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Women protest dark streets, Cortez declares

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Candidate interviews continued

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Tuesday night’s Carbondale Board of Trustees meeting at Town Hall produced a curious mix of unusual activity and inactivity, beginning with a protest by 20-30 local women who heavily criticized the trustees over what the protesters felt was a lack of serious attention regarding the safety of the town’s streets at night.

In addition on Tuesday night, the trustees were unable to complete a series of interviews of applicants interested in taking the board seat being vacated by outgoing Trustee A.J. Hobbs, because two of the applicants were unable to be there for the interviews.

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The interviews will be continued on Sept. 13.

The applicants are Rebecca Moller and Heather Henry, both of whom serve on town advisory commissions; energy-efficiency expert Erica Sparhawk, who grew up in Carbondale; veterinary technician Beth Broome; local-food activist Gwen Garcelon; and local businessman and member of the planning and zoning commission Michael Durant.

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All applications by the six trustee hopefuls are available for public inspection on the town’s website home page (www.carbondalegov.org).

The trustees on Tuesday also failed to pass two marijuana-related ordinances because the six-member board deadlocked at a 3-3 tie, an unusual situation caused by the resignation of former Mayor Stacey Bernot and the fact that her position will not be filled until Election Day in November.

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And, in one apparently unexpected development, former trustee Ed Cortez appeared at the meeting and declared he is running for election to Bernot’s old post, currently held by acting mayor Dan Richardson, who also is hoping voters will elect him for the mayor’s position.

Cortez, who works for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, has gained some notoriety as the head of the RFTA drivers’ union and the public face of union disputes with the authority.

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At the Tuesday meeting, Cortez criticized the trustees for appointing a replacement for Hobbs rather than putting it to an election, calling the board’s appointment plan “a travesty and a slap in the face to all who believe in the electoral process. The perception is, it’s back-door politics, and this is not the way things are done in Carbondale.”

None of the trustees responded to Cortez’ criticism.

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Street safety

The women protesting the town’s lack of action concerning dark streets were at the meeting in reaction to at least two recent sexual assault attempts on the streets, one in the area of Gianinetti-Sewell Park on the north side of town on June 28, and another along Highway 133, also in the northern section of town, on July 23.

According to Police Chief Gene Schilling, little to no progress has been made in solving either case, beyond sending DNA samples, taken from “persons of interest,” to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for analysis.

Organized by local resident Felica (Flash) Trevor, whose daughter was the victim of the June 28 assault, the protest occurred during the portion of the meeting agenda reserved for constituents who have something they want to tell the trustees that is not related to anything on that night’s agenda.

“I’m here because I’m under the impression that this (the attacks, and the safety of the streets) is not being taken seriously by the town board,” Trevor told the trustees, who added that there needs to be more lights placed in numerous parts of town where the streets are utterly dark at night.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t feel safe in this town,” Trevor concluded.

Her remarks were echoed by several other women who came up to the microphone to speak, and to demand action by the town.

She and others were critical of statements by a trustee who suggested, at an earlier meeting, that until something can be done to throw light onto the town’s dark streets, perhaps women should not walk around at night without accompaniment, as a way of avoiding attacks.

Local resident Tracey Wright, however, rejected that idea as impractical.

“I’m single,” Wright said. “I don’t always have somebody to accompany me.” She said she finds herself often looking over her shoulder at night, and that she now carries a knife for self-defense.

Trevor told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday that she and others were incensed by the suggestion about only walking with accompaniment.

In talks about the problem, she said, “We were saying, maybe we should just have a curfew for men, to not be out after a certain time.”

Another protester, Natalie Fuller, who also said she feels unsafe on the streets at night, suggested the town consider putting up its stock of Christmas lights along the dark sections of streets and trails, which would be cheaper than putting up more traditional street lamps but would provide illumination where it is needed.

Mary Catherine Conger, a 10-year resident of the area, suggested the town’s police department offer self-defense courses for women, something she said was done in Vail, where she lived previously.

The trustees appeared sympathetic to the women’s concerns, and Town Manager Jay Harrington said the issue would have been on the meeting agenda that night except he had been out sick for a week and had not gotten it posted.

Trustee Ben Bohmfalk assured the protesting women that the issue is being attended to, and that the town’s Pedestrian Bike and Trails commission will take up the matter at its next meeting, on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Regarding the proposals to put up more lights and offer self-defense courses for women, Bohmfalk told his fellow trustees, “It is something concrete that we can do” and urged the protesters to attend the Sept. 12 meeting and let their concerns be known.

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 25, 2016.

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