The Sopris Sun

Trustees consider immigrant policy, seek Latino applicants

By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff 

Carbondale’s Board of Trustees on July 11 declined to adopt a proposed resolution, submitted by a quartet of Carbondale Middle School (CMS) students, that would clearly define and outline the town’s policies and position regarding the use of local police to ferret out illegal immigrants in the local population.

But the board assigned Trustee Erica Sparhawk (with help from Mayor Dan Richardson) to work with the four students to refine the language into a form that can be adopted at some point, after pointing out several ways in which the proposed resolution’s initial language was problematic.

In addition, the board asked the students — Vanessa Leon, Jessica Koller, Keiry Lopez and Cassidy Meyer, all entering the ninth grade this year — and anyone else in the council chambers that night, to seek out prospective trustee applicants among the town’s Hispanic population.

The town currently is seeking applicants for appointment to fill the position vacated by Katrina Byars, who has moved to Glenwood Springs.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Town Clerk Cathy Derby informed the trustees that only one applicant had so far submitted a completed application — local resident Niki Delson — but added that others have come into the office or otherwise contacted her.

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“There is interest,” she assured the trustees. Anyone interested in applying can contact Derby at 510-1206 or go to town hall to pick up an application and a nominating petition. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. July 21.

Aside from the trustees’ suggestion to the four students, which can be viewed via a YouTube link on the town’s website, The Sopris Sun also has learned that area social media outlets have carried posts calling for Latino applicants for the position.

The proposed resolution came from a relatively new organization at CMS, known as The Issues Club, which formed earlier this year as a way for local students to work through their feelings following policies and pronouncements from President Donald Trump and others in his administration that have been perceived as anti-immigrant.

The club’s genesis and its activities also have been associated with an incident in 2009, in which local Hispanic students and adults accused a Carbondale police officer, while working in the local schools, of asking students about the immigration status of them and their families.

Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, while admitting that the officer was working on a gang-related task force linked to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement task force, has said the accusations were false, and that his department does not ask about a person’s immigrant status during normal police work.

But the incident and others have created fear in the community that still has not completely abated, said Shawna Foster, minister to the Carbondale-based Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist Church and a participant in the Issues Club, while addressing the trustees during the recent meeting.

“There really is fear in this community,” she told the trustees, noting that she recently discovered a flier on a bulletin board at the Carbondale City Market store, urging people to turn in “illegal aliens.”

She and others congratulated the board of trustees for taking on the issue and for offering to work with the students, but local resident Gretchen Brogdon added another layer of complexity to the discussion by reminding the trustees of their lack of racial diversity.

“It’s time we did something,” she said to the trustees, charging them with recognizing publicly “that you do not represent the full community … there are no Latino voices at this table.”

Shortly afterward, Trustee Frosty Merriott asked the students who presented the resolution to do what they could to find Hispanic applicants for the trustee position.

“Find somebody for us, or two or three, and get ’em in here,” he remarked.

In other action, the trustees:

• Approved a modification of the development plans for the Thompson Park project, under which developer Frieda Wallison will develop only four of the housing units, not the 16 units originally planned. One of the units to be built under the new plan will be an affordable-housing townhome.

“It’s basically the same application,” Town Planner Janet Buck said.

The proposal was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Mayor Dan Richardson dissenting due to concerns about affordability and potential for problems for the project’s homeowners association as a result of the changes.

• Approved an emergency ordinance changing the town’s rules regarding hours of operation for construction and trash hauling. The ordinance adds provisions for Saturday construction work (from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and permitting trash haulers to make their rounds an hour earlier each day (at 6 a.m. rather than the current 7 a.m.)

The changes were made to give construction crews and trash haulers greater flexibility in dealing with anticipated massive traffic disruption and congestion due to the Grand Avenue Bridge construction project in Glenwood Springs, which call for the bridge to be closed for some three months starting on Aug. 14.