2011

23 March 2011: Georgetown history repeats itself

Georgetown history repeats itself

“A strong, viable democracy is such only if the citizens raise questions and speak out. So, what does it take to get people all a’ blathering? Not sure, but am hoping a few wise citizens will help explain the inexplicable.”

That was the conclusion of my first Courant column, dated September 17, 2003, and to the consternation of some and joy of others, I’ve kept raising questions and getting people a’ blathering ever since.

Former editor Megan Murphy headlined it, “The silence is deafening,” given little public outcry about the Town of Georgetown paying Straight Creek Construction, owned and operated by Selectman Brooke Buckley and husband Kevin, $225 per hour to clear its roads after the March 2003 storm. No outrage, hence, “the inexplicable.”

Georgetown initially passed the tab to FEMA, who first paid it and then investigated. Concluding illicit behavior involved, FEMA demanded $64,500 returned, funds the town did not have, but allowed it repaid in five $12,900 installments, a debt we’re still paying.

Because that experience failed to wake up Georgetown, the old ways continued: the Rose St. paving project; approval in a special meeting of a $20,000 flagstone sidewalk by Ward I Selectmen Matt Skeen and Lee Behrens and Mayor Tom Bennhoff in front of their former colleagues’ house; the railroading in 2004 of the 32-year long owners and operators of the Loop Railroad; the decision to spend thousands, if not tens, of dollars in legal fees; instead, continued deterioration of roads and drainage in Wards II and III.

$65,000 here, $20,000 there, piles of dollars in attorney fees, and untold amounts of lost tax revenue, and before you know it, the town is destitute. Imagine that!

For Matt Skeen though, all is right as rain, or wind and snow, in Georgetown.

“I like Georgetown the way it is,” he told the Courant. “And I think the people who live here like it the way it is, too.”

After a wide-ranging discussion in Matt’s office Sunday, I left with the impression of a deeply passionate but out of touch man, disconnected from the people and issues paramount to them beyond the SOS—South of Sixth—bubble.

We spent the first hour with Matt explaining why the legal hassles related to Silverdale and the inability of owners to access their property were the fault of Kent Sterret. But Matt also conceded that the motion to dismiss the second complaint by the town was ill-advised and ended up costing the town “thousands of dollars” in legal fees.

He also insisted his quip about Kent’s intent to build an “industrial-size hog farm” was meant to call attention to his being less than forthcoming about the use of the land.

“Because he won’t tell you,” said Matt, but when I mentioned a similar property rights battle atop Floyd Hill with David Elmgreen’s land, Matt took a much more libertarian attitude since it’s “his land.”

Matt hangs his hat on the potential of development contaminating the Georgetown water supply, which seems hogwash in that the town has power over its watershed, even beyond its border.

Reading Matt’s statements along with Marion Anderson’s column about urban v. rural planning, I’m more convinced that while we collectively occupy the same physical space we live in alternative realities.

Their perspectives emanate from the same philosophical construct, which leads to the question before Georgetown voters and for consideration by Clear Creekers: Should Georgetown locally and Clear Creek broadly exist as an enclave for those privileged due to position or circumstance that allows them to live quite comfortably…

As opposed to a community of workers and small business people trying to do home improvement or sell artwork, pottery, t-shirts, or espresso, who struggle day to day to put food on the table and pay rent or the mortgage, insurance, car loans and repairs, and water and wastewater bills. Right now for them reality is not about a fairytale world of gingerbread houses. It bites.

Marion concluded her column with “commercial development in Clear Creek County should focus on the four towns where infrastructure and services are already available,” which makes me wonder if Georgetown is one. Matt would disagree.

Matt says he doesn’t want Georgetown to turn into another Breckenridge or Estes Park, but their economic bases consist of “skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, cycling, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, jeeping, snowmobiling, and on and on,” which he states he’s all for in Georgetown.

Though liking Georgetown as it is, Matt admits change is inevitable: “It’s not going to stay the way it is.”

The danger for Georgetown is not that it will morph into an inauthentic cutesy tourist trap, but that it will continue its descent into a hard-luck mountain town much like Leadville where only those with independent resources or incomes not dependent upon the vagaries of the local economy live comfortably.

Next week, the conversation continues.

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