Read Part One
Archuleta County commissioner Steve Wadley, who as many of you may know is running for re-election this November, sat at the left hand of County Commission chair Clifford Lucero and spoke to a modest public gathering inside the Extension Building at the County Fairgrounds.
"Again, I think any participation this Board has is largely symbolic. Walmart is a Town issue. The only reason I'm ready to get into this is that people have asked me my position; they've come up to the podium many times and asked us to take a position. And we've said, it isn't any of our business. And now it is, in a very limited way, in dealing with Alpha Drive, and I want to answer some of Ms. Eason's issues later when we vote on the [Alpha Drive Quit Claim Deed] issue.
"And if I can, Mr. Hudson... you're talking about the lack of public hearings. I mean, we didn't have a lot of public hearings when Dollar General came to town. I mean, when you formed your [Pagosa Daily Post] business, I don't think the BoCC had a bunch of public hearings to see if it was a good idea or not.
"I know that this is not the same thing. It's a big project. But ultimately, it's mostly a Town project. The only reason we're involved with this now is because of [Alpha Drive]. It's not our job to tell other governments exactly what to do. That's my reluctance to address it further."
As Mr. Wadley notes here, residents of the County — some of whom will be greatly affected by a monstrously large (by Pagosa standards) Walmart discount store plopping itself down at the edge of a mostly rural neighborhood — have been pleading with commissioners Wadley and Lucero for six months to address the Walmart issue and to make sure the property rights of County residents are protected. And for six months, commissioners Lucero and Wadley have steadfastly refused to take a stand on the issue, claiming Walmart was none of the County's business.
In a few moments, we would be hearing County attorney Todd Starr expound on the subject of Alpha Drive. We would hear him say, for example, that the BoCC could place the question of Alpha Drive's ownership before a judge, and allow an independent party with years of judicial experience make a determination about that sticky issue: to whom, exactly, does Alpha Drive belong?
We would hear Mr. Starr argue that this particular course of action — to ask a judge to decide the question — might not be a good idea, in part because the commissioners might not like the final decision made by the judge.
Instead of placing the issue before a judge, we would hear Mr. Starr suggest, the commissioners could simply sign Alpha Drive over to the Town government via a Quit Claim Deed. If the County does in fact own the road, then the commissioners would have thereby deeded the road to the Town. If it turns out the road actually belongs to someone else — like, say, the Alpha Metro District — then the County's Quit Claim Deed would be meaningless, and harmless. The County is not claiming to know for certain whether it owns any interest in Alpha Drive, Mr. Starr would explain; instead, commissioners Lucero and Wadley would simply be going through the motions of signing a document that deeds to the Town certain property that the County claimed a few weeks ago they didn't own, and which they are still not certain they own. Just on the slim chance that the County does, in fact, own Alpha Drive.
But we have not quite reached that point in the meeting yet. Rather, we have just finished hearing one hour and eight minutes of testimony on a related subject: whether the BoCC should take any position at all, or be involved at all, in the Walmart issue. For six months, commissioners Lucero and Wadley have been arguing that Walmart is none of the County's business, and we just heard commissioner Wadley confirm that fact. Now, for the past hour, we've listened a string of County residents question why, all of a sudden, commissioners Wadley and Lucero have changed their tune?
And why they have changed their tune, without holding any public hearings, and without having any access to the negotiations occurring in Town Hall, and without any information, really, about the proposed development?
Commissioner Clifford Lucero then spoke, following commissioner Wadley's short speech. Commissioner Lucero had, like the rest of us, just listened to one hour of public testimony. Then he announced:
"This is a difficult issue; it's not cut and dried, we all know that. It's a complicated issue, and I have a written statement that I've worked on all weekend."
Sitting as our County representative, commissioner Lucero then read his statement. Commissioner Lucero had decided several days ago how he was going to vote. Clearly, one hour of pleading from his constituents had not affected him in the slightest.
Some of us, at this August 7 meeting, may have still believed that the residents of Archuleta County were actually important to commissioners Wadley and Lucero. Alas, this was apparently not the case.
So let's call a spade a spade, and not dance around the real issue here. What was important to commissioners Wadley and Lucero on August 7 was to give away to mayor Ross Aragon's Town government — via a Quit Claim Deed — a road, the true ownership of which the commissioners were definitely not interested in discovering. What has been important to commissioners Lucero and Wadley for the past six months was to stay as far away as possible from this Walmart issue, and to ignore the pleadings of their constituents — right up until the moment when commissioner Lucero's neighbor, Ross Aragon, needed the BoCC's help to shove Walmart down the throats of the unrepresented residents of Alpha subdivision.
Let's call a spade a spade. What is of utmost importance, to many political operatives in this beautiful little dysfunctional community, is making mayor Ross Aragon happy.
When commissioner Lucero began reading his written speech, I turned off my audio recorder. I attend a lot of government meetings, and I record a lot of political talk into my audio recorder. But this speech by commissioner Lucero, I didn't need to record. It held no real meaning for me.
As the meeting came to a close, the BoCC had — by two-to-one votes — come out officially in support of the Walmart development, and had officially approved a Quit Claim Deed for Alpha Drive, giving away (free of charge) any ownership the County might, or might not, possess in that unpaved road.
And the property rights of the world's 16th largest corporation had been duly protected, despite the fact that Walmart has not yet purchased the property for its store and has, in fact, no property rights to protect.
And the property rights of the County residents in Alpha? What rights are those?
There are many community actions upon which a local government leader might focus his attentions. Bringing the community together in various cooperative efforts might be one. Protecting the environment might be another. Solar energy. Locally grown foods. Safe roads. Innovative educational efforts. Government transparency. Really listening to his constituents.
Or, a government leader might choose to focus nearly all his attentions on the Almighty Dollar.
We cannot doubt that a 93,000 acre-foot Walmart store with a 10-acre parking lot will create a certain number of jobs here in Dysfunctional Springs. We cannot doubt that the existing local retailers who are able to survive the economic tsunami caused by Walmart will come out stronger and wiser.
What I'm not sure about, however, was whether I saw a man in a business suit slip out the back door of the Extension Building following the August 7 BoCC meeting. And, did he really have a signed contract in his hand... and a spade-shaped tail?