We don't mind being corrected. It's not a big deal. In fact, it's part of what we signed on to do.
So when a county commissioner just blurts out during an open meeting in front of the public that we misrepresented a conversation, he should be able tell us at least one thing we got wrong. Right?
Tuesday, County Commissioner Ben Tisdel told the other commissioners, a sizable crowd and anyone else who cared for an opinion devoid of facts, that our article entitled "Road committee steers commissioners in direction of tax increase" (April 5, 2018), lacked accuracy.
Problem is, when asked during a break in the meeting what it was we got wrong, he couldn't say. He said unspecified town and city council members were erroneously led to believe the county was planning a new round of sales tax, and even though that very prospect was raised during that meeting, as we reported, Tisdel said that was misleading.
During Call to the Public at the board of commissioners meeting, a former county employee, complained about waste in the road and bridge department and mentioned he was against a new tax for roads.
A few minutes later, this conversation ensued:
Tisdel: "There was a newspaper article regarding a conversation that occurred at a road committee; I don't think the accuracy was what it could have been."
Ewing: "I don't know what this road committee meeting is you're talking about."
Tisdel: "In addition to the commissioners' meeting, there's a road and bridge meeting."
Ewing: "What's that got to do with me?"
Tisdel: "That goes to some of your comments."
Apparently Tisdel assumed Ewing learned of a possible tax increase for roads in the newspaper story. After Tuesday's meeting, we offered to correct whatever was inaccurate in the story. We went through the article in question with Tisdel, and he couldn't point to anything that was wrong but still insisted that we misled our readers.
Again, we asked what we could correct, and he clumsily danced around the question, telling us there are statewide issues we should have reported on in the article, no doubt, because we don't swim in waters broad and deep, and he does.
He finally told us, perhaps grasping for a way out, that it was our headline he objected to. Then he hastily left.
Misleading headline? Really?
Now, if you're in Colorado Boy, and you're a few Irish Reds into it, I can understand heaving a few hollow harangues at your bar mates. That's one thing. But to be a completely sober county commissioner and use your bully pulpit to harass the local press during a public meeting is another.
The commissioner told us after the meeting that we need to broaden our scope on the issue in question. Fair enough. And that’s a different story from the one that covered the meeting.
This teaching moment comes from someone who has been the model of broadened horizons.
When Tisdel tried to get his fellow commissioners in August to adopt a resolution "declaring Ouray County's commitment to honor and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement," we chose not to perorate.
Aside from infuriating members of the public and confounding the other two commissioners, one of whom questioned whether or not the county should "engage in partisan national issues and international issues," Tisdel failed to mention in public that this resolution was nearly identical to one initiated by Santa Clara County, California.
It was also adopted by San Miguel County, Boulder County and a few other counties whose constituents' actual concerns must bore them to tears.
We didn't harass the good commissioner for straying far flung. We didn't say that when he veils an attempt for Ouray County to co-join Boulder County, San Miguel County, and Santa Clara County, and several others you can look up with the Google, that he should be straight-forward and tell us all that this was someone else's idea and he just wanted to be part of the gang.
He did neither.
It didn't take much to find the boilerplate that he presented as an original idea, the one that begins:
"Resolution No._______" That's where you fill in your own number. It continues: "Resolution of the [Governing Body] of the [Jurisdiction] affirming its commitment to the Paris Climate…."
Fill in the blanks. Again.
We ask our elected officials to be straight with us, whether when trying to adopt a California resolution to impress your peers or berating the local media without any substance behind the complaint.
In our case, if we're wrong, we want to hear about it. If you can't understand headlines, we can help you with that. You can write a letter to us if you disagree with a headline.
But if you're just plain not being straight with us and the public, or not giving full disclosure to the public, then we wonder what else you're not being straight about.
Speaking of San Miguel County, it joined a lawsuit with, who else, the city of Boulder and Boulder County, charging ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy with "reckless actions and damages," in helping to cause global climate change, according to a report on thedenverchannel.com.
The two giant energy companies have publicly dismissed the merits of the suit.
Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County commissioner, said, "Unabated fossil fuel production is already impacting our climate. These changes will grow more intense over time," she was quoted by bouldercounty.org.
The site states City of Boulder and Boulder and San Miguel counties will face at least $100 million in costs to deal with the impacts of climate change in coming years.
Similar suits have been filed by New York City, San Francisco, Oakland and counties in California. The model for the suit is the successful litigation in the 1990s over tobacco companies, though there are far more energy companies than there were tobacco companies. Those suits were first initiated in the 1950s, and at the time were universally unsuccessful.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman disagreed with idea of using public nuisance lawsuits to address climate change. In a "friend of the court" brief filed with 14 colleagues just two days after the Boulder-San Miguel County suit was filed, she said, "plaintiffs' theory of liability involves nothing more specific than promoting the use of fossil fuels," according to a report in forbes.com. Coffman and company assert that while government "subdivisions" such as counties and cities represent Plaintiffs in this case, in the future they could easily be defendants as general significant users of fossil fuels themselves.
Coffman and others say federal judges should not be asked to establish emission policy and that "judicial resolution would trample Congress' carefully calibrated process of cooperative federalism." They state a remedy in one area could adversely impact the ability to provide energy throughout the country, and that plaintiffs would be "imposing limitations on commerce."
In California, cities and counties involved in suits against energy companies face possible consequences. They alleged near-certain doom in lawsuits, but did not disclose those fears to possible investors in bond offerings. Boulder County, Boulder and San Miguel County are out nothing for trying. Attorneys are working on a contingency basis, and will receive 20% of any award.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at email@example.com.