting to allow the citizens to voice their concerns to the Trustees and Mayor.” WHAT IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK THEY DO EVERY SECOND AND FOURTH TUESDAY EVENING OF EACH MONTH???? Just because you might be too busy to attend regularly scheduled trustee meetings does not mean that all work stops!!! There is a dedicated agenda item called “Public Comment” at every meeting. I’m not sure what else the town can do to invite participation, and still keep some semblance of organization.

Instead, why don’t citizens pay attention to the town government that they are already paying to work on their behalf? Regularly scheduled monthly and bi-monthy meetings aren’t hard to put on your calendar, whether it is on the side of your refrigerator, or electronically in your SmartPhone or tablet.

Contrary to your Facebook post, no “decisions have been made” and there is no hurry to “get the ball rolling;” the ball has been rolling for over a year now (slow enough?) as the town staff has worked on different aspects of marijuana legislation. It has been on agendas and discussed at many public trustee and planning commission meetings over the past months. A decision will be made about this facet of marijuana legislation on January 13 by the Trustees at the end of a long process that not everyone has been paying attention to, although it has been reported on in the Palisade Tribune, the Daily Sentinel, the PeachTown News, and the local TV stations.

I’ve been writing for a couple of years now in the Palisade Tribune and the PeachTown News to your friend, Joe Public, to try to get him to pay attention and get involved in our local government, but after a meeting or two with slightly increased attendance, we’re always back to the same old handful of regulars again.

At the trustees meeting regarding the outdoor growing of marijuana a couple of months ago, the entire crowd got up and left in the middle of the meeting, after discussion of THEIR issue was done. Where’s all the civic interest? After taking the trouble to get dressed and drive to town to protest their issue, no one could be bothered to stay for the rest of the meeting to see what else goes on in the town they were SO concerned about only moments before. What does that say?

The current issues aren’t being hurried or rushed, as a matter of fact, work has been going on for the better part of a year now on local marijuana ordinances. If an issue is important to one of you, you really need to make an effort to inform yourself, it’s YOUR civic duty, after all, and come to a meeting if you have something to say! I’m not sure how else you expect to be heard…

As for your question “Why even bother to inform the public, are (our?) voice is seldom heard;” the only reason it isn’t heard is because you rarely attend any town meetings (except for the one in September where your group talked loudly at the back of the room through the entire meeting. The other citizens attending that meeting deserved more respect than that, whether or not you thought the trustees did.)

Our town trustees and planning commissioners are bound by a concept called “ex-parte contact,” which means that the members of either committee are not allowed to discuss the matters before them in town meetings unless they are all together and the public has been notified. This, simply put, is to prevent pairs or trios from working together against the interests of the rest, without oversight by the public. I can’t speak for the Trustees, but as a Planning Commissioner I can say that the commission NEVER meets between monthly meetings unless there is a special meeting that has been correctly noticed to the public. We don’t talk on the phone to each other, we don’t hang out together. We each receive our packets of information and must do our own research and come to our own conclusions. Meetings are the time for discussion and listening to any other information offered by the public. What happens when no ‘public’ shows up? Just what is happening now, town business goes on without public input. Not the best way for a participatory democracy such as ours to operate…

That is why it is SO IMPORTANT that citizens pay attention to the twice-monthly trustee meetings. The trustees set the policies and procedures, the town staff then takes the ball and does the daily work. The staff works for the trustees who work for US. FYI, The town staff is paid, the trustees receive a minimal stipend and the planning commission is all-volunteer. As I mentioned above, there is a dedicated “Public Comment” segment of each meeting, specifically for citizens to speak about any topic of concern that is not on the evening’s agenda.

If you ever attended, you might have heard the Town Clerk, Lindsey Chitwood, offer to email an agenda prior to each trustee or other town committee meeting to anyone that requested to be on her email list. Information is freely distributed, you just need to ask. It couldn’t be much easier. Your tax dollars are working for you.

Finally, what “special interest” do you think the town is catering to? I’m guessing it’s medical marijuana, one of the few businesses still contributing to Palisade’s economy? One that was approved by voters years ago?

And what’s so “special” about the interest? I’m guessing it’s the ‘controlled substance’ part? Similar to the also-legal ‘controlled substances’ heavily promoted and sold at our local tasting rooms, distilleries and festivals? Or the ‘controlled substances’ sold to authorized individuals at the Palisade Pharmacy? Or, are those “special interests” too? I guess I don’t understand your definition, maybe you meant something else…

Is there any suggested alternate source of funding for desperately needed street repairs, for example, in order to avoid collecting any more money from the legitimately operating “special interest?” I’m not sure everyone realizes, but the tasting rooms and orchards and alpaca farms do not support the Town of Palisade financially, they are almost all outside the town limits for tax collection purposes. So, as important as they all are toward our overall picture (and they definitely ARE important!), most don’t vote and don’t pay town property taxes as a rule. “Broad-based development” is a great goal, but why stifle the development that we have?

If there is doubt as to the accuracy of reports that are published in PeachTown News, there is an audio recording of each trustee and planning commission meeting available if you request a link. I’ll be glad to send you the link to the recording if you’d like to listen to the proceedings of the meeting. Just ask. The audio files are so large that I don’t keep them on my laptop, they eat up the memory, but I can sure send one!

PeachTown News is limited, as I mentioned previously, by lack of time, money, writers, advertising revenue, and any number of other obstacles. However, we try to improve and add content and features as time allows. This week, for instance, we’ll be adding a calendar tab at the top of the webpage to include town meetings, events and other important dates, as well as another dedicated tab along the top of the page for Palisade High School news. A paid staff would get it done faster, but there we are again…

There’s no one that wants our little newspaper back more than I do, but the times are a-changing, and a newspaper isn’t coming back; not without a huge, generous and ongoing bankroll.

SO…Let’s buck up, please, and quit whining about things that you don’t want to take the time or trouble to learn about. If you need to challenge my (our) honesty and integrity in a public forum, which I felt you did, I will respond publicly as well, in the interest of transparency.

On the subject of participation, there is currently a vacancy on the Board of Trustees to fill the seat recently vacated by Cody Butters’ relocation. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, a resident of the Town of Palisade (that requirement is set by state statute, not local decision) and able to attend meetings twice a month and occasionally a special meeting, training or board retreat. Contact the Town Clerk, Lindsey Chitwood, for more information and an application. There are important decisions facing the town in the near future, and more voices need to be heard.