Making sausage in the valley

Mmmmm sausage. Who doesn’t love sausage, especially as we head into summer? 

In political parlance, the phrase making sausage is used to describe the point in the legislative or political process when all the ingredients for a hopefully successful outcome are thrown into the bowl and blended together before going through the grinder. It can be a bloody, messy process which is why some people say it’s better for the citizens not to see how the sausage is made. In the best case, the final product will be that some flavors will be stronger than others and rise to the top while others will fade away but it will ultimately taste good and satiate hunger. Still, the making of sausage is not a pretty experience.

There is a lot of sausage being made in the valley right now and I’m not sure how all the ingredients going into the grinder will end up. 

Let’s start with what seems to me the weirdest one. A group of uniformed fire and EMS folks tied to the Crested Butte Fire Protection District showed up at the CB town council meeting Monday expecting a discussion over how the town could supply wastewater utility services to the new safety campus on the north edge of town. That didn’t happen.

The fire district had sent a letter a few days earlier basically stating they disagreed with town’s expectation that once a certificate of occupancy was issued for the new building, the fire district should be out of the Maroon Avenue building after six months. Huh? Disagree with a six-month window to move the trucks and hoses? Six months to move out of the old place and into the new sounded way beyond reasonable. Why would anyone want to cling to the old rental house after spending tens of millions of dollars on the shiny new station? Look, I’ve always appreciated the CBFPD but I’m not following the sense on this one. The fire district informed the town it was willing to chat about future plans for the current facility near Totem Pole Park and that could probably be accomplished within a year or so after the new station is okayed for occupancy. Uh…that’s some grizzle in the old sausage link there.

Part of the sausage ingredients in this recipe includes that the town owns the current fire station building on Maroon Avenue and through a series of exchanges, the fire district really doesn’t have a valid lease there anymore. Town has been clear it needs more space for myriad community endeavors, whether through the town or local nonprofits.

As a longtime observer of local political sausage being made, I’ll venture the fire district and town like different types of sausage, spicy hot versus sweet breakfast patties. For whatever reason, there is usually tension between these two entities. This most recent back-and-forth has probably cost the fire district some time in starting its construction project since the town postponed the discussion in order to hold an executive session with its lawyer to determine what the heck is going on and how to proceed. Despite a construction fence erected around the site, a building permit cannot be issued until the sewer issue is settled. I’m not sure what flavor comes out of the sausage grinder on this one but right now it doesn’t look like it will be that tasty. Weird.

The Whetstone affordable housing project is going through the grinder. Some new ingredients include the fact a county politician has joined the discussion. The commissioners had seemed to be keeping their distance from the process given the fact they have ultimate regulatory authority but are also the applicants. In the last week or two it appears that has changed. Gunnison County commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels took center stage at Monday’s town council meeting to make the case for a town/county working group to address the final big issues needed to get town utilities to the project site. Two of the three most important issues cited by the town, the need for a roundabout and pedestrian underpass along Highway 135 at the entrance to Whetstone, and a quicker start to a corridor planning process that involves the North Valley stakeholders, was suddenly embraced by the county and Whetstone development team. That is great news given the safety and access to mass transit issues. The remaining big issue—how much, if any, of the town’s $7.5 million tap fees should be waived will go through the sausage making grinder. That’s where a working group comes in to perhaps lay out the logic of either paying them or waiving them or finding a different mechanism to make it all work.

Of course in a project this complicated, there are other issues still being considered for the recipe. Are rents truly affordable for local workers? Will tenants who get in be able to stay there if they are successful in business and make more money…but not enough to purchase free market property? Why the request to not include tap fees on the 20% of the units with no deed restrictions? While committing to construct a roundabout and underpass in conjunction with the project, who will pay for  it —the county, the town, Mark Walter? Will the number of units shift again to pay for the project if costs start to rise beyond what is currently expected? When will that subdivision be annexed to town? Who will be the first councilmember or mayor to live there? Will current residents end up holding any of the bag if utility costs aren’t covered through tap fees or adequate monthly charges? 

Mmmmm sausage. The feeling I get on this one is that pretty much all the chefs want to end up with a great tasting sausage. So, while we are still in the messy sausage making phase, this one has a better chance than most to end up with a tasty product. 

Finally, the school board is being presented with what I see as potential for bad sausage as the school administration is pushing for a policy to randomly drug test students in extracurricular activities. A few weeks ago, I laid out my reasons for not liking that sort of policy. 

Teaching kids that bad authoritarian directives like pulling out a random child on his or her way to class to pee in a cup is normal, is worse that scaring a high schooler into not smoking weed at a Saturday party. School officials should certainly not tolerate students doing drugs or drinking alcohol at school events or when playing school sports. If caught, there should be consequences. That is a good life lesson.

Implementing a policy that could inadvertently reward kids to figure out ways to cheat the system, to stay away from positive activities like team sports, or to adopt the mindset that authorities will not believe their word and instead will make them prove their innocence (the opposite of innocent until proven guilty) seems like it results in so many wrong outcomes. I appreciate that local CB students told the school board this week that while there are benefits to such a policy, the cons outweigh the pros. Good sausage results from teaching kids about how to make positive choices and live a good life instead of how to hide their natural curiosities. Sour sausage indeed.

Sausage maker Jimmy Dean once said: “Sausage is a great deal like life. You get out of it about what you put into it.” That advice seems very pertinent in our valley right now.

—Mark Reaman

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