EDITORIAL: Old Enough to Change Her Name, Part Six

Read Part One

“My 4-year-old daughter doesn’t like her name, apparently, and wants to be called a different name. A variation of her name. Is this normal? Should I follow her wishes? No one suggested this name to her, and I’m not even sure where she heard it…”

— Parent query posted to BabyCenter.com, August 2013

No irreparable psychological harm is unlikely to result, I suspect, from allowing your 4-year-old daughter to change her name. Nor should any noticeable harm ensue from changing the name of the Dry Gulch Reservoir project to “The San Juan River Headwaters Project” — in spite of the fact that the proposed “less than $100 million” project is still located in the geographical area known as Dry Gulch. (The “less than $100 million” figure comes from a two-part article written by San Juan Water Conservancy District President Rod Proffitt, and published in the Daily Post last month.)

For that matter, very little harm should result from voter approval of a property tax increase slated for the November ballot, that would triple the tax revenues paid to the SJWCD. Most taxpayers probably wouldn’t even notice the difference. (Business owners would probably notice it, however… since they pay, here in Colorado, about four times the property tax rate of residential property owners.)

But just because something doesn’t hurt, is no reason to do it — as any mother of a four-year-old daughter probably understands.

And just because something is illegal, is no reason to do it. Certainly, there’s no good reason to violate, for example, Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, CRS Section 1-45-101, et seq. (Often referred to as the FCPA.)

If you visit the Colorado Special Districts Association website, you will find numerous informational pages that encourage special districts — like SJWCD — to avoid doing illegal things. Not only is illegal behavior likely to run up your attorney bills, but it also makes you look bad — and who needs to look bad, when you are trying to triple your property tax income?

Here’s an excerpt from a page on sdaco.org — the Colorado Special Districts Association website — discussing the use of taxpayer resources to promote a ballot issue like the tax increase proposed by SJWCD:

The FCPA prohibits a Government from (1) making any contribution in a campaign involving the nomination, retention, or election of any person to any public office; and (2) expending any public moneys from any source to urge electors to vote for or against any state-wide ballot issue, local ballot issue, referred measure, or measure for the recall of any officer. … Therefore, in most cases, the employees and officials of a Government must not use any Government money or resources to support a candidate’s campaign or to attempt to convince voters to vote for or against an election question, including questions that have been placed on the ballot by the Government itself. For example, after calling for a bond election, a special district may not use district money to pay for fliers and visual aids that support the bond issue. … Likewise, a school district may not post information on its website advocating the passage of a bond issue that it has referred to voters.

It is important to note that a Government may violate this law without specifically asking voters to “vote for” or “vote against” an election question. Any communication discussing an election subject to the FCPA that favors one position will violate the FCPA.

So here’s where we run into a bit of a sticky mess. SJWCD purchased radio time on a local radio station earlier this week, using ‘government money.’ The subject of the advertising was the Dry Gulch Reservoir — to use its old name.  The campaign expenditure focused on an interview with SJWCD Board member Ray Finney.

The interview was (in my humble opinion) one long, 30-minute promotion of SJWCD’s November ballot issue…

… you can listen to the entire interview here…

… but near the end of the program, the interviewer made an attempt to get Mr. Finney to discuss the “cons” of the Dry Gulch project — to lend an air of unbiased impartiality to the 30-minute ad.

Unfortunately, Mr. Finney — whom I personally respect as an intelligent and well-meaning community member — was unable to mention a single negative issue connected with the Dry Gulch tax increase… other than the fact that it is, indeed, a tax increase.

You can hear the final four minutes of the interview, here:

Okay, maybe I’m being unfair. I have 10 years of experience writing here in the Daily Post about the negative aspects of the Dry Gulch fiasco, and all the reasons why it was originally, still remains, and will forever be a “Colorado Water Industry” boondoggle. (Do a search on our website using the search term “gulch” and you will find some of those past articles.)

The volunteers who serve for no pay on our local water district boards cannot be expected to actually understand water law, campaign finance law, and contract law. (Volunteers who are handsomely paid? Now, that might be a different story.)

But if I’m a volunteer, and I don’t understand these complicated laws — or at the very least, the Spirit of these laws — then maybe I shouldn’t be planning a $100 million reservoir. Maybe I should leave that kind of work to the Big Boys.

In the final four minutes of his paid advertisement for Dry Gulch, Mr. Finney noted that we have a number of serious needs here in Archuleta County.  Our road system, for example, is falling apart, piece by piece.  To quote former County Commissioner Chris Chavez, as published in the Pagosa Springs SUN “Letters” section:

How sad to see how Archuleta County services and Road and Bridge have disappeared. First, the County sold our gravel crushers, next they sold the oil distributor used for chip and sealing and paving, and then they sold the John Deere tractor and mower. Now we have miles of musk thistle on County Road 700. Where did our weed spraying go? Never have we seen such poor conditions…

During my term, 12 years on the BOCC, our crews did paving (cold mix) at Pagosa Lakes, Piedra Estates, Arboles and the airport; we did chip and sealing and oil patching. We built the first ambulance building, and three bridges. We prepared the foundation for the addition to the court house and new vault…

Now I see the County hauling crushed sandstone — the worst material for roads — causing a muddy mess in the spring. What’s happened to our roads? County Road 700 to County Road 500 is full of washboards. County Road 500 to Arboles is full of pot holes…

I wish the County Commissioners would get out from behind their desks… and see the terrible shape the county is in.

Roads are merely one of the many crucial issues facing our community. We in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Our schools are struggling to find teachers. Our BOCC thinks we need a Sheriff’s facility bigger than the entire County Courthouse. Our broadband and cell phone access is sub-par.

One thing we don’t have a problem with? Enough water. Just ask any of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board members about our water supplies. I suspect they will be very clear with you: Archuleta County doesn’t need to spend “less than $100 million” on a Dry Gulch reservoir.

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.