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Hobbs makes last minute push for town-wide bag ban

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Carbondale Trustee A.J. Hobbs is soon to step down from his post; his final act as an elected official will be attendance at the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees (BOT) on Aug. 23, and will include participation in interviews of citizens hoping to take his place on the town board (he will not be permitted to vote on a choice for his replacement).

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But at a BOT work session on Tuesday he tried to get a final policy debate onto the agenda of the Aug. 23 meeting, concerning something he has advocated for some time — a town-wide ban on the use of plastic disposable shopping bags instead of the current ban that affects only the City Market grocery store, and a ban on the sale of small, plastic water bottles.

The town’s bag-ban was approved by the BOT in 2011 and narrowly endorsed by a public vote in 2012, as a way to cut down on the negative environmental consequences caused by the use of such bags, as well as on the veritable avalanche of plastic bags that regularly clog up local landfill operations. It contains a provision that limits the ban to stores larger than 3,500 square feet in size, which effectively meant the ban applies only to City Market.

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Almost immediately after the ban went into effect in 2012, however, some environmental activists in town began advocating for a total ban on the issuance of bags by stores in town, regardless of the size of the business, as well as on the sale of plastic bottles filled with water.

Hobbs has been an advocate for the total ban of bags and bottles essentially since he was elected in 2014.

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But at Tuesday’s meeting, his request to put it on the agenda for Aug. 23 was not followed.

Others on the board felt it was a valid topic for a public discussion, but not necessarily for next week’s meeting.

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Trustee Ben Bohmfalk, while not opposed to the idea of the discussion, said that if Hobbs was insisting that it be voted on before he leaves office, “I think that’s a rush job, and the public needs to weigh in.”

Others pointed out that, since the deadline for submitting material for the Aug. 23 agenda is July 18 at noon, there would be little time for the town’s staff to compile a packet of material about the concept.

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The discussion of Hobbs’ request was complicated by a request from Trustee Katrina Byars to place another possibly contentious item on the Aug. 23 agenda, the idea of installing lights on what currently are dark stretches of streets and trails around Carbondale.

Byars has brought up this idea in previous meetings, citing recent attempted assaults against women in dark places around town.

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When her suggestion met with little support from the other trustees, partly because it was a last-minute request, Byars noted that she has been hearing from constituents who want the town government to make the streets safer for women to walk at night.

“I know other members of the board feel safe,” she said, looking pointedly around at her male counterparts on the board, “but I don’t, as a woman, and other members of the community don’t either.”

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Dan resists

Acting Mayor Dan Richardson, however, resisted both requests, for several reasons.

“I think it’s asking a lot for staff to be prepared for any kind of discussion that night,” said Richardson.

He and others at the meeting also noted that there are numerous items already on the agenda for Aug. 23, and to add this along with Hobbs’ proposed item might make the meeting untenably long.

There was some talk about permitting citizens to come to the Aug. 23 meeting to voice their concerns, though the board would put off formal discussion and possible action to a later meeting, though that, too, was viewed skeptically due to concerns about overloading the agenda.

After the discussion had gone on for some time, Trustee Frosty Merriott spoke up and said that in his six years on the board he had never witnessed anything like it, adding that setting the agenda for board meetings had historically been viewed as the province of the mayor and the town manager, period.

Richardson, after reflecting for a moment, said Merriott was correct, apologized for “wasting time” at the meeting, and moved to adjourn the meeting without adding either item to next week’s agenda.

In other action, the board agreed to begin interviews of applicants for Hobbs’ trustee position at the Aug. 23 meeting.

Town Clerk Cathy Derby told the board that, as of Tuesday, only one application had been received at Town Hall, and that the deadline for applications is Monday, Aug. 22.

The board agreed that, if more time is needed to accommodate the applicants, the interviews will be continued to the Sept. 13 meeting.

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 18, 2016.