- Associated Press - Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Denver Post, Aug. 1, on Colorado agencies holding meetings where they matter

It is sometimes said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. A similar observation can be made about well-intentioned programs when they come up sorely lacking in effectiveness.

A pair of Colorado agencies - which oversee oil and gas, and management of state parks and wildlife - are facing heat for holding hearings far from the communities that wish to weigh in. Regulators at the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Parks and Wildlife ought to rethink and revise a practice meant to create greater transparency and convenience for residents so that it actually accomplishes those laudable goals.

Residents and city officials in Broomfield wish to participate in COGCC hearings regarding spacing applications from Extraction Oil and Gas. But the commission has scheduled the mid-September hearings in Durango, which is roughly 350 miles away.

Holding the hearings in Durango isn’t necessarily a nefarious plot. The commission has for some time sought to bolster transparency and accountability by holding hearings around the state. The rationale is sound and praiseworthy. Instead of making the trip and thereby making residents from the far reaches of the state drive all the way to the Mile High City to attend hearings on matters important to their communities, the COGCC holds some hearings in diverse pockets of the state.

Such a policy is also not easy for commissioners and staff. Further, going on the road requires taxpayer investment; as such, that money and time should be spent responsibly.

Given those concerns, it would seem the schedule is too random for its own good, as those concerned about the matter in Broomfield have discovered. This week Broomfield’s city council agreed to ask the commission to move the hearings back to the Denver area.

Yes, activists opposed to oil and gas development can be difficult for the commission. Only last month we decried what became a failed effort to recall the Broomfield mayor pro tem not for misconduct, but for “failure to support oil and gas local control.”

And yes, activists often bedevil the commission with legal challenges and civil disobedience.

That’s no reason to even appear to be dodging hassle and complaint by holding oil and gas hearings that affect Broomfield in an entirely different part of the state.

Similarly, in Fort Collins, residents wish to attend Parks and Wildlife hearings about a mitigation plan for the Cache La Poudre River. It’s not hard to guess why they are disgruntled over the decision to hold the hearings in Trinidad - more than 260 miles away.

As Save the Poudre’s director, Gary Wockner, puts it: “We’ve been accused of being very loud, but even if we are screaming, I don’t think the commissioners will hear us in Trinidad. We request a hearing in Fort Collins.”

We get it that boisterous public meetings can make it tough for commissioners. The dynamic comes with the territory. But we are firm believers in public access, and the spirit of providing that access should dictate that meetings and hearings of great importance to a community be held in ways that community has a reasonable chance to take part.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2u82AMg

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The Cortez Journal, July 31, on Canyons of the Ancients National Monument surviving review process

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced officially what he said informally a few weeks ago: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has survived the review process intact.

That decision is appropriate because multiple use is alive and well at the monument. Credit is due to Rep. Scott Tipton, among others, for continued advocacy for public lands.

Still in Zinke’s sights is Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Geographically huge, Bears Ears was designated at the tail end of Barack Obama’s presidential term, in keeping with the desires of a coalition of tribes with ancestral and spiritual ties to the landscape there. Although no management plan has been announced, Utah lawmakers feared the potential economic loss of extractive leases within the monument.

The Bears Ears designation drew long-settled monuments back into contention and rekindled anger about what President Donald Trump called a “massive federal land grab.” That shorthand ignores both the unique and threatened resources of the monuments and the fact that the government had only changed the management status of its own lands - it had not grabbed private property.

The administration’s nationwide review of select monuments has been flawed from the beginning. This is not a plan to improve the monument system, but a transparently political effort that intends mainly to undo, or at least devalue, the actions of past presidents. It trivializes the research and public input that preceded the creation of monuments and the management plans that guide them. It gives greater voice to opponents of public land protections - especially the energy industry - while discounting the opinions of monument supporters.

As with so many other recent efforts, it was poorly planned, poorly researched and poorly executed. The issues are more complex than Zinke and the Trump administration are willing to consider.

That unwillingness to deal with complexities extends into the budget process, and it is through budgeting that a president can most easily decimate national monuments, parks, forests and other federal lands. By failing to maintain and protect them, Trump can reduce their value to the American people in the hope that the public eventually will lose interest and let federal lands slip into private management and exploitation.

That should not be allowed to happen. Federal public lands must continue to be managed to serve the best interests of the entire public, not just major campaign contributors.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2vmiEK0

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The Pueblo Chieftain, July 31, on Colorado Department of Human Services visiting Pueblo County

The executive management team of the Colorado Department of Human Services has spent the last few days visiting counties around the state to, in the words of its own news release, “identify overarching challenges” and “brainstorm ways that the state and local communities can collaborate to improve services to Coloradans.” As part of its summer planning tour, department officials are scheduled to visit a total of nine counties. But Pueblo County isn’t one of them.

That seems more than a little strange since the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, which falls under the department’s oversight, is experiencing what can only be described as a staffing crisis. Before a job fair last week, the mental hospital had about 80 vacancies in 723 so-called “direct care” positions. There are unfilled positions for nurses, psychiatric technicians and client-care aides.

The staffing situation is so dire that employees can be disciplined for insubordination if they refuse to work overtime shifts, some of which can last 16 hours. Hospital administrators even sent out a memo banning employees in understaffed areas from taking lunch breaks — although that decision was quickly reversed in the wake of harsh criticism. And let’s not forget that the hospital almost lost its federal Medicare funding in June because of this shortage.

