Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Six months ago, Steamboat Pilot & Today published my first weekly column. During that period, I've received hundreds of comments and questions about the opinions I've expressed and the topics I've selected. Today, I'll attempt to address the most frequent inquiries.
Most of the questions I receive fit within the categories of what, when and why. What issues are important to me? Why are they important? And, when do I think an issue should be covered in a relatively small and insular community?
The issues that most interest me are those involving public policy. How public officials conduct themselves and how they reach decisions that impact the communities they represent are paramount each week when I reprioritize the ever-growing list of topics I maintain.
A quick look at the columns I've written since Feb. 29 demonstrates there is no dearth of important public policy issues in Routt County.
Those issues include: racism; the interaction between Triple Crown Sports and our community; the propriety of elected representatives favoring one constituent over others as illustrated by the striping of Routt County Road 36; the granting of variances far in excess of building codes; an elected official's duty when convicted of a crime; the lack of civic participation at public meetings; light pollution in our valley; the number of illegal residences in Steamboat as revealed by the death of David Engle and the lack of any meaningful policy changes in response to his death; the divisive nature of Steamboat Springs School Board member John DeVincentis; and the lack of civilian control of the Oak Creek Police Department.
Why do I think public policy issues are worth writing about? Because those issues impact the largest number of citizens, and the level of civic involvement in the resolution of issues of public concern is often a good barometer of the civic health of a community.
For example, I am struck by the difference between how the residents of Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek are reacting to issues currently confronting their respective elected officials.
Steamboat Springs is dealing with the controversial termination of a city manager and the selection of a new manager, during a crucial time period given pending revenue and urban growth challenges. Oak Creek is dealing with a controversial police chief and significant issues concerning separation of powers and civilian oversight.
But here's the difference:
At a Steamboat Springs City Council meeting held specifically to obtain community input about the desired qualities for the next city manager, three people addressed the council. Out of about 11,000 Steamboat Springs residents, three showed up to speak to the council about their views on choosing who will lead the city administratively for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, at a recent meeting in Oak Creek, 40 residents - out of a population of 950 - crammed the meeting room and an adjacent hallway to express their view of the police department. That's the statistical equivalent of 450 Steamboat residents. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of merchants in Oak Creek ran an ad for three days in the Steamboat Pilot & Today offering an apology to Routt County for the current policing situation in Oak Creek.
So, while some scoff at the current situation in Oak Creek, I believe Oak Creek's strong citizen participation on a controversial issue demonstrates a far higher level of civic health than that of Steamboat.
Finally, the question of when an issue should be covered in a relatively small and insular community is thornier than it might appear. I constantly hear from readers who believe I shouldn't cover controversial topics while the controversy is under way, because they think it impolite.
I am not unsympathetic to that argument, but I firmly believe the best medicine for public policy disputes and controversial topics is full exposure of the facts and issues involved. That allows residents to become fully engaged and exert pressure on policy makers to bring about change where desired and in a timely fashion.
In the weeks and months to come, I'll continue to follow these issues and others, including affordable housing; urban growth boundaries; illegal immigration; public budgets; community organization funding; suicide rates; alcohol use by minors; and the role of the press in public policy matters.
I hope you'll continue to participate in my columns by continuing to provide feedback.
To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob@InsideIDTheft.info