EDITORIAL: Courthouse Fantasies, Part Three

Read Part One

Just then a bell rang, and the green girl said to Dorothy,

“That is the signal. You must go into the Throne Room alone.”

She opened a little door and Dorothy walked boldly through and found herself in a wonderful place. It was a big, round room with a high arched roof, and the walls and ceiling and floor were covered with large emeralds set closely together.

But what interested Dorothy most was the big throne of green marble that stood in the middle of the room. It was shaped like a chair and sparkled with gems, as did everything else. In the center of the chair was an enormous Head, without body to support it or any arms or legs whatever. There was no hair upon this head, but it had eyes and nose and mouth, and was bigger than the head of the biggest giant.

As Dorothy gazed upon this in wonder and fear the eyes turned slowly and looked at her sharply and steadily. Then the mouth moved, and Dorothy heard a voice say:
“I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Who are you, and why do you seek me?”

It was not such an awful voice as she had expected to come from the big Head; so she took courage and answered,

“I am Dorothy, the Small and Meek. I have come to you for help.”

Back to the January 2 regular meeting of the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners.

The three County commissioners listened quietly, for the most part, as Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez finished explaining that he was trying, first and foremost, to protect the County government from lawsuits that might arise, should the Sheriff and his staff, and the general public, and any inmates, be affected by the environmental dangers lurking within the County Courthouse. The Sheriff seemed very confident that such dangers exist, and that leasing or purchasing some other building in the community is the only reasonable solution for the Sheriff’s Office.

The cost of such a building space appeared to be in the neighborhood of $6,000 a month.

He had also complained that the BOCC, as a whole, had painted the Sheriff as “the bad guy” in this controversy.

Commissioner Michael Whiting:

“I’m going back in my memory, and thinking about the written documents that we’ve produced. At no time — and I wouldn’t say the same thing about the [Sixth Judicial District] — but at no time have we pinned you as the bad guy, or the Sheriff’s Office as the bad guy. Not once. Not ever.

“We’ve been operating from the high ground, from the get-go. We’re still on the high ground, on this. You say you won’t go back into the [Courthouse.] I’ve accepted that. We’ve accepted it. But let’s not bring up science, because that’s a losing argument in the public.”

The three County Commissioners hinted they felt confident that the dangers were imaginary, and had resulted from a misinterpretation of several scientific tests of the air quality inside the Courthouse. While the commissioners sounded sympathetic concerning the Sheriff’s efforts to move out of the cramped quarters in which he and his staff are currently operating, they also indicated that the Sheriff’s information would be further considered at a future BOCC meeting, and that no decisions would be made, one way or the other, at this particular meeting.

Commissioner Ronnie Maez:

“The financial ask that you’re asking… is a lot. Because I believe in the science, and the data. The expense put a huge burden on the people — the taxpayers of Archuleta County. That’s what I have a little bit of a problem with. How do we justify the expense of that? If we do rent. Or if we do buy.”

These responses seemed to fall heavily upon the Sheriff’s ears.

Sheriff Valdez:

“Well, I can tell you this, Commissioner Maez, that you have four tests — and we have three of the four tests that we believe prove there’s something wrong with that building. We believe that Dr. Kosnet is not someone you can refute.”

(Here at the Daily Post, we respectfully disagree with that statement.  You can read our analysis of Dr. Kosnet’s questionable report here.)

“The bottom line is, that we believe it’s there,” the Sheriff argued.

He didn’t clarify what he believed “it” to be.  Hydrogen sulfide?  Carbon dioxide?  Something as yet unidentified?

He then continued:

And the bottom line is, you need to look at the future of this organization. You’re talking about expenses and you’re talking about saving money. What’s going to end up happening is you’re going to have legal expenses, and you’re going to start dragging us into the courts. You’re going against a pretty big entity.”

(I presume the Sheriff is here referring to the Sixth Judicial District.)

“You can sit here and say you don’t want to put a burden on the taxpayers. But it’s going to hit the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Wadley:

“I think at some point, the commissioners are going to have to schedule an executive session to talk about this.”

Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez hammers home his argument at the January 2, 2018 Board of County Commissioners’ meeting.

Sheriff Valdez:

“You have to understand that the staff that you employ are also citizens of this community. They are also taxpayers… And they have the right to work in a clean, safe environment. It’s your responsibility to provide a safe working environment. And it’s your responsibility to provide a jail — which has failed to happen for the past three years.”

The Sheriff had, by this point, very nearly lost his temper, and was hammering on the podium for emphasis.

“You can tell me that you want to save the taxpayers money, but you’ve spent more money over the last three and a half years, putting this off. And I’m telling you, it’s going to bankrupt the County. The arrogance of this Board is going to bankrupt the County.”

A short pause while the Sheriff calmed himself down.

“I hope you don’t — how does Mr. Weiler say it? I hope you don’t mistake my passion for anger. But this is a big issue, and I have 44 individuals that I’m willing to stand up and fight for. I owe it to them. The right thing to do is to get us out of that building and put us in another building…”

Read Part Four…


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.