In the CDHS news releases about the summer planning tour, the department describes how it is seeking input from members of the public, media and other stakeholders, including mental health professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, nonprofit/foundation representatives and social workers.

“We’re eager to hear what’s working in individual communities and how CDHS can help with challenges,” CDHS Executive Director Reggie Bicha is quoted as saying. “We always come back from the tour with great ideas about how to better meet the needs of Coloradans.”

So why isn’t CDHS coming to Pueblo to help with the “challenges” the state mental hospital is experiencing? According to a state spokesman, the tour stopped in Pueblo last year so there’s no need to go back. To use a medical analogy, that’s like a doctor refusing to see a patient because the patient still has the same sickness identified in a previous visit.

And like a patient with a serious malady, it’s possible the situation at the mental health institute could get worse. It’s hard to imagine that the grueling working conditions at the facility aren’t taking a toll on morale. And how hard must it be to try to recruit people to fill the vacancies on the staff there?

After all, the people who the hospital needs aren’t unskilled workers who don’t have a lot of options. They’re trained health care professionals — and some of them might be reluctant to apply to work in what seems from the outside like a sweatshop.

The CDHS management team might not be able to provide easy solutions to the problems in Pueblo. If they could, they probably would have done so already. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t come here, listen to input from the affected parties and talk about what other steps could be taken to alleviate the staffing shortage.

At the very least, by coming to Pueblo, CDHS officials would be sending a message that they care about what’s happening here and how it’s affecting the hospital’s patients and staff. According to the schedule on the CDHS website, the summer planning tour isn’t scheduled to make another stop anywhere until Aug. 10. Surely the powers that be at CBHS could make a trip to Pueblo happen if the will is there. Let’s hope it is.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2u8lLWc

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The Aurora Sentinel, July 31, on Sen. Gardner’s cowardice on handling “skinny repeal” nightmare

A handful of Republican senators showed immense courage and wisdom in the wee hours last week by stopping the partisan train wreck speeding toward the country’s ailing healthcare system.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner was not one of them.

Thanks to the bravery of GOP senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain, the so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare failed as the three lawmakers joined 48 Democrats and independents to kill the ill-conceived bill.

The measure was a self-describe disaster even by the Republicans who pushed to approve it. That alone, speaks to the sickness that has overcome Washington and our system of government. The hope of Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ted Cruz was to pass any bill at all, no matter how repulsive or dangerous, and move it to the House to create something Republicans liked better.

McCain, Murkowski and Collins called the repugnant plan for what it is, crap. They reminded senators and the public that there is nothing now to prevent the House and Senate from collaborating on a plan to improve the terminally ill American healthcare system. The system of committees, amendments and hearings has serve the country for more than 200 years.

It’s telling that these three courageous Republican senators were not only vilified by their peers and President Donald Trump, but that their clear message was drown out by the same political spin that bodes ill for all of America.

The truth is, every expert in the industry said that what the GOP is proposing will only make the healthcare crisis worse for everyone in the country, and an overwhelming number of Americans didn’t want Republicans to do it.

Cruz later went on to warn fellow Republicans that there could be serious political backlash for the GOP since they failed to “repeal” Obamacare, as they’ve promised to do for three election cycles. Cruz and so many Republicans simply don’t get that Americans don’t care what mechanism Congress uses to fix the problem, they just want access to affordable healthcare. They want what drove Congress and President Barack Obama to create the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

It’s spiteful Republicans that are hung up on “repeal” - not the public.

Cruz is right for the wrong reasons. There most certainly will be a backlash from voters for Republicans pitching plans that are far worse than Obamacare and then trying to pretend they’re not.

The backlash here in Colorado against Gardner is heartily warranted even though his behavior is hardly a surprise.

In The Aurora Sentinel’s 2014 endorsement against Gardner for the job he now holds, the reasons why he was wrong for the job then played out during the last few weeks and early Friday morning as the congressional healthcare drama came to a close.

“Make no mistake, Congressman Gardner is not a credible candidate for the Senate seat,” the Sentinel pointed out in its 2014 endorsement. “His campaign has been decimated by deceits and distractions. It’s political bait-and-switch at its worse, and Colorado voters can easily see through it.”

That’s what Coloradans got from Gardner on this issue. Deceit and bait-and-switch. Gardner promised to work to protect the state’s critical Medicaid system from Republican Trumpcare plans, and then he voted for these plans instead. He was coy in pretending to live up to his promise to push back against his own party when it hurt Colorado’s interests and instead joined the far-right political frenzy, putting his partisan political interests above those of the his state and his country.

Gardner this week showed himself to be everything the Sentinel warned he would be in Congress: cunning and bogus. He not only was willing to sell out the urban poor and middle class struggling heavily with the cost of increasingly expensive and useless health insurance policies, he was willing to sell out his own rural roots and neighbors. Every study or analysis showed that rural hospitals in Colorado and across the country would fail under GOP proposed cuts to Medicaid.

It’s time for Gardner and his ilk to push away from the elements of their party who are so vindictive and reckless and honestly moved toward the middle to find workable, bipartisan solutions to the problems of Obamacare.

It’s time for Democrats to accept that the solutions may require Republicans to be allowed to “repeal” Obamacare and replace it with something very much like it so they can save political face. At this point, Americans don’t care about the politics of this quagmire, they just want affordable healthcare and for Congress to solve this so lawmakers can work the country’s other mounting problems.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2vx2vCk


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