EDITORIAL: Eye of the Courthouse Storm? Part Two

Read Part One

I recently uncovered the nature of reality from a man on a flaming pie, who handed me an herbal cigarette. I now know that previously I was a body in a vat being poked by a malignant demon…

— Contributor Simon Maltman, writing on the PhilosophyNow.org website

At the February 6 BOCC meeting, Commissioner Steve Wadley continued to summarize his Denver meeting, on January 29, with the representatives of the Colorado Judicial Department, including the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. As we’d heard from County Attorney Todd Starr — who had also attended the meeting — this was something of a ‘Hail Mary Pass,’ before the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners potentially commence with a lawsuit aimed at compelling the Sixth Judicial District to re-occupy the courtrooms and court offices they vacated last September in the old County Courthouse.

Commissioner Wadley:

“The other point that I think is important to be made is: the information that all those people had been receiving up until that point was through the lens of the [Sixth Judicial District staff.] … I think that was the lens they saw it through. And I think this was the first time they saw it through our lens and what we were dealing with and what we had to provide for. That the courts were not the only game in town.”

Attorney Todd Starr mentioned one of the participants at the January 29 meeting — a prominent litigator with the Attorney General’s office (whom he didn’t name) — and noted:

“The issues between us and the courts really do raise some interesting constitutional issues… and whether or not we end up with some kind of [agreement] or whether we end up doing some form of battle, I really did come away with the feeling that they, too — like my clients, the [Archuleta BOCC] — they just don’t think its right that two [branches] of government should be at this place.

“It’s not what the People want. That’s what the commissioners have always said to me. ‘This is not what the People elected me to do; this is not a good position. So help us, Todd, get out of this position.’ And I think [the court representatives] were also dismayed that two [branches] of government would be in that role.”

Some of our Daily Post readers will recall the close collaboration taking place between the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and the San Juan Water Conservancy District, ten years ago, when those two separate-but-very-friendly agencies were putting local taxpayers $10 million in debt in order to purchase some vacant land in the parched Dry Gulch valley a couple of miles northeast of downtown Pagosa — with the apparent intention of someday building a $357 million reservoir at that location.

Back then, the San Juan Water Conservancy District had no offices of its own, nor any staff. So PAWSD was providing them with office and meeting space, and with staff services at no cost to SJWCD. It was a cozy relationship, with PAWSD board members and staff also sitting on the SJWCD board. The two agencies also shared the same law firm: Collins Cockrel & Cole.

When some new members were elected to the PAWSD board, however, they brought with them a very different perspective about the proper role of their adopted agency, and about the feasibility and necessity of a $357 million reservoir in Dry Gulch.

Things got a bit ugly, between PAWSD and SJWCD. Even though the two agencies jointly owned the 660 acres in Dry Gulch, the new PAWSD board rejected the path the two districts had been happily skipping down, hand in hand.

SJWCD was told to move out of the PAWSD offices, and were denied access to PAWSD staff. The divorce was not pretty. The PAWSD board has since been steadfast in its belief that Dry Gulch was an unjustifiable investment. The SJWCD board continues to promote the project.  (Read about this phase in PAWSD-SJWCD history in this article.)

I suppose no divorce is a happy event for both parties, although it might seem the only reasonable option to at least one of the parties. It takes only one moment to say, “I do…” and then so many tears to prove it wasn’t true.

However, if you perceive that conflict is a natural and even a healthy part of the human condition, then tears will not be necessary.

The relationship the Sixth Judicial District and the Archuleta County government poses — as Attorney Starr suggested — some interesting constitutional issues. This was an arranged marriage, to carry the analogy awkwardly forward. Legally, the Archuleta County government, as an administrative arm of state government, must use some of its tax resources to provide and maintain suitable court facilities for the Judicial Branch. And legally, the Judicial Branch must occupy those suitable court facilities, in service of the taxpayers and residents of Archuleta County.

At the moment, the Sixth Judicial District is holding to their claim that the old County Courthouse is not a suitable facility.

At the moment, the Board of County Commissioners is claiming that the old Courthouse is a suitable facility.

What is the reality of the situation?

To truly answer that question, we might need to delve into a deep philosophical discussion about perception, and decide whether ‘reality’ consists of something ‘outside of’ and separate from our personal perceptions… or if ‘reality’ is something we create, moment by moment, within our own minds. (One particularly interesting take on this debate argues that our perception of reality depends upon the construction of the language we were raised to speak — that the words we use define the boundaries of our reality.)

As an observer of the storm swirling around the County Courthouse, I have no doubt (coming from my own personal perception of reality) that our elected Board of County Commissioners truly believe the old Courthouse is a perfectly suitable facility for occupation by any government agency that can fit its operations into the space provided. The BOCC has been supporting that belief through repeated scientific monitoring of the Courthouse air quality.

I have no doubt the leadership of the Sixth Judicial District believes the Courthouse is unsuitable… for many reasons, including faulty scientific monitoring by the BOCC.

Although Commissioner Wadley and Attorney Starr might wish that two branches of government should always be cooperative and agreeable — in this instance, how can we have anything other than a fight?

I mean, that’s the reality. Isn’t it? The BOCC and the Judicial District have to fight this thing out. May the best man win.

Commissioner Ronnie Maez, speaking at the February 6 meeting:

“I pray that the state comes back with a good, solid, reasonable resolution for this, and then, with that answered, we can move forward with getting the Sheriff some type of facility. Or something.”

Commissioner Michael Whiting then referred to his approved motion, made at the January 2 BOCC meeting, demanding a meeting with the Courts, and also threatening litigation if a suitable compromise were not reached.

“The tail has been wagging the dog for a long long time, and I think our vote [on the January 2 motion] was consensus that we needed to make a strong move, to clarify who we are and what we’re going to do — and what we’re not going to do.

“I’m hopeful.”

Read Part Three…


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